Putting the Mission Before the Money
The old model of a small, independent magazine existing solely on advertising dollars is coming to an end. CATALYST has always been an endeavor that exists on the support of the community (we’re where the business and non-profit community has chosen to place their advertising dollars), but now, we’d like to ask for that support more directly, from a few community members who see value in what we offer. For CATALYST to keep providing the news and information we’ve been proud to offer for the last 33 years, we need support, in the form of direct memberships.
We’ve always put the mission of CATALYST first: to provide our community with resources for creative living. The point of CATALYST has always been the mission. That’s why our staff has always been small, our infrastructure and overhead light, our advertising prices kept as reasonable as possible, and our content as excellent as we can make it. The purpose of CATALYST is to provide our readers with ideas and information that people likely won’t get anywhere else. This is a cause to which everyone who’s ever worked for the magazine has been dedicated.
A year or so after I started in the editorial department at CATALYST (early 2006), we had some serious discussions about converting from a private enterprise to a non-profit, 501(c)3 corporation. We went so far as to hire a lawyer for some preliminary work. CATALYST even sent me to the University of Utah’s Continuing Education Nonprofit Fund Development course, to learn the ins and outs of nonprofit money flow. For various reasons, it was not the best choice at that time.
But I noticed a curious thing: Upon explaining to someone our investigation of the idea, many people looked at me with confusion and said, “Wait, CATALYST isn’t a non-profit??”
No, we’re not, although I have no hesitation in telling you that since the magazine was founded in 1982, it’s run pretty much like a non-profit is operated: Everyone (including Greta, the owner) has made a modest salary, and extra cash has always been reinvested in the mission.
While converting to a non-profit corporation wasn’t a wise choice, I’m happy to announce CATALYST recently became a “low-profit limited liability company”—L3C for short. We are now one of a handful of businesses to enjoy this designation. In fact, Utah is one of only six states to offer such a progressive corporate structure.
The L3C designation is for businesses just like CATALYST: those that put their mission before the money. We’re still a private company, and we still pay taxes like a regular business. But now we have a way of officially declaring that, while we still presume compensation for our labors, we’re not in this for a big paycheck.
The L3C is a way of publicly declaring that approach. But all of this really begs the question: Why?
This is not a great period in history for independent media. If you’re a long-time CATALYST reader, you’ve probably noticed that the magazine in your hands isn’t nearly as thick as it used to be. When I started at CATALYST in 2006, we were regularly putting out 72-page issues. Now, we’re typically around 36-40 pages. And we’re not the only ones. I remember carrying around issues of City Weekly when I was in college (circa 2000) that were so big and bulky I couldn’t fold them in half. On some days the Salt Lake Tribune weighed as much as a small coffee-table book.
I can tell you only in general terms what has caused the dwindling of the Tribune: a combination of a trend toward online advertising (and away from print) and growing media conglomeration. Indeed, currently six corporations own 90% of the media in the United States. The Trib is owned by MediaNews group, based out of Denver, and one of the largest newspaper companies in the U.S. Why is that a problem? Because when you’re owned by a huge corporation, they want you to make money for them. Lots of money. Money that flows up the chain, never to be seen again. Small, locally owned companies make profits, too, but those profits stay close to home, and are often reinvested in the company. When you’re privately owned, you can make the decision to operate with little or no profit, as long as everyone’s getting a paycheck.
When you’re a small company like CATALYST, you have even more considerations. I can tell you in highly specific terms the reason for the drop from 72+ pages down to where we are at now. Like the Tribune, we’ve seen a drop in the number of people interested in print advertising. But honestly, that’s not the worst thing.
In 2008, President Bush made huge cuts to arts funding (primarily the National Endowment for the Arts). We, of course, never received NEA or other arts funding directly, but for a long time a good chunk of our ad sales came from local arts organizations. They got money from federal programs, which they in part spent advertising their performances and exhibits. We’ve always been a natural outlet for those advertising dollars, since, as I’m sure you know, our readers love the arts. Of course we support them with related stories and our calendar of events, too.
But wait, there’s more. Right around the same time, the state legislature started cutting funding to the University of Utah—also one of our bigger advertising clients. We’ve seen our University of Utah and local arts agency advertising dwindle drastically. We’re not blaming them. When faced with the choice of continuing to pay your performers (or continue your research) or advertise your programs, you can guess which gets the axe.
The recession of the mid-2000s didn’t help either: When businesses are strapped for cash, the advertising budget is often the first to go.
The rise of social media marketing has also been a huge factor in the decline of everyone’s advertising revenue. In the ’90s, if you were a Rolfer or massage therapist in Salt Lake City, CATALYST was pretty much the only place to get the word out to the right clientele about your business. Now, a couple of very inexpensive ads on Facebook can reach more people, more quickly.
So how does this answer the question of why we’ve converted to L3C? To put it bluntly: The old model of a small, independent magazine existing solely on advertising dollars is coming to an end. CATALYST has always been an endeavor that exists on the support of the community (we’re where the business and non-profit community has chosen to place their advertising dollars), but now, we’d like to ask for that support more directly, from a few community members who see value in what we offer. For CATALYST to keep providing the news and information we’ve been proud to offer for the last 33 years, we need support, in the form of direct memberships.
As the first phase, we’re putting out a call for 10 major sustaining members at $5,000 each—think of them as investors in the mission of CATALYST, rather than the bottom line of the magazine—who can help us continue with our mission, our passion, indefinitely. We’d like to reach this goal within the next 12 months. We know there are readers out there with the means, and who understand CATALYST’s importance to the community. Can you be a catalyst in helping us make these connections?
This money will go toward very specific goals: revamping our website to provide state-of-the-art, interactive features; hiring a paid intern; and, perhaps most importantly, to put together a writer’s fund, so we can continue to assign high-quality, well-researched stories, particularly in the area of health and wellness and the environment.
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a sustaining member of CATALYST, please contact Greta deJong at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 801.363.1505.
In addition to being CATALYST’s tech meister (and former associate editor), Pax Rasmussen is a part of this magazine’s soul. We are eternally grateful to have him in our lives.