The vast majority—about 80 percent—are people who identified themselves as being concerned citizens. One thing we found by the way, since you asked about coverage of government, is that coverage of governmental issues is one of the things people want to see more of. I think that’s because they’re important to a lot of people but don’t get coverage in a lot of the media. But when you ask people what they want to read about, it’s everything—more government, more science, more land use, more fisheries. The most gratifying thing was that we got virtually no negative comments. A lot of people noticed our editorial about changing publishers and expanding our content and staff. People had noticed the additional coverage and the new writers, and they offered a lot of encouraging remarks.
Is there any subject that you’d like to cover more?
There are several things we’d like to cover more of. I’m trying to get funding right now so we can add at least a part-time writer in Virginia and a part-time writer in upstate Pennsylvania to cover more issues there. We also got some grants to support increased coverage of urban environment issues, which is something that really gets neglected in the context of the bay. You often have impoverished communities, really degraded streams, and we are hoping, if we can continue to get the funding, to make that an area of emphasis. There are a lot of articles we’d like to do on that subject.
Over time, I want to cover more regional environment issues that aren’t as closely tied to the bay. That was another thing that came out of the readership survey. A lot of people told us they’d like to read more about upstream issues. That’s actually been a goal of mine for years. It’s just that there are so many issues that affect the bay. If you’re trying to be—sometimes people call us the “record of the bay”—and if you’re doing that, you don’t have enough time to get to the other issues. But if we can get more staff, it’s pretty cheap to print more pages, and we can put more in the paper. There’s a lot of upstream stuff I’d like to do.
Is that kind of the key to getting more staff—just bringing in more grants?
We’re also working to increase the proportion of our funds that come directly from readers because that’s the ultimate sign of success - that people buy into what you’re doing and they’re willing to give you donations and help support it. That’s something I’m really hoping we can cultivate and develop. Last year, less than 10 percent of our budget came from reader donations. I’ll probably jinx myself, but on our current trajectory, I expect to easily exceed that this year. There’s also room to expand fundraising. We don’t do anything other than stick a donation envelope in the paper, so it’s a pretty low-key effort. Maybe we need to get more sophisticated. This year, we can take credit card donations and that’s supposed to help.
We don’t take ads right now. That could change in the future. But this goes back to why people don’t produce many environmental publications - they aren’t very attractive to advertisers.
One thing I should say—I am proud of this—is that our overhead is really low. Everybody works at home, so there is no office and our overhead is only about 6 or 7 percent of our budget. We print ten issues a year, with double issues in mid-summer and mid-winter. We did eleven issues for about three years, but I cut one and increased the number of pages in the others, so now we actually produce more per year, but we save on postage and stuff, and that helped free some resources to increase staffing. In a perfect world, I’d like to do twelve issues a year, but that requires a bit more manpower than we’ve got.
I’m just kind of happy with the trajectory that we’re on and that people take us seriously and consider us to be a credible source of information. I hope that we can do more in the future, and if we aren’t a model right now, I hope we to get there at some point.