During this time of grand reckoning we’re all bearing witness to in 2020, one thing is abundantly clear: there is an immense amount of distrust in our communities, whether that’s towards our government, the media, politicians, city leaders, musicians/artists, even some local businesses. As with everything this year, we’re learning none of it is new. As author adrienne maree brown described so eloquently and slightly heartbreakingly in 2017, “Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull the veil back.”
Further, being involved in the media comes with a great deal of responsibility that I do not take lightly. I believe there needs to be a great amount of trust between us, the publication, and you, our reader. The fact that we do not receive any outside funding aside from donations from individuals like you reading this, and that we depend almost entirely on the donations from our readership, adds another important weight to our responsibility. We work for you — not for advertisers, not for investors, and certainly not for any political party. You deserve to know where your money goes, what it’s used for, and who’s providing you with this content and additional resources.
What you’re reading is an in-depth look at how this magazine got started, how we operate, why we operate the way we do, and where your donations go. No one asked for this, but in light of the current reckoning season, where we see communities and individuals demanding transparency and accountability from those in power and people they once trusted, we believe it should prompt all of us to consider their modes of accountability and levels of transparency in general. This is something we’ve always been a big fan of and are always happy to level up. We want to serve as an example of the mere fact that it’s possible to be accountable and transparent without anyone demanding you to be first; we feel that’s just how it should be.
This magazine is run and operated primarily by two people — myself, the founding editor (I’m white and of Colombian heritage and 31 years old), and Operations Manager Meredith Kooi (who is also white and 34 years old) — with the help of contributors and freelancers. To learn more about Meredith, please subscribe to our weekly newsletter which is compiled and written by her once a week. She’s a gem and has been a longtime staple in the art community in Atlanta. We are unique in that we are a women-led publication. Earlier this year, it was reported that only 24% of women are news sources. Women in media are still outnumbered by mostly white men and make up a small percentage in the field of journalism, especially as decision makers. Not even two years ago, it was reported that newsroom employees are still more likely to be white and male than all U.S. workers. Remember most of the news you ingest is likely coming from the view of a white man. And how objective is that? Spoiler alert: there’s no such thing as objective journalism; it’s a construct.
Additionally, as a result of this, womxn are often further marginalized by the media itself in its framing and bias. And it would be a lie to say I’ve never experienced (everyday) misogyny and harassment not just in my current profession, but in other areas of my life, as well. I personally don’t know any women in any field that can’t relate to this. As a marginalized member of the media who has oftentimes been spoken for and silenced (professionally and in life), while recognizing the intersection at which I sit as a white-passing woman holds more privilege than BIPOC womxn, I made a commitment as a journalist to not speak for anyone else in marginalized groups, but to rather create a space for those voices to be heard.
To shed light on me and how I became the founder/owner of this magazine: I am a journalist, writer, and reporter at my core. I never saw myself becoming a business owner, but it was a step I took to create this platform. The Mainline started simply because I identified a void in Atlanta publishing that other people felt, and I began to take steps to fill that void. I could never take full credit for this publication; anything the Mainline has delivered since we began building in January 2019, I haven’t done alone.
In this context, I share that to say all financial decisions for the Mainline have been informed by people that know more than I do, whether that be people I know who own and operate their own businesses, my financial advisor at my credit union, or people who work in nonprofits. I’m very aware of my limitations and capabilities in this arena. As a result, I’ve learned a shit ton of lessons in this part of my journey and my hope is I’ve become a stronger person because of it.
Nationally, in light of COVID-19, newsrooms have slashed their budgets across the board and freelance budgets have been the first to go. However, this was an issue before the pandemic known as the journalism crisis. As a result, a lot of freelancers are out there with little to no security (at times being completely stiffed for their work), stories aren’t getting picked up as they normally would, and staff writers are being worked to the bone.
The fact that we, a scrappy little independent mag that’s been around for only a little over a year, have been able to raise funds to pay freelancers and employees during a global pandemic is pretty fucking outstanding. We were not in a position to do that prior to COVID; all worked on a volunteer basis the first year as a labor of love.
To all who have donated, you’ve made that possible. We’re making feats right now, however small, that major newsrooms can’t seem to pull together. I hope everyone realizes how important their contributions are, no matter the amount, to the greater struggle all publications are currently facing.
As the owner of the magazine, I currently manage all of our funds. One day, I’d like to hire an accountant who manages our funds, but we aren’t quite there yet. That will be a luxury. We do have someone helping with bookkeeping, though.
We’ve always depended mostly on donations; so, why aren’t we a 501(c)(3)?
When I got to work on starting the mag in early 2019, I chose to create an LLC instead of going the nonprofit route based on advice from a financial advisor. The idea we would qualify to be a 501(c)(3) at all came from the fact we were aspiring to fill the void of an alt publication that was a free print, similarly to Creative Loafing and Stomp & Stammer (although, they are not nonprofits). I was advised to register as an LLC in case that ever changed. After COVID, it did; it’s a pretty big aspiration to be a free publication with absolutely no investors or outside funding, and then with a global pandemic thrown on top. We were able to provide three free print issues to Atlanta which is a huge accomplishment and I believe meant a lot to our communities. However, it wasn’t sustainable, especially if we wanted to begin using funds to provide income to contributors.
When I was briefly considering what it would mean to pursue 501(c)(3) status, there was also a great sense of urgency to get to work. Georgia’s HB 481, aka “The Heartbeat Bill,” was passed in May 2019, along with multiple other states’ abortion bans, and it was a blatant, calculated move by the GOP in their planned attack against Roe. But I realized, if people wanted to fight, that it was extremely imperative it was that folks began to understand certain things that traditional media, especially one that serves the patriarchy, wouldn’t provide: that the abortion bans had nothing to do with abortion. It had nothing to do with pro-choice versus pro-life. It was a political ploy, a bargaining chip, in a greater scheme of systemic oppression to keep womxn — particularly Black womxn — in their place in this society. Mainstream media often fails to provide the greater context; and being a sociology academic in addition to a journalist, along with many others behind the magazine, I was highly aware of that greater context. Sociology is basically a realization that sounds like, “Hey! See this obvious thing over here that your teachers always told you was this way? It’s actually supremely fucked up!” that happens over and over and over.
But those were things I learned in higher education and because I happened to land in sociology courses. That shouldn’t be the case; these are things kids should be learning early on in their history courses. Needless to say, not everyone is privileged to go to college, and further, not everyone who goes to college will opt to take sociology or similar disciplines. This then became part of the accessibility portion of our mission — to distill and relay these concepts and research into our reporting in a very conversational way, all evidence-based and with no bullshit around it.
After the bill’s passing, we had a lot to say and were ready to begin our coverage and introduce ourselves to Atlanta. And I’m glad we did, because if we waited any longer, we wouldn’t have been able to step up during COVID or covering the movement. Becoming a 501(c)(3) can take quite a bit of time, somewhere in the ballpark of a year, unless you have sturdy connections to expedite the process. See also, the “nonprofit industrial complex.”
Further, applying for grants in and of itself is a lot of work. I prioritized the actual work of writing, reporting, and managing the magazine over applying for grants that we were likely to receive “no’s” on, anyway. Funders don’t typically want to fund new projects or start-ups, even though they arguably need the money the most, which is something I never understood (although people have tried to explain it to me). I was told by someone who’s more of an expert that funders would want to see that we made a profit (even if we were a nonprofit) before they would grant us any funding. It typically takes two to three years for businesses to become profitable. So, we went with crowdfunding to get us going.
For our first print, “The Stand or Fall Issue,” we raised funds through a GoFundMe that was barely promoted and received donations from folks in our inner circle. We launched a Kickstarter for $10,000 to pay for the next three print issues, which ran at ~$3,300 per print with a circulation of 1,000 copies, plus shipping and handling. Everyone at the mag worked on a volunteer basis.
When I decided to leave my restaurant job in October to pursue this and freelancing full-time, I made minimal payments from our funds to myself to survive and see the work through. Leaving the restaurant industry after 15 years was a difficult leap to make. I took a chance on myself and the magazine, because I believed in us, although very reluctantly. It took a lot of emotional (and spiritual) support to get me to take that chance. I landed one freelance job that paid my rent and some bills for one month and trusted the universe with the rest. (If you’re thinking about it, take the jump!)
Since we were a free publication during 2019, it was difficult breaking even, let alone make a profit. It’s not that people didn’t show up to support; they fucking did. It’s simply a major undertaking, especially compared to local giants like Creative Loafing that have outside funding and investors. I pursued ad revenue, but that and event programming, which was to be another point of revenue to help keep us free were major distractions from the actual work (I was doing 12 people’s jobs at the mag as well as 5-6 freelance jobs before COVID). As funds were dwindling, I took out a secured loan for $7,000 in February 2020 in good faith we would be able to raise revenue through events and advertising. We now make small payments on that loan every month. Then in March, along came COVID-19, changing everything, and I scrapped the entire business model and chose to start anew. I realized none of what we had going was sustainable and the chance to transform was fully embraced.
Which brings us to now.
We did not receive any SBA relief or PPP because we are classified as a start-up and self-employed sole proprietor; the SBA/PPP really didn’t look out for folks like us. I spent a good month or two this spring on the phone with reps, accountants, and lawyers trying to see if there was a way. We were offered a $1,500 loan which I didn’t take because of the interest rate that would have started accumulating upon signing (not 12 months after you sign, as they initially led me to believe). That didn’t feel smart for us.
The current fundraising initiative you see from us is very much in the grassroots spirit of Bernie Sanders and AOC. We are addressing a sense of urgency while trying to reach as many people in our audience as possible asking for minimal one-time donations ($5, $10, $20). We have not actively pursued raising funds through ad revenue again. Prior to COVID, we only approached small businesses we aligned with and no small businesses have it easy right now. Overall this is okay with me, and you know why? Because we get to provide almost completely ad-free content, which is dope AF. There are a couple ads on our website to fulfill previous commitments with advertisers, but right now, that’s it.
That’s not to say we aren’t open to those who may want to take out ads with us; we have price listings on the back-end, but have chosen to not be super vocal about it. Another reason we haven’t been rigorous about it is because ad sales is a whole person’s job, and no one on the team has the bandwidth for that right now. #priorities
So, what happens to the money when you send it?
- via Venmo or CashApp: I personally immediately transfer the funds to the Mainline’s business account. That’s where they stay until we pay people.
- via GoFundMe: Funds are directed through GoFundMe’s platform and are transferred to the Mainline’s business account. Platform fees for GoFundMe are taken out of your donations.
We accrued some donations over the past two months after outlining what we planned on using the funds for. We will always be ones to follow up. Next is a complete layout of what we’ve done behind the scenes at the magazine and how we’ve paid for it.
- EiC Aja Arnold five-year membership with the American Press Association – $495
- Photographers Brandon Mishawn and Justin Miller one-year memberships with the National Photography Press Association – $169 each for a one-year membership
- These memberships provide us with support as independent reporters and journalists. After some careful discussions with others in the field and witnessing what’s been happening across the country, I deemed these memberships vital to provide us with additional support from greater, trusted entities in the profession. Along with these memberships come codes of ethics. These weren’t things we didn’t adhere to before; rather, this furthered our commitment, strongly reflects what we stand for, and aligns us with other people in the field aligned with the same thing. Journalists are currently under attack; we are getting it from the government and protesters (although, I hold no judgement to protesters for this distrust). It’s my personal belief that independent journalists across the country need to bind together as a more united front, and these memberships were the first step in that larger vision.
- In the spirit of this greater vision to serve on a national level, Meredith and I put together another project proposal, for which research has begun and it has been set in motion. None of our funding is currently allocated for this; we actually sent the proposal in an application to FRONTLINE PBS in hopes of garnering future funding for it. We won’t know if we will be rewarded that funding for some time as it is for a 2021 local journalism initiative.
MONTHLY PAID EMPLOYEES
- We have three monthly flat-rate employees: photographers/videographers Brandon Mishawn and Justin Miller, and Operations Manager Meredith Kooi. They each currently get paid $500 a month. All financial discussions and rates have been agreed upon.
- Justin and Brandon have been hard at work on assignment at protests and we’ve begun archiving photographs and videos throughout the movement. Much of this content hasn’t seen publication, primarily because we’ve been missing that managing editor. We also lacked other systems that we’ve now begun to put in place, like hiring someone to help with web and social media programming. However, I don’t base our pay for Justin and Brandon on publication status. As someone who’s worked in freelance for a little while, there have been times I put in the time, energy, and work to create something and then not be paid for it, because so-and-so didn’t publish it on their website, or whatever (not for reasonings based on the quality of my work, although as a woman, my time and energy has been generally undervalued). I’ve always thought this norm in the world of freelancing was wrong. If you put in the work, you should get paid, regardless of actual publication. That’s certainly not the status quo or how everyone does it, but that’s how we roll here. This does not apply to those who submit pieces unprompted; those go through their own selection process between me and Meredith. Justin and Brandon are considered “on assignment.”
- We are currently working to bring on two more monthly paid employees as Managing Editor and Assistant Editor. While the Managing Editor will begin with the start pay rate of $500/month, the Assistant Editor may have slightly less tasks and have a lower start pay. I’m not ready to announce how this part of our infrastructure, because it hasn’t been finalized yet. The folks in mind are people who have been with us since the beginning, are justice warriors, and 100% aligned with the magazine’s mission. More information will be shared soon as we work to build this part of our system out.
- Where we go from here in terms of what we can provide these amazing people with in terms of income solely depends on our future funding. These rates are VERY LOW payments, and as someone who has worked in the field for some time, I know these are very low rates and our employees are worth far much more. Our aim is to raise these monthly pay rates as soon as possible. I’ve allocated three months for Meredith, Brandon, and Justin; I have not yet included myself in regular payments. As it stands, we are still underfunded and making it on a month-by-month basis. I want to raise their pay as soon as possible. Welcome to our vision when it comes to job creation!
- Compared to our monthly paid employees, freelancers are paid for their work upon publication, which is standard. In addition to contributors we’ve already worked with, we’ve brought on three new contributors particularly for the news section because that’s where we need the most help. Illustrators are included in freelance costs, as well. We are continuing to actively build a community of reporters and collaborators that includes and centers BIPOC and LGBTQ folx, which is something we have always done. Please visit our website and previous IG posts to learn more about who they are and what they’re doing — and you can expect to see more from all of them.
- Some freelancers have waived their pay so the funds can benefit BIPOC folx in greater need. Some feel they’re in a stable condition financially and want us to keep the funds so we can keep working, considering their work a donation to the mag, which is awesome. At times, I’ve reallocated those funds directly to individuals in dire need in the community. Other times, I’ve forwarded the funds to cover monthly pay costs as outlined above, as we are nowhere near our fundraising goal. I’ve also made payments to a couple artists who donated their time and art to previous events back when we couldn’t pay anyone and to help alleviate financial stress during COVID, however possible.
- We’ve taken on the operational costs of the podcast. This is $120/month to Spreaker, which sends all our podcasts to iTunes and Spotify. Another partner helped us launch it in early 2020 practically for free; to my knowledge, that person has not received any assistance during the pandemic and I wanted to take that cost off their hands.
- We recently launched the Hear Her podcast with host Cartier Georgette. We’ve been able to pay her for her contribution per episode at the rate of $50/episode which is $200/month. Again, this is start pay. We’ve also brought on a podcast producer who has offered their services at a very low rate to help us out. We pay them per episode at 0.50 per minute of editing, so these rates range depending on how much audio we turn over to them.
- Our print team is currently working on a volunteer basis to put together our next print issue, The Connection Issue, out on Sept. 24. This issue will be retail instead of free. We will be running pre-orders, but I’m expecting to spend some of our current funds to cover print costs. Why are we doing print? Because we believe reality doesn’t fully live on the internet; and we all deserve something to hold onto that accurately documents these times from various perspectives.
- NOTE: What happened to our last issue, the Boundary Issue. We were set to release our fourth print issue right when the COVID outbreak began. As we all remember, it was a really scary and uncertain time. The cost to print would have eaten up almost half of our funds; researchers then weren’t even sure how long COVID lived on surfaces and whether or not that included paper, as I learned when interviewing Georgia House Rep. Bee Nguyen; and businesses were closing down, which is where we would distribute and leave the mags for people to pick up for free. I knew we were losing about 70% of our projected revenue from event cancellations and loss of ad revenue. I didn’t feel comfortable dropping more than half our funding on one print issue no one was going to see and not knowing where our next dollar was going to come from. We held onto those funds, canceled the print with the hope of publishing later, and published it digitally. We never came back around to printing issue four, because it honestly didn’t feel worth it. The stories went cold as everything else was moving extremely fast and the world was getting into much deeper shit. For those who ordered the print issue of issue four (I believe it was three or so people), we are planning to send you a copy of issue five instead!
- Our operational costs are actually pretty minimal. Most of our funds are going to contract labor and all are considered freelancers since no one makes more than $600 per job or per month right now. (Whenever you get paid $600+, you become a 1099 employee.) Operational costs include Autumn James, who we just brought on to help us with back-end web programming and social media management at the super low, low rate of $50/week (because she’s an angel), the Hoot Suite service that helps us with our social programming at $50/month, Adobe Creative Cloud subscription at $80/month, our yearly LLC renewal that is $100/year, and occasional website updates (last payment was $200 to Inspry, who I highly recommend if anyone needs help building a website). We will actually with Inspry to create a more cohesive means for those who want to become monthly contributors — sit tight, we are on it!
If there is anything, anything at all that we can further provide in our efforts of transparency, don’t hesitate to let us know. We recognize we are living in extremely fearful and destabilizing times. There is so much distrust with the media that is absolutely warranted and that’s something I personally fight to counter every day. That is essentially why the Mainline exists.
I value the tenet of trust between us and our readers, and I will always work to honor that. Whatever you need, ask. If there’s something you think we can do better, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, which is where we ask folks to send general questions, comments, and concerns.
We also receive a lot of messages on Instagram, which I’m tying to move away from. I can’t personally promise that I can respond to every DM sent to us on Instagram, and that is not a slight to anyone; that is simply a personal boundary between me and a social media app that affects my mental health and energy resources (that is why I recently turned our comments on IG stories off; we are still open to messages from anyone).
Being an up-and-coming publication during a pandemic is so far extremely challenging, but the challenge has been accepted. It feels we are in a position to contribute something to our community while encouraging independent thought and challenging the status quo, which is what we’ve always done.
We are more or less living in a time when more people are willing to have those difficult conversations, which is a major shift. Fucking here for it, y’all. We at this publication are not afraid of discomfort. We’re here for the People and no one else. (Remember, not all money is good money!)