Citing a lack of funding, the nonprofit that publishes The Independent lays off its entire staff
The entire staff of The New Mexico Independent was laid off today and the site is largely shutting down because of a lack of funding.
The organization plans to hire one freelance blogger from New Mexico to keep a minimal amount of content on the site, which will also stay online to preserve its archives, the president of The American Independent News Network, which publishes The Independent, said in an interview.
But a news website that has had a massive impact on the Roundhouse in recent years is effectively done with that work – at least for now.
“I’m devastated, and I am tremendously proud of my team and everything that we accomplished over the past 2.5 years,” Gwyneth Doland, The Independent’s editor, said in an interview. “We really changed the media landscape, and that will have a lasting effect in New Mexico even if the site ceases to exist.”
David Bennahum, the president and CEO of The American Independent News Network, said the site’s annual funding from New Mexico-specific donors had declined from $187,000 in 2008 to $32,500 this year.
“I just think those two numbers tell the story,” he said. “We can’t afford to cover that difference because our own national fundraising has been hit like everyone else in the world. It’s with a really heavy heart that we had to make this decision.”
The Independent has been ‘a jewel’
The Independent started publishing in April 2008 (by way of disclosure I was a reporter there from April 2008 until March of this year). The news organization quickly developed a reputation for tough watchdog reporting.
Its impact on the Roundhouse skyrocketed in 2009 when it began webcasting and liveblogging legislative meetings, helping shine more light on state government proceedings.
The Independent recently won the ACLU-New Mexico’s First Amendment Award for what the ACLU called its “critical, nonpartisan coverage of state politics; its efforts to bring legislative decision-making directly to the public through web streaming and live blogging; and its efforts to revive meaningful investigative reporting.”
Even today, as The Independent’s staff was laid off, they were notified that they had won two awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for their work.
“I hope that all of my team members find new places in other great news organizations or ventures that appreciate the incredibly diverse array of skills that they have in multimedia reporting,” Doland said.
Bennahum called the New Mexico site “a jewel in our network” and acknowledged that its work to shine light on the Roundhouse had been useful in helping secure funding for sites in other states.
“It’s just won so many awards,” he said. “It set a standard for how online journalism can go beyond just replicating traditional media.”
Not entirely giving up on New Mexico
Bennahum said he learned a lesson from New Mexico – his organization needs to seek multi-year funding commitments from foundations. He said he started the New Mexico site with a one-year funding commitment, which wasn’t enough.
The American Independent News Network also announced today that it’s shutting down its Washington, D.C. site. Donations to The Washington Independent, according to a posting on the site, “began drying up long ago.”
Bennahum said he hasn’t entirely given up on New Mexico, which is why he will keep a part-time, freelance blogger employed here. He doesn’t yet know who that person will be or when he or she will be hired.
“We do think that there is an outside chance – and I think that it’s maybe 10 percent – that we could reconstitute down the road,” Bennahum said.
But, at least for now, The Independent has done its last meaty, original reporting. Bennahum said the site will remain online to preserve its “wonderful archive of 2.5 years of high-quality journalism,” but will switch to a new design similar to that of The American Independent next week.
By way of disclosure, I was a reporter for The New Mexico Independent from April 2008 until March of this year.