Peterborough Currents is running out of money. Here’s our survival plan.

A message from Currents co-publishers Ayesha Barmania and Will Pearson

We tried to find a delicate way of phrasing this, but there isn’t one. So here we go: Peterborough Currents is running out of money. 

The last time we reviewed the financials, we had a little more than $9,000 in the bank. Our monthly reader revenue was about $1,700. Our overhead was about $850 per month. And the combined wages paid to ourselves and our reporter Brett were running to about $4,000 per month.

Neither of us are business majors — but it isn’t hard to do the math on this one and see it adds up to zero very quickly. By summertime.

We aren’t ready to give up on this little local news outlet yet. But we clearly need to make some changes. 

In this letter, we’re going to run through our short-term plan to stay alive as we look for long-term solutions. We’re also going to share what we’ve accomplished over the last two years, and how much it cost to do it. And we’re going to ask for your help. 

We don’t want this message to sound too defeatist… so let’s start with the positive stuff first!

Two years in review: What we accomplished and what it cost

We live in a culture that values financial success above almost everything else. In that context, it’s hard to divulge that Peterborough Currents is going broke. And yet… we think Peterborough Currents is an immense success. 

In two years, we posted over 100 news articles to our website. We sent almost as many email newsletters. We produced 15 podcast episodes. We even tried our hand at video a few times. Over 1,000 people regularly open and read our newsletters. 

We brought you Creek Week. We investigated the backstory of Peterborough’s supervised consumption site. We published exclusive stories about the transformation underway at the Peterborough Housing Corporation (such as this one). We revealed the stunning number of individuals who have been banned from local homeless shelters during the pandemic. When city council was debating gender-neutral changerooms, we were the only media outlet that reached out to transgender people to hear their thoughts. And as local politicians set ambitious affordable housing goals, we tracked their progress

We interviewed community members like Missy Knott, Caleb Musgrave, Bennett Bedoukian, Kelli Marshall, Hilary Wear, Laura Warren, Peter Williams and many, many more.

As our community takes notice of us, so do industry watchers outside of town. Just this month, we were nominated at the national Digital Publishing Awards – twice. Our coverage of housing and the opioid crisis are up for Best News Coverage (Community Publication).

We paid industry-standard rates to 13 freelancers, creating employment and writing opportunities for local journalists. We hired two editorial fellows to write about local arts and sports communities. And we hired our reporter Brett Throop, a former CBC journalist who has returned to Peterborough after a long absence.

How much did all of this cost? Over our first two years operating, our entire expenditures were about $140,000. We believe that’s good value, especially when you consider that most of the money was secured through external grants, and we spent the majority of it hiring local people, which helps the local economy.

Okay… writing all that made us feel a bit better! Now onto the hard stuff.

How we’ll stay alive

Our goal has always been to make audience funding our primary revenue source. The business plan has been to secure startup grants, and then slowly wean ourselves off those grants as reader revenue increased. Unfortunately, our startup grants have run out, and we haven’t met our reader revenue goals.

So, a few weeks ago, we figured out a plan. We don’t want to stop operating. But we also don’t want to go broke. And we’re not sure taking on debt is the right move for us right now. So we have to make some compromises. 

Here’s our five-point plan for the short term.

  1. Cut our own pay. Starting immediately, we are reducing the salaries we pay ourselves to $100 per month each. Peterborough Currents has always been a labour of love, and we’ve already invested hundreds of volunteer hours into it. We’re ready to keep volunteering a bit longer. By reducing our own pay, we hope to be able to continue to pay our reporter, Brett.
  2. Slow down. A funny thing happens when your business starts to lose money. You panic, lose focus, and begin considering opportunities that aren’t in line with your mission and vision. Ayesha and I are going to take this budget crunch as an opportunity to reflect and discern what exactly Peterborough Currents can offer to our community that other local outlets can’t, so that we can focus our spending only on that.
  3. Stop hiring freelancers. We will no longer be able to pay any freelancers to produce content for us.
  4. Search for more grants. There are some promising opportunities out there for us that we are pursuing. (Know of any? Tell us!)
  1. Explore other funding models. This might include advertisements and sponsorships. Up until now, we’ve resisted these ideas. We’ve assumed the effort of chasing this revenue would outweigh the benefit of receiving it. But now we’re going to try.

We need your help

By cutting our pay and stopping hiring freelancers, we hope to be able to keep our reporter employed through the summer while we search for other revenue streams. 

But here’s the thing: it is not enough. We estimate that we would need 210 members giving $15 per month (we’re at 130 right now) to fully cover our pared down monthly expenses. So, we’re running a member drive to get as close as we can. Our goal is 80 new donors. Will you be one of them?

We know there’s a lot of support out there for us. But of all the people who subscribe to our newsletter, only four percent are monthly supporters. If you’ve been thinking about supporting Peterborough Currents but haven’t signed up yet, we need you to do it now.

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