Rewire.News is undergoing substantial changes as a result of the dire funding climate in which we find ourselves. This spring, we gave several months’ notice of layoffs to five employees for the end of September. This is very painful for them. It is painful for everyone on staff.
We know we’re not alone in undergoing staff reductions—it seems a month doesn’t go by without another announcement of layoffs in journalism. For us, however, the situation is very different than many about which you might read: We are a nonprofit reliant solely on foundation funding. We do not make profits and we operate under very different constraints than do for-profit media outlets or those that have the sustained backing of wealthy patrons. The source of our funding does not make layoffs any less wrenching for those being laid off, nor for our staff writ large who are working through this period. The bottom line is this: We are restructuring in an attempt to maintain our capacity for long-term sustainability.
We do, however, want to offer more context on what has brought us to this moment, and our plans for the future.
Rewire.News started out as an idea: a vision of a nonprofit publication that produced evidence-based news, analysis, and commentary on reproductive and sexual health, rights, and justice. In 2011, I was offered the chance to take over what was then RH Reality Check, a blog on reproductive rights issues founded by forward-thinking people within the United Nations Foundation and with which I had been working as a consultant. I saw an opportunity to build something that did not yet exist and set out to convince funders that supporting evidence-based journalism on reproductive justice was (and is) critical. I was also responding to what I saw even then as creeping fascism and the erosion of democracy as evidenced by sustained attacks on health and rights.
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In 2012, we spun out of the UN Foundation. With initial grants from key foundations, we became fully independent, albeit still very small. We hired excellent financial staff, tech staff, and editors and worked with many superb freelancers who contributed reporting. We knew from the beginning that in a highly competitive world of fundraising we had to “prove the concept” to get more funding and grow.
Through hard work, we eventually raised enough from very generous foundation grants to build a larger staff. We set out to pay our staff well, provide everyone with as generous benefits as we could afford, and create a platform for a great publication. And we did so.
For a good while, our work thrived and we had sufficient foundation funding to support it. We were able to hire some reporting staff in addition to relying on a substantial number of freelancers.
Our circumstances changed two years ago, when we were informed that we would lose a substantial amount of grant money due to changing priorities of a core funder.
Facing the initial foundation cuts, we set out to make up first $500,000, then $1 million, then $1.5 million. We secured additional grants, but they were not nearly large enough to bridge the growing gaps. We tried to raise money by applying for smaller grants to support some of our critical issue-based reporting by individual reporters, but were unsuccessful. I froze my salary to ensure our staff got raises and our entire management team accepted only cost-of-living raises. All along the way, we kept the staff informed of our circumstances and the realities of what continued loss of funding meant.
Additional cuts in other grants subsequently only served to increase the gaps in our budget. Some of us have been taking on two or three different critical management roles at once so as to save money in areas we desperately need staffing, all to avoid layoffs. In April, realizing the situation was taking an increasing and unsustainable personal toll, I tendered my resignation to our board, agreeing to stay through the fall to try to make the transitions as smooth as possible.
Given the growing gap in our budget, our board made the decision to restructure the publication, cutting down to a smaller core staff in the hopes of finding ways to support a smaller publication operating on less than half our 2016 budget. We have structured remaining staff such that they can perform the core functions as required by our board and our foundation partners to ensure Rewire.News remains viable, and hopefully can in the future grow once again.
There is a stark reality in all nonprofit work: No matter how valuable or how important an issue or a body of work may be, no matter how excellent a project, paying for it requires someone to give you money. We can’t pay for what foundations won’t fund and this includes some of the reporting we do.
We have on our team some of the most dedicated and professional people I know, and it is my great fortune to have been able to work with them, including those we have had to lay off. I am exceedingly grateful to the senior staff of Rewire.News; they have often saved me from complete despair during months when working together, we agonized over what we could do to make things work. I am truly indebted to the several senior staff members who have worked several roles without complaint. I also am deeply grateful to our board and to our foundation partners, all of whom have dedicated themselves to the success of and invested in Rewire.News for many years.
I truly believe that if you are not willing to fail, if you are not willing to try new things, if you are not willing to challenge orthodoxies when necessary, you can’t make change in the world. Rewire.News was an idea and a vision that I hoped—and still hope—can thrive beyond me or any one editor-in-chief or president. But no matter what happens, I will never regret trying to bring this idea, this vision, to fruition.
There are many unknowns about the next few months. We will have to continue operating on a different scale with a much smaller budget. One thing will always be true: Our staff remains among the very best. We have always and will always have an editorial and management staff that is equipped to report the news on reproductive health, rights, and justice. And we will continue to publish stories that you—our readers and supporters—care about.
Rewire.News is and will always be bigger than its parts. The board has launched a search for a new editor in chief and I am here until October 31 (and beyond when needed) to ensure that person has the best platform to achieve success in the future.
In the meantime, I thank all of our staff, readers, and supporters from the bottom of my heart.