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New Mexico Independent shuts down

Staffers who were laid off today include, from left to right, Matt Reichbach, Trip Jennings, Marjorie Childress and Gwyneth Doland. Not pictured is Bryant Furlow, who was also laid off.

Citing a lack of funding, the nonprofit that publishes The Independent lays off its entire staff

The entire staff of The New Mexico Independent was laid off today and the site is largely shutting down because of a lack of funding.


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The organization plans to hire one freelance blogger from New Mexico to keep a minimal amount of content on the site, which will also stay online to preserve its archives, the president of The American Independent News Network, which publishes The Independent, said in an interview.

But a news website that has had a massive impact on the Roundhouse in recent years is effectively done with that work – at least for now.

“I’m devastated, and I am tremendously proud of my team and everything that we accomplished over the past 2.5 years,” Gwyneth Doland, The Independent’s editor, said in an interview. “We really changed the media landscape, and that will have a lasting effect in New Mexico even if the site ceases to exist.”

David Bennahum, the president and CEO of The American Independent News Network, said the site’s annual funding from New Mexico-specific donors had declined from $187,000 in 2008 to $32,500 this year.

“I just think those two numbers tell the story,” he said. “We can’t afford to cover that difference because our own national fundraising has been hit like everyone else in the world. It’s with a really heavy heart that we had to make this decision.”

The Independent has been ‘a jewel’

The Independent started publishing in April 2008 (by way of disclosure I was a reporter there from April 2008 until March of this year). The news organization quickly developed a reputation for tough watchdog reporting.

Its impact on the Roundhouse skyrocketed in 2009 when it began webcasting and liveblogging legislative meetings, helping shine more light on state government proceedings.

The Independent recently won the ACLU-New Mexico’s First Amendment Award for what the ACLU called its “critical, nonpartisan coverage of state politics; its efforts to bring legislative decision-making directly to the public through web streaming and live blogging; and its efforts to revive meaningful investigative reporting.”

Even today, as The Independent’s staff was laid off, they were notified that they had won two awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for their work.

“I hope that all of my team members find new places in other great news organizations or ventures that appreciate the incredibly diverse array of skills that they have in multimedia reporting,” Doland said.

Bennahum called the New Mexico site “a jewel in our network” and acknowledged that its work to shine light on the Roundhouse had been useful in helping secure funding for sites in other states.

“It’s just won so many awards,” he said. “It set a standard for how online journalism can go beyond just replicating traditional media.”

Not entirely giving up on New Mexico

Bennahum said he learned a lesson from New Mexico – his organization needs to seek multi-year funding commitments from foundations. He said he started the New Mexico site with a one-year funding commitment, which wasn’t enough.

The American Independent News Network also announced today that it’s shutting down its Washington, D.C. site. Donations to The Washington Independent, according to a posting on the site, “began drying up long ago.”

Bennahum said he hasn’t entirely given up on New Mexico, which is why he will keep a part-time, freelance blogger employed here. He doesn’t yet know who that person will be or when he or she will be hired.

“We do think that there is an outside chance – and I think that it’s maybe 10 percent – that we could reconstitute down the road,” Bennahum said.

But, at least for now, The Independent has done its last meaty, original reporting. Bennahum said the site will remain online to preserve its “wonderful archive of 2.5 years of high-quality journalism,” but will switch to a new design similar to that of The American Independent next week.

By way of disclosure, I was a reporter for The New Mexico Independent from April 2008 until March of this year.

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6 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. NM Independent was the most objective site in NM. I will miss it. That leaves you. Heath to hold Gov. Martinez accountable.

  2. Molitor and I can agree on something. There is hope. I am also sorry to see them go. Now there is even less pushback on the Albuquerque Journal’s right wing editor.

  3. i couldn’t be more pleased. The New Mexican Independent was a collective of “progressive” liberal advocates pretending to be non-partisan. To claim neutrality while promoting an agenda is a classic device factions at one edge of a party’s ideological spectrum use to shift the ideological center toward their side.

    NMI was proud to employ ideologues. One NMI reporter was employed simultenously as an activist for the politically aligned Southwest Organizing Committee and as a journalist at NMI, which was an overt violation of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. I’m not saying some of the NMI stories weren’t more or less balanced, nor that none of their stories comprised useful professional journalism. A few balanced stories provided a vehicle for a steady supply of advocacy journalism.

    What displeases me is the failure of journalists, publishers and philanthropists in this state to otherwise develop an effective model to provide useful watchdog services at a time when traditional media outlets are unable to provide the investigative services they once offered. The Internet is an invaluable technical resource, capable of giving readers unprecedented power to look deep into public operations. The NMI published not one original chart or graph. They had on staff nobody capable of analyzing large data sets such as a state budget.

    How would truly independent online media look if we started from the ground up? What if New Mexico’s movement toward online media started with a cooperative of existing media, much as the Associated Press started in 1846 as a cooperative to provide telegraph news service to its members – one year before a paper now absorbed into the Santa Fe New Mexican started publication.

    Imagine what might happen if state newspapers pooled their resources to first demand the repeal of New Mexico’s state database censorship law (NM 14-3-15.1) which denies the press access to public records such as the state payroll in useful digital formats — the same format state officials use to conduct state business. Then what if they used their pooled resources to analyze that data, so reporters at various local media outlets could approach leaders about public policy trends they discovered in newly uncovered electronic public records?

    Instead of childish writing about an amateur reporter’s first-ever excursion to a Tea Party rally where must-be sports fans complain about government spending, our state’s new media could offer substantive reporting about state employee salaries, such as the Texas Tribune offers charts exposing football coaches as the highest paid state employees.

    The American Independent News Network, when it advertised for staff as the Center for Independent Media, asked for reporters who wanted to get the attention of politicians. We need press that will get the attention of the public, rather than reporters selected for their appeal to politicians. Online media has been show to be ineffective in developing interest in public affairs among a broad cross section of communities. What technical savvy media can do is provide independent, in-depth oversight of public processes in a venue that more popular media can access. That means much, much more than Gwenyth Doland chit-chatting with New Mexican Web editor Henry Lopez during an all day “live blog.” It means online media can provide real information on the surface by way of detailed charts and interactive graphs about voter turnout, precinct by precinct.

    “Individuals who seek political information by means of the Internet are those who are already knowledgeable and politically interested. Additionally, the new information technology might lead to an increase in voters’ turnout, but only among those citizens who are already predisposed to vote in elections due to former political interest. Also one must consider that the unequal access to technology may lead to limited opportunities of information gathering.”
    Delli Carpini & Keeter (2003)
    Kenski & Jomini Straud (2006)
    Tolbert & McNeal (2003)
    Julia Mergner (2009)

    ProPublica has accomplished such goals, co-publishing reports with leading newspapers in which ProPublica’s depth of technical resources and investigative capacity augmented the audience reach and broad popular appeal of daily newspapers. Live-blogging is nothing like the way ProPublica works. ProPublica leads rather than follows the latest online fad.

    Bye, NMI. Now, let’s start over…

  4. or a different model.

    what would it look like if you started from the ground up?

  5. That’s really too bad! I enjoyed reading The Independent daily and viewing some excellent reporting by the staff. Hopefully, someday they will come back up; if not, I will be looking for the staff elsewhere. Good luck!

  6. David Bennahum, the president and CEO of The American Independent News Network, said the site’s annual funding from New Mexico-specific donors had declined from $187,000 in 2008 to $32,500 this year.

    “I just think those two numbers tell the story,” he said.

    I will miss the the Independent. Good reporters not working for much money. That leaves NM Politics.net to carry on. Guess it’s time for a fund drive, Heath?

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