The Arlington Mercury, a non-profit news website covering Arlington, is going on haitus for the rest of the year.
The site has been inactive since June 18, but editor Steve Thurston has an explanation: the Mercury just received 501(c)(3) status and is taking a break to secure funding to come back stronger in 2014.
Thurston, a full-time professor at Montgomery College in Maryland, said he plans to spend the rest of the year fundraising — be it through private donors, organizations or grants — with hopes of restarting the website with the start of the new year.
“We’re taking a break on the editorial side,” Thurston told ARLnow.com. “We made the decision that we were going to go on a hiatus and figure out how to get a little more money into the group now that we’ve got this [nonprofit] status.”
When the website starts again, he will start teaching only part time, devoting more of his time to the “Merc,” as he calls it. Thurston says he has meetings set up all over the county to try to court funding. He says it’s nearly impossible to fundraise effectively without 501(c)(3) status, since organizations that aren’t loyal readers don’t have assurances that the corporation is legitimate.
“It lets everyone who might want to give you money know that you’re a little nonprofit and not a thief,” he said.
The certification process with the Internal Revenue Service took 22 months and was incredibly time-consuming, Thurston said. Thurston said he formed the corporation in June 2011, applied for nonprofit status that August and launched the website in September 2011.
By the end of the school year with his full-time teaching schedule, it became clear there wasn’t enough time in the day to put forth an effective fundraising effort if he was still going to maintain the site. He declined to say how much he has raised so far.
Since Thurston started the site, he hasn’t paid himself or any of his writers a dollar, Thurston said, but, depending on the strength of the donations, that’s about to change. He plans to start taking home some pay and hopes to pay his writers.
“I’m hoping it will buy us more consistent reporting,” he said. “When you’re working with all volunteers, including me, it’s tough to be able to look at somebody and say ‘we need this by Tuesday at 2.’ If you start paying people, you’re able to say ‘you’ve got to find some time to do this job since we’re paying you.’”
Part of the IRS’ requirements for 501(c)(3) organizations is to incorporate an educational component, which shouldn’t be difficult for the Montgomery College faculty member. Just what to do is still to be determined, however, as is much of the Merc’s future.
“I don’t know what the Merc will look like into the future,” Thurston said. “The news industry is changing a bunch, and who the hell knows what’s going to happen… I feel like we’ve gotten off the ground. We’ve done a lot, we’ve broken a number of stories, given some great analysis, but now it’s the time for people to give and for us to go out and say ‘we really need the money. If you like the site, help contribute.’”