IT has been an incredible four years since The Nut Graph first started publishing. And in that four years, we’ve had a couple of near-death experiences because we’ve not figured out a way to be financially sustainable.
Since retrenching everyone and scaling back publication from September 2010, we’ve managed to continue publishing on a much-reduced scale. For the past two years since Plan B, the company that owns The Nut Graph, Insight News Sdn Bhd, has continued to pay our writers and editors a contributor’s fee with the remaining funds we had left.
That money has since more or less run out. We continue to earn some money from our copyright of published material, including our three books – Found in Malaysia Vol 1 and 2, and Understanding the Dewan Rakyat. But none of these sporadic payments are in any way sufficient to sustain the kind of publishing we did in the first two years of our existence. Nor it is enough to keep us publishing the way we have since we launched Plan B.
Still, there is some good news.
A new plan
Collectively, as a team, we had decided that we would stop publishing by the end of August. My belief is that writers and editors need to be paid. And if we didn’t have any more money for editorial expenses, then it wasn’t fair to ask people to continue working indefinitely for free.
The good news is just after we made this decision, some readers decided that The Nut Graph was too important to go comatose. Putting money where their mouths were, they have pledged to give us some money to continue publishing at least for the next 12 months.
So, thanks to these readers, we’re not on a death bed, as we had expected. Their contribution is priceless in terms of its value in ensuring that The Nut Graph can continue to be the kind of critical media that is needed in Malaysia. And because the contribution is smaller in terms of ringgit and sen than what we originally had from our earlier investors, we need to scale back even more. Hence, The Nut Graph will only be able, for the most part, to publish one article every Monday morning, instead of the two to three we have been doing over the past two years.
All writers and editors have also agreed to continue working at much, much reduced fees in order to ensure The Nut Graph survives. Many of these writers and editors, in fact, were willing to work for free. Indeed, our current external columnists, Wong Chin Huat, KW Mak, Norhayati Kaprawi, Hwa Yue-Yi and Andrew Khoo have on several occasions written for us for free because we didn’t have the funds to pay them.
That, for me, says so much about the commitment of some Malaysian journalists and writers towards independent and critical media in Malaysia.
At The Nut Graph, our promise to readers remains the same even if we are only publishing one story per week. We will continue to make sense of politics and popular culture, although popular culture tends to take a back seat to politics when our resources are limited. We are also committed to upholding the best ethical journalistic standards we can as per our editorial policy.
And we pledge to continue being critical of the state of things in Malaysia and of ourselves as media.
In the next few months, it’s left to be seen if we will have the resources to cover the next general election the way we did with Malaysia Votes, the precursor to The Nut Graph. As it stands now, we probably won’t have the funds for it because covering an election is costly business. Plus, nearly all of us in The Nut Graph are now employed elsewhere in order to make a living.
Still, who knows what is possible? I didn’t think we would last two years after we retrenched everyone in 2010. Not only did we do that, we are going to continue for a while yet. Never say never, I reckon. And everything else, as the company motto goes, is about doing what we can with the resources we have.