Reason's first-ever webathon—our annual exercise of asking you, beloved readers/listeners/viewers, to support our work by gifting us even modest tax-deductible donations—was held back in September 2008. Yes, yes, a heck of a month, Brownie, and all that. But!
What I wish to convey—besides gratitude to each and every one of the 152 of you back then who contributed toward our whopping total of $13,000 ($18,000 in today's degraded money), let alone the hundreds of you who are giving us hundreds of thousands now—is how violently the journalism context in which we work has upheaved since then and how our comparative stability has been thanks in no small part to your ever-increasing generosity.
Before we go any further, though: Won't you please consider donating to Reason right the Fletch now?
Here's how long ago 2008 was in media years. In that presidential season, a newfangled D.C. publication called The Politico hired New York Observer vet Ben Smith (one-and-done Reason archive here) to cover campaign politics. Smith would jump in 2011 to head up BuzzFeed News (where he notoriously published the since-discredited Steele dossier). Then he became a media columnist for The New York Times in 2020, and then he bolted again after two years to launch a new publication called Semafor. (One of his hires was former 2008 Reason reporter David Weigel!)
Over that span, Politico lost its "The," and the New York Observer ceased printing. (Its babyfaced former owner, who was 27 back in 2008, went on to play an improbably large role in the Trump administration.) BuzzFeed News slashed its newsroom; Weigel went through a half-dozen jobs; and though The New York Times experienced comparative prosperity during the #Resistance era, just this Friday its newsroom guild threatened to walk out.
It's been a rough week, let alone 15 years, in the news biz. The Washington Post on Wednesday killed its Sunday magazine. CNN announced Thursday that its HLN channel (formerly known as Headline News) was getting out of the live news business. Axios reported Thursday that the four-year-old video news site The Recount was shutting its doors. Massive layoffs are looming everywhere—Gannett, Disney, CBS, NBCUniversal.
At Reason? Not so much.
To be sure, part of our survivability is that we've always run a pretty tight ship—the magazine, remarkably, never had a full-time editorial employee until a decade into its existence, as revealed in this marvelous 2008 oral history by Brian Doherty. You could fund several lifespans' worth of Reason for the amount of money Quibi raised for its ill-fated nine months on this earth.
But one main reason that Reason has avoided the euthanistic fate of The Weekly Standard, Rare, or Heat Street, let alone the founding-editors-are-no-longer-welcome pivots of The Intercept, Vice News, and Vox, is you. Which is to say, as I said during the 2014 webathon, "you are adding to the resilience and stability of an institution you value. The more donors we have, at whatever giving level, the better able we are to withstand and avoid tumult."
Depending on a single Daddy or Mommy Warbucks, or (God help you all) a bet-hedging crypto swindler, is good for precisely as long as the Great Benefactor's attention span, and/or ability to avoid jail time. On the other hand (per our 2020 webathon), "having a diversity and depth of funding sources make us almost unnaturally resilient and consistent over time. No head-snapping editorial zig-zags for us."
As a perhaps-drug-addled Katherine Mangu-Ward put it at the top of our recent bonus Reason Roundtable webathon episode, there is something kind of great about being able to span the editorial generations at the same publication. We may make our mistakes, but we never veer into becoming the opposite of what we once were. This was the magazine of free minds and free markets in 1968, and so it shall be in 2023 and, thanks to your contributions, in the years and decades hence.