By: Joe Strupp
A fund set up to raise money for staffers at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans has brought in $22,000 in donations in just two weeks, according to organizers. The effort, aimed at raising money for employees of the paper who have been severely impacted by Hurricane Katrina, is being run by a group of former Times-Picayune employees.
“I would guess that it is close to 40 different contributors,” said Nan Varoga, one of four Times-Picayune alumni who are leading the collection outreach. “We are very pleased at the support that fellow journalists have shown to those working to put the paper out.”
Varoga, a Times-Picayune reporter from 1981 to 1988, is currently director of public affairs for a Houston-based non-profit group. She said the fundraising operation began on Sept. 2, five days after the hurricane struck. She said it started with an e-mail sent to friends and colleagues soliciting donations to an account set up at a Sterling Bank in Houston. But, as the e-mail spread, donations have increased, Varoga notes.
“We will keep it going as long as we keep getting donations,” Varoga said, declining to give a specific monetary goal. “The bank tells me they are typically open for 90 days, but we have at least one group wanting to hold a fundraiser in October, so we will keep it going.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune library is organizing the fundraiser, Varoga said. Other donations have ranged from the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, which gave $500, to veteran broadcaster Marvin Kalb, who made a $100 donation.
When the Florida Press Club lost nearly 300 entries in its annual awards competition — which had been sent to journalists in New Orleans for judging and did not survive the flooding — the organization chose to donate more than $4,000 in entry fees for those entries to the fund.
“I think it’s great because there are so many in need [following the hurricane] that you have to sometimes carve out your community and do what you can for them,” said Bridget O’Brian, a broadcast news editor for The Wall Street Journal and CNBC who worked at the Times-Picayune from 1981 to 1988. “It was my first newspaper job and I spent a lot of happy years there; it holds a very special place in our hearts.”
Organizers have been trying to get non-profit status for the fund so that contributions can be tax-deductible. But they said the rules governing those 501 [c] 3 accounts require that they be set up for a broader class of recipients than just a newspaper staff. Varoga added that the process to get such status is lengthy and they did not want to wait for several months before getting it running. “We are still looking in to it,” Varoga added.
Varoga also said that the process for distributing the funds has not been decided. She said Times-Picayune editors, who did not return calls for comment Monday, have been in discussions with the fundraisers, but have been busy putting out the paper. “Those are conversations we are still having and will continue to have,” she said.
More information on the Times-Picayune fund, and how to donate, is available at www.friendsofthetimespicayune.com.