On Giving Tuesday, the independent journalism site Tulsa Frontier has announced it will switch to a nonprofit business model that will also demolish the paywall that the site had featured since its launch in late April 2015.
The Frontier emailed current and former subscribers around 8 a.m. to announce the change:
After our first full year at The Frontier, we’re proud of the success we’ve achieved and the impact we’ve had on our community. We’re also humbled by the support from you, the members, and the general public.
We want to continue growing and serving the public through our journalism, so we’ve made a strategic decision to transition to a nonprofit model beginning Tuesday.
In a phone call Tuesday morning, editor in chief Ziva Branstetter said Frontier publisher Robert E. Lorton III had discussed the idea of running the site as a nonprofit from its inception, but she said they wanted to see how a for-profit model would work first.
“It’s a lot easier to go get big money to do investigative journalism all at once, as opposed to selling memberships at $30 a pop,” Branstetter said, while noting that their subscriber base had been steadily growing.
That, however, meant more administrative work as well. The veteran Tulsa journalist said she would rather hire reporters than administration staff.
Tulsa Frontier now available for all readers
The Tulsa Frontier had been written up by Nieman Lab in May 2015 for “betting on a high-subscription-cost model” in the world of new media.
But Tuesday’s announcement will make the Tulsa Frontier readily available to a broader swath of the population — everyone — which Branstetter praised.
“I’m very excited that our site will be open to everyone now, especially those who wanted to read The Frontier before but couldn’t afford to,” Branstetter said. “We write a lot about disadvantaged people and people who are in bad situations who couldn’t afford our membership.
“The bigger the story, the more likely we were to leave the paywall off, which sort of defeated the purpose of it.”
Tuesday’s email elaborated further:
Our change means you will no longer be billed for your membership. If you’re a monthly member of The Frontier, we hope you continue at or above your current level of support. Even if you’ve just purchased a story one time, we’d appreciate your continued support, and it’s tax deductible under our new model. Click here to visit our donation page.
Branstetter said the Frontier is waiting on its IRS determination letter but that donations are currently being housed by the Tulsa Community Foundation.
She said the site will soon publish articles in a section called The Saloon that will feature opinion pieces and analysis from additional community voices.
“We’re really big on partnerships,” Branstetter said. “This doesn’t change anything with our partnership with Channel 6 and 9, and I’m very interested in partnering with any other media organization. To me, it’s about the journalism.”
Branstetter passed along a quote from Lorton about the announcement.
“We want to be able to add more staff and expand our readership, and the membership model had limitations,” Lorton said.
(Update: This story was updated to include the quote from Robert E. Lorton III at 2 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 29.)