NonDoc for sale, seeking solutions

(Update: NonDoc has relaunched operations for 2019.)

During our three-plus years running NonDoc Media, we have received a lot of compliments. People largely like our work, but those who ask about our financial situation are often surprised to learn of our skeletal existence.

Whether it’s the relatively clean look of our site, the impact of our efforts or the fact we have managed to publish at least one piece of content for 1,183 consecutive days, people typically recognize the journalism industry’s challenges but presume we are making decent money. We usually respond by proposing people support our Writers’ Fund or encouraging organizations to “buy local” with their advertising budgets, yet we avoid describing the true nature of NonDoc’s pecuniary picture.

But today, after months of consideration and financial consternation, we feel like wizards who must step out from behind the curtain.

Thus, we are suspending our publishing operations through the end of the year while offering potential investors the opportunity to obtain and grow, Oklahoma’s best media website according to the Society of Professional Journalists’ local chapter.

We hope this suspension will allow for fruitful conversations with supporters and community stakeholders, and we hope that a sustainable path forward can be found for 2019, especially with a new Oklahoma Legislature starting its engine soon.

That said, we realize this may ultimately be the end of our line.

The shoestring

When considering how NonDoc’s financial shoestring affects our work, perhaps it would be best to start with an admission: We wish we could produce a better product. For instance, we wish we (still) had a freelance budget or a staff reporter at all — some way to cover the countless stories we discover but leave untold by our limitations.

We wish we had an additional editor or copy editor, another set of trained eyes to catch errors, consider optics, craft appropriate headlines or fine-tune social media posts. Often when we make a mistake, it is the result of — or at least compounded by — our compressed time and hectic schedules. To that end, we wish we had decent salaries that precluded us from working second and third jobs in the gig economy. We wish we did not have to beg for money just to make payroll, which we each eschewed for one month this fall as revenue dwindled.

Similarly, we recognize that our ability to do these editorial jobs for more than three years has hinged largely on our economic privilege: no car payments; no student loans; no spouses or children. While we survived on meager means running a company that operated from a living room during its first two years, NonDoc’s current revenue picture as a for-profit company does not display long-term viability.

Behind the revenue curtain

Suspending operations is not a decision we take lightly, and we promise we have considered the various options or ideas that might pop into your head while reading this. For instance, some have suggested NonDoc become a nonprofit like two other in-state publications: Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier.

Unfortunately, doing so would jeopardize our primary (though volatile) source of existing revenue: advertising. While generous readers combine to chip in about $900 per month via our non-tax-deductible Writers’ Fund, forming a nonprofit would require us to obtain what those other publications have had: hundreds of thousands of dollars in commitments from affluent individuals and foundations.

We do, however, have long-time advertisers who remain invested in our efforts, and we would be remiss not to thank them for their support: Home Creations, Designs in Dentistry, FKG Consulting, the Oklahoma State Chamber, the Oklahoma Bankers Association and former Gov. David Walters’ Oklahoma Property Investors. We cannot thank you — and those who came before you, such as St. Anthony’s Hospital and the Oklahoma Coalition for Workers Rights — nearly enough.

Yet, as other for-profit publications can attest, advertising markets have been upended and deflated by Google, Facebook and streaming services. Whenever local advertising proves scant and we choose to place Google ads on NonDoc, the results are doubly frustrating: Displaying Google ads might yield $10 on a good day; and when the public sees high-profile companies plying their wares on NonDoc, it furthers an incorrect assumption about our revenues.

As a result, we have tried to preach a “homer” message to Oklahoma entities — both private and public — who buy advertising across multiple media: Advertise locally to support local journalism. While such a mantra makes sense to all who hear it, marketing decision makers are incentivized to buy Google. Since we recognize how Google and Facebook allow direct targeting that a small business like ours does not, it’s hard to blame folks for such decisions.

Exacerbating our market frustrations is the unfortunate reality that even when we think we have struck large advertising deals or other arrangements, talk often stops short of action. Even handshakes sometimes aren’t what they used to be.

To compound matters concerning our primary coverage categories, Oklahoma’s #Election2018 never became the financial boon we had hoped. The vast majority of revenue we earned came from those who paid modest amounts to sponsor the seven political debates we produced. We offer our most sincere appreciation to those diverse organizations:

  • The Wind Coalition
  • McSpadden, Milner & Robinson
  • Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association
  • Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association
  • Freedom Oklahoma
  • Women Lead
  • FKG Consulting
  • Edwards Capitol Partners
  • Oklahoma AFL-CIO
  • OKC Firefighters IAFF Local 157
  • Jill Castilla
  • Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association
  • Oklahoma Society of CPAs
  • Continental Resources
  • Chubbuck Duncan & Robey
  • Crowe & Dunlevy
  • Foshee & Yaffe
  • Fulmer Sill
  • Oklahoma Association of Defense Counsel
  • The West Law Firm
  • OG&E
  • Oklahoma Public School Resource Center
  • OK2030
  • AARP of Oklahoma

Whatever happens with NonDoc, we truly hope we can ensure that other political candidates debate issues and ideas fairly and transparently before the public.

Here’s how you can help

NonDoc newsroom
A sign featuring the signatures of supporters hangs in the NonDoc newsroom. (NonDoc)

As we are suspending operations and seeking solutions, we want this post to focus on more than just challenges. We also want to highlight NonDoc’s value and accomplishments.

Beyond receiving recognition as Oklahoma’s best journalism website earlier this year, our 3.25 years of operation have:

As a result, we hope that the right person or persons will view our past 39 months as a promising proof of concept, one worthy of the necessary investments it has never had and one with substantial value for the state of Oklahoma.

Those interested in discussing NonDoc’s specific financial and operational details can simply contact us directly or via the following form:

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Thank you so much for your support, and we hope that conversations in the coming weeks can reveal a path forward.

William W. Savage III (Tres) has served as the editor in chief of NonDoc since the publication launched in September 2015. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and covered two sessions of the Oklahoma Legislature for before working in health care for six years. He is a nationally certified Mental Health First Aid instructor.
Josh McBee served as NonDoc's managing editor from September 2015 through January 2019. He earned a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. He has reported and edited for newspapers and other media in Oklahoma, Colorado and California.