Group Raises Big Cash for Journalism Reviews

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By: Joe Strupp

A committee organized nearly a year ago by newspaper legend Gene Roberts to raise $5 million for two journalism magazines has already brought in $1.8 million, Roberts told E&P today.

In addition, Roberts’ group, the Committee for Journalism Reviews, which includes more than a dozen top news industry leaders, has helped boost circulation at the American Journalism Review and Columbia Journalism Review by about 10% each, Roberts said.

“I think we’re on target; it is moving along well,” said Roberts, who said publishers of what are commonly referred to as AJR and CJR believe the publications need a combined $5 million to ensure continued operation for another five years. “We are more than a third of the way there, and we still have some [grant] applications pending.”

Since the committee formed last March, the largest donation has come from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which pledged $1 million in November, Roberts said. That contribution is being spread out over five years, he added. Other top contributions include $100,000 from the Bloomberg Foundation, as well as significant individual donations from: Jim Ottaway of Ottaway Newspapers, who contributed $250,000; former CJR Publisher David Laventhol, who gave $100,000; and Roberts himself, who provided $100,000.

Ottaway is also a member of the committee, which includes former Associated Press President and CEO Louis Boccardi, Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief Norman Pearlstine, Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief Matt Winkler, and retired NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, among others.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Boccardi said about the committee’s success this far. “Over the years, the business realizes that there is a value to what these magazines do.”

Best known for shepherding The Philadelphia Inquirer through its Pulitzer Prize run of the 1970s and ’80s, and currently an instructor at the University of Maryland, Roberts said he and Ottaway have traveled across the country during the past year seeking donations. He said they have meetings with three groups set up for March, as well as a swing planned across the West Coast.

The publications have been through lean times in recent years. CJR, which has cut one position and reduced another to part-time status, now has a seven-person editorial staff and operates on a $1.4 million annual budget, with $800,000 in advertising and circulation revenue, according to Publisher Evan Cornog.

AJR operates with a yearly budget of about $1 million and $650,000 in annual revenue, editors said. The magazine cut its publication schedule from 10 to six issues per year in 2003, in part to save money but also to stop competing directly with CJR, which also publishes six times a year. The two journals now publish in alternating months.

AJR is published by the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland in College Park, and CJR is published by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.

“We are constantly having sessions with potential donors and we still have some pending with big foundations,” Roberts said, declining to name those who remain uncommitted. “It takes time because some of the groups make grants only once or twice a year, and it can take up to six months to a year to make your way through the formal application process.”

Along with the fundraising efforts, the committee has helped boost the combined circulation of the magazines by about 5,000, mostly through circulation sponsorships at a number of journalism schools, Roberts said. A special $10 subscription rate for college students that provides them with five editions of each magazine — minus the summer issue — has also helped.

“Alumni organizations are stepping forward to pay for subscriptions at some colleges, and others are making it part of their fee structure,” Roberts noted. He said those journalism schools include: the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, the University of Missouri, the University of Nebraska, the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Notre Dame.

“Getting students to be reading the magazine is important because they can develop a habit that will last long after they are out of school,” said Rem Rieder, editor and senior vice president of AJR. “But the fundraising is the most critical.”

Each magazine’s circulation is in the 25,000 range, according to Roberts.

“I think we are doing better,” said Mike Hoyt, CJR executive editor, who praised the committee’s efforts. “Circulation is up, we have done a redesign and started a couple of series and more investigative stories. I feel like we are on the march.”

Roberts said the two publications are now looking at potential joint advertising deals as well. “We are optimistic that we will be able to make some real headway on that,” he said.

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