“The American Prospect” and the Pain of the Liberal Donor Class

Michael Calderone reports that The American Prospect, the 22-year-old home of labor-friendly liberal journalism, is beeing wheeled toward the hospice. The magazine needs to close a $500,000 gap; the alarm bells are going off. This comes nearly two years after the think tank Demos took over the Prospect (a move that didn’t end up changing to content much at all), but the story of liberal funding is a bit bigger than TAP.

From January 2009 to March 2010, I worked at the Washington Independent. It was the D.C. branch of an ambitious non-profit journalism project, the American Independent News Network – a cluster of state sites that would build into a national, muckrake-ish network. But after I left, and after a few staffers headed out, the organization collapsed the state site network and closed the Washington hub. Keach Hagey, then at Politico, found out one of the problems – the vanishing of an expected revenue stream after Bill Moyers got bored with the product.

What happened to the organization? David Bennehum (a former Slate tech writer), founder of the original model, left and started a new iPad humor magazine. This month, Media Matters president David Brock announced that he’d joined the board of AINN, and that Media Matters utility player Ari Rabin-Havt was AINN’s new CEO. The context of that – the Democracy Alliance, the 7-year old liberal donor group, had recently shuffled its priorities and lost mega-donor Peter Lewis. The speculation, at the time, was that groups more closely aligned with the Democratic Party were being prioritized over more independent groups.

These are renegade facts from a very secretive world, but the overall picture of the progressive donor movement now is bleak. How do you survive? I asked Paul Glastris, editor of the Washington Monthly, how that magazine managed to avoid TAP’s current crisis. “Keeping our costs down, eking out a bit of extra earned revenue here and there, but mostly getting foundation support for various reporting projects,” he said. “We also got a sizable contribution three years ago from our board chair Jeff Leonard that allowed us to avoid the fate TAP is facing.” (I’d add that TAP has a more ambitious staff size and salary scale.)