Jay Allred: 'You can totally do this, man'

Finding private money to support ambitious reporting with no strings attached

By Dawn Shelton | Oct. 15, 2018

RichlandSource president Jay Allred lays out his company's successful effort earlier this year to raise $72k for high-impact journalism in 30 days — Screengrab / LION Publishers

A fire was lit under Richland Source president Jay Allred. It’s the sort of fire that ignites when a mission is identified. In this case, he was on a mission to fund two new Solutions Journalism projects vetted by his newsroom.

He was telling his story Saturday morning at the 2018 LION Summit: Steps to Success, held at Columbia College in Chicago.

Richland Source already had great success with a Solutions Journalism project that tackled infant mortality - "Healing Hope."

Launched in 2016, Healing Hope started with a question: “Why are so many babies dying in Richland County? After studying the complex problem of infant mortality for months, we were able to help bring Baby Boxes to the area, as well as connect families with local health professionals by hosting a groundbreaking community baby shower.”

Following that project, the Mansfield, Ohio, indie news team looked deeper and fleshed out two more solutions journalism projects that deeply affected their community: "Gray Matters," which focused on the region's aging population, and "Rising from Rust," a series focused on the rusting remnants of a region that had been known as the land of steel mills and industry, and the wealth that came with it.

Allred’s Saturday morning session took LIONs step-by-step through the intense but fruitful journey of raising $72k in just 30 days. The goal was only $50k. The funding came from supporters who might not have necessarily had a reason to “advertise” with the Richland Source, but had a stake in the journalism that provided community solutions.

Allred called, emailed, and met with corporate and civic leaders whose values lined up with those at Richland Source. Allred said he frankly told that even though he wasn't offering them the Source's typical digital advertising packages, he needed them to write him a check regardless. In 30 days, he got the funding and forged new partnerships to fund critical reporting, with a commonality to follow where the stories took them, with no strings attached from the funders.

The projects, Gray Matters and Rising From Rust, have their own budgets and careful accounting - both for tracking by the funders, and to replicate the process. The funding also gives his news staff time to research, travel, dig deep, and use different storytelling techniques in multiple formats including video, podcasting, and images, among other things.

Allred assured LION member publishers that they can do this, too. Why? "Because we all share the same strength in telling stories. It’s what we do. When we combine our storytelling ability with the freedom to embrace solutions through journalism, the fire gets lit to fund it," Allred said.

He added that it is part of our “why” in the indy news industry.

"And if we all drill down to be able to articulate our 'whys,' like we can tell a story, than our community can rise together, and the community can helps us pay for it," Allred said.

Allred shared the campaign with an open source resource kit here.

LION Publishers, LION18, Jay Allred, RichlandSource.com, Solutions Journalism, LION, Columbia

Check out more entries in our 2018 conference blog »