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Founder Duncan Greive hopes reader-funded work will be at the heart of 2024 for The Spinoff (Image: Tina Tiller)
Founder Duncan Greive hopes reader-funded work will be at the heart of 2024 for The Spinoff (Image: Tina Tiller)

MembersDecember 12, 2023

Why we’re putting reader-funded work at the heart of our 2024 editorial programme

Founder Duncan Greive hopes reader-funded work will be at the heart of 2024 for The Spinoff (Image: Tina Tiller)
Founder Duncan Greive hopes reader-funded work will be at the heart of 2024 for The Spinoff (Image: Tina Tiller)

Our most powerful stories come in longform – but the only way to fund them is with your support.

Since The Spinoff was founded in 2014, we have always attempted to carve our own path within the fragile media ecosystem of Aotearoa. We figured that world news was very well-covered by large global publications, so we focused on this whenua, and the view from it. The major media organisations reported news better than a startup ever could, so we aimed to function as a magazine in a digital environment, with a lower volume and working at greater length and depth.

The results are manifest in the quality and impact of our longform work. A small recent sampling would include Alex Casey’s features looking into the sudden cessation of WINZ-funded counselling, Max Rashbrooke’s deeply researched work examining inequality, Toby Manhire’s extraordinary profile of Kim Hill and the Quarter Million project examining the impact of abuse in state care. This work takes weeks or months to create and is a huge part of our mission as an organisation – to create work of depth, texture and intelligence.

We’ve taken this lane because it seemed futile to duplicate what was already being done, but also because as writers we’re all naturally inclined toward creating that kind of work. Magazines as a form have sometimes struggled with the transition to digital – The Spinoff was, on some level, an experiment to see if we could change that. To sit here almost a decade on, with more than 30 staff creating work across audio, video, and text, it feels like we have succeeded in carving out a niche for ourselves.

At no point has it been easy. The digital environment has enabled us to grow to a large, loyal audience without the vast costs associated with print, but it has significant downsides too. The vast majority of advertising spend accrues to a small handful of global platforms, who pay little tax and operate outside the strict regulatory regimes that govern the news media. Some are increasingly flooded with misinformation and disinformation, and all are moving away from the link sharing era of the open web, toward a new era that discourages anyone from ever leaving their environments.

This has had profound impacts on New Zealand’s media landscape. All the major publishers require commercial revenue to create and distribute their news, and it has been a very difficult year for advertising. One exec characterised the year as “brutal” for some, and “fucking brutal” for the rest. This is why all the commercially funded media organisations have made layoffs in 2023, most across multiple rounds. 

Suffice it to say that The Spinoff has not been immune from the chill wind blowing through the sector. While we are hugely grateful to our commercial partners, many of whom have collaborated with us for some years, they alone cannot sustain an organisation at our scale. Additionally, the new government has made it clear that it wants to see further cuts to advertising spending, and has signalled its opposition to the digital bargaining bill seen by many as crucial to a sustainable news media in the future. 

The Spinoff is extremely fortunate to have the support of its audience. Launched in 2019, The Spinoff Members surged during the pandemic to become easily our most significant source of funding. It remains so to this day – but the cost of living crisis has understandably impacted the ability of some to support our work. Coupled with broader inflationary pressures, it has led to us launching our first PledgeMe drive since 2016.

What’s eating Aotearoa is a project we intend to run throughout 2024 to examine food in New Zealand from a large range of angles with the quality and depth our readers tell us they appreciate. The throughline will be that this is longform journalism, delving into a complex topic that spans culture, community, climate change and commercial realities.

Despite the current climate and despite the prevailing idea that attention spans are shorter, our readers tell us they want longform work about the big stuff, and they want well-crafted writing. Looking at our work this year proves this. Some of our most popular reads this year have commanded extraordinarily long read times. The minutes people spent in total with Toby Manhire’s Kim Hill profile or my recent Pals story, would equal close to 220 days. Of our top 20 most popular reads this year, eight relate to food and our readers collectively have spent enough minutes reading them to take us into 2025.

Reading through this year’s members’ survey and PledgeMe comments, our readers tell us this is what they want. Here’s a brief sample:

Excellent journalism tackling the big issues in NZ and globally.” 

“A great project for The Spinoff — taking the lead again on matters of importance.”

“Love your style, giving every story the seriousness it deserves. Your writers actually can write in an engaging way that isn’t just another boring news article. But you tackle the hard stuff.”

I see the quality of work you do; please know it is appreciated and so valuable in our current climate.”

The PledgeMe funding will allow our writers time and travel budget to really dig deep into the topic. If we reach our stretch goal, we can add a layer of explanatory journalism, which will help take that work and make it as accessible as possible.

A bonus: your pledge can bring you a range of rewards – priced from $7 to $10,000, meaning everyone from individuals to corporations can find something of real value to receive alongside the knowledge that you’re making a truly crucial contribution to the creation of journalism in and about this country. Please know that we hugely appreciate your help and will work extremely hard to make this project as impactful as it can be.

Check out the range of potential pledges – or, if you can, join us as a member to support us in a long-term, sustainable way.

Keep going!