[Updated 11.10am, 19 Oct 2010: See update under Monetary contributions]
AND so it’s finally happened. We packed up our stationery and notebooks, sold the fax/printer/scanner, cleared out the pantry and shut the office. As of 1 Sept 2010, The Nut Graph is officially operating under Plan B.
Contrary to some perceptions, we haven’t “closed down”. It’s not over for The Nut Graph. Sure, the entire team has been retrenched. But we all understood that Plan A was not sustainable and that we needed to respond to that reality as best we could.
And so we have transformed into Plan B till we figure out a way to make the business of online journalism more sustainable. We’d certainly like to keep The Nut Graph going for as long as we can with whatever resources we have. So, here are some ways readers can continue supporting us under Plan B:
1. Buy a book or two
My book, Shape of a Pocket, which is a compilation of my columns in theSun newspaper from 2005 to 2008, is still available for sale. It’s selling for RM25 and can be mailed out with no additional charge within Malaysia. The book can also be mailed overseas if the reader pays for postage. The book is no longer available in bookstores. Find out how to make payment here. The book will also be sold at all Found in Conversation events, and by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ). CIJ gets half the proceeds from the sale of a book for those that it sells, while the other half goes to The Nut Graph.
The Nut Graph‘s compilation of 50 of our best Found in Malaysia interviews, plus an additional four exclusives, has also been published into a book by ZI Publications. The Found in Malaysia book is retailing at all good bookstores for RM45. Every book you buy earns The Nut Graph royalties.
2. Give us content
If you’re a photographer with a story to tell, share your photos with us. Or if you’re an event organiser for an event that serves the public interest or provides an announcement of an upcoming cultural performance, send in your pictures to [email protected] and we will publish them with the appropriate credits.
All you need to do is send us a selection of between 12 and 15 photos which tell us a story about an event or issue that is interesting, significant or revealing. Give us the captions and the relevant information that will help us write an introductory blurb to your picture gallery. For what kinds of galleries get published, check out our Picture Gallery archives.
Similarly, if you’re a writer with something timely, intelligent and critical to say, send us your essays. Essays must be not longer than 1,000 words, must be exclusive to The Nut Graph, and must carry the author’s name and contact details.
Deadlines for our weekly Monday publications are Thursday noon.
Unfortunately, we will not be able to pay for these contributions.
3. Come for our Found in Conversation events
The next monthly event will be in late September on eco-friendly living. Entrance fee is RM30 with drinks and finger food, or RM45 inclusive of a copy of Shape of a Pocket. Stay tuned on Facebook or Twitter, or check out our ads on our website for more information.
4. Sign up to follow us
Because we’ll only be publishing once a week on Mondays, instead of five times a week from Monday to Friday, it may understandably be hard to remember to come to our website to read us.
But we still need readership if we are to continue to sell online ads. If you’d like to support us in that way, one way to remember to come to our site to read fresh articles would be to follow us. We need your eye balls and your feedback.
5. Monetary contributions
I know that I said in my earlier column when I announced Plan B that because our overheads would be reduced significantly once all of us were retrenched, we would discontinue the public donation appeal come end of August 2010.
Despite announcing this, however, several readers have continued to contribute financially. We welcome readers’ financial support especially if this results in us having the means to continue paying our writers and editors a fee for their work.
At the same time, we’d like to be honest about how much we need and how much we have left for Plan B so that readers can decide for themselves if they would like to continue giving.
Under Plan A, we were originally spending RM80,000 a month. In the last few months before we closed the office, our monthly overheads were reduced to about RM60,000. Under Plan B, we are hoping to cap our monthly expenses to RM10,000 a month unless a by-election or general election takes place and it becomes necessary for us to spend more in order to cover these events.
With a RM10,000 monthly expenditure, we should have enough to continue operations for at least another year based on some tentative cash flow projections that I will only be able to update later. This means that under Plan B, our financial situation isn’t so dire even though clearly, we will still need funding to keep going beyond the next 12 months or so.
It may be interesting to see if Malaysia can develop public-funded journalism like in the US where sites like Spot.Us, NewsTrust and The Huffington Post Investigative Fund rely on public donations as one source of income.
While public-funded journalism is fairly well-developed in the US in the interest of investigative journalism, The Nut Graph cannot promise at this juncture to do the kind of investigative journalism that these news sites do. Firstly, all these news sites actually have some kind of news team on their payroll where if not journalists then editors work full-time for the outfit. Secondly, while the US has a Freedom of Information Act and an ecosystem that supports investigative journalism, Malaysia still has the Official Secrets Act and a culture of secrets.
Investigative journalism — the kind that exposes abuses in high places — requires a dedicated team and often long hours digging for information. Without any full-time staff under Plan B, The Nut Graph is not in a position to promise the kind of investigative journalism that publicly-funded news sites in the US can.
We will continue to write critically on matters of public interest through our columns, commentaries, analyses and interviews. And we will continue to offer Found in Malaysia interviews because we think it’s an important conversation about who is a pendatang in Malaysia and whether it even matters if one is a citizen. For now, that is what we can promise.
[Updated] After finally sorting out our book keeping, we now know that we have enough funds to last under Plan B till the end of 2011. As such, we are terminating our call for monetary contributions from the public from 19 Oct 2010 onwards.
Public donations and accountability
Additionally, because we no longer have full-time staff or an office administrator, the company will not be able to account for how public donations are used. For example, whether one’s contribution of RM50 is used to partially pay a columnist or to host a server.
To be fair, no individual donor has actually asked for that kind of accountability. Still, if anyone chooses to give us money, I believe it’s important for donors to know what kind of accountability we can provide with regard to how their money will be used. Our only way of accounting for the money given to us right now is to keep publishing the kind of critical content that we have been doing for the past two years.
We also promise one other thing. Should The Nut Graph not be able to keep publishing after a while for whatever reasons and we decide to close the company, whatever money we have, after taking into account company expenses, will be donated to CIJ. That way, donors’ intentions in supporting independent journalism can continue to be honoured beyond The Nut Graph.
So, there you go. This is the scenario under The Nut Graph‘s Plan B. We are thankful there is a Plan B and that we didn’t have to stop writing and publishing. And we are also thankful that people continue to read us and comment on our site.
I believe it’s important as citizens to keep exercising critical thinking and speaking up and holding those in power accountable. The Nut Graph allows some of us to continue flexing that muscle in the democracy that is Malaysia.
Jacqueline Ann Surin is trying to find a structure to her days post-retrenchment and is enjoying the new sensation while she’s at it.
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