In the new year, the governor will stand before the General Assembly and deliver the State of the Commonwealth speech. Sometime after that, the president will do the same before Congress. In the same spirit, today I will deliver an annual report on the state of Cardinal News, since we are funded by you, the readers.
Yes, that’s a not-so-subtle fundraising pitch. Here’s what we’ve done with your money this year and what we’ll do with it in the coming year.
In 2022, we grew in three important – and related – ways: We grew readership, we grew our donor base, and we grew our staff. Here’s a look at those three.
We have more people reading us.
We have nearly six times as many subscribers to the daily email newsletter as we did at the first of the year. We attribute much of that growth to lessons we learned as part of the Meta-funded reader revenue accelerator class for online news sites that we were accepted into toward the end of 2021. We officially graduated from that program in September.
We have more donors supporting us financially.
First, let’s back up slightly more than a year, to our launch in September 2021. When we started, we had 12 donors who had faith in us that we could deliver on our pledge to create a nonprofit online news site that would deliver high quality, in-depth journalism. As 2022 comes to a close, we now have more than 2,200 donors. Because we believe in transparency, you can find them all listed on our site – along with our rules about how donors have no say in news decisions. As I always like to say, you, too, can be a donor and have no say in news decisions. Of note: From now until the end of the year, NewsMatch will double your gift of up to $1,000. And yes, for those counting tax deductions, we are a 501(c)(3). The donations that are most helpful are recurring ones – be they monthly or yearly. They are the ones that help us more reliably plan a budget.
We’ve more than doubled our staff size.
We started with a staff of three, me as editor and two reporters – political reporter Markus Schmidt in Richmond and business reporter Megan Schnabel in Roanoke. That meant when the General Assembly convened in January, our coverage area in Southwest and Southside had something it hasn’t had in more than a decade – a full-time reporter in the state Capitol year-round to cover what our legislators are doing. That was particularly useful when the legislature broke with tradition and committed to more than $1.3 billion in state funding for school construction in response to a push led by Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington County. Besides business reporting duties, Megan has served as a kind of roving reporter across our region. Part of that has involved covering the repeated flooding in Buchanan County. Del. Will Morefield, R-Tazewell County, told The Washington Post that Megan’s coverage of the aftermath of the Hurley flood in 2021 was helpful in him securing $11.4 million in flood relief in this year’s state budget. That’s also a way of pointing out that, yes, The Washington Post’s media columnist found us worthy of a column.
In 2022, we added two more reporters to bring our reporting staff up to four – double what we started with.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Danville Regional Foundation, we were able to add Grace Mamon in Danville in July. I was recently at an event in Richmond where someone told me that, based on Grace’s reporting, “you’ve totally changed my impression of Danville.”
And thanks to a generous grant from the Genan Foundation, we were able to add Susan Cameron in Bristol in September. Susan’s arrival came just in the nick of time. In her second week on the job, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced plans to build a small modular nuclear reactor somewhere in Southwest Virginia.
Behind the scenes, we’ve added other positions. Luanne Rife, one of our founders, took on the role of executive director and chief development officer in January to handle the business side of things.
Thanks to a generous grant from The Secular Society, we were able to add a digital audience engagement editor. Brooke Stephenson holds that role. If you’re a relatively recent Cardinal reader, the odds are good that you found us through Brooke’s work. She’s the one in charge of the internet black magic that helps our stories appear high in search engines and get placed in corners of the ‘net that they might otherwise not show up.
We’ve also added a part-time copy editor, Erica Myatt. When we brought on Erica, I assured her it would be an easy gig – no more than a single story and a single column of mine a day. Of course, back then we had just two reporters. Now we’ve doubled our staff and Erica sometimes finds herself copy-editing as many stories in a night as she did in her previous job at The Roanoke Times. Of course, this is yet another subtle fundraising pitch: As our staff grows, and our output grows, we’ll need more editing help.
And our staff will grow. In September, the Harvest Foundation awarded us a generous grant to add a reporter based in Martinsville. We’ll have an announcement in early January about who will be filling that role. You’ll see we’ve also been raising money to fund an education reporter; there’s no full-time education reporter west of Richmond. Look for us to add that position – our sixth – in early 2023, as well.
That would mean our reporting staff will have tripled since our launch. We’re already the fastest-growing news organization in the state; our new positions will only accelerate that growth. There are other positions on our wish list, too. We need a health care reporter – health care is a big sector of our economy, yet there’s no full-time health care reporter anywhere in Virginia. We need a technology reporter. Blacksburg had the third-highest growth in tech-sector workers last year of any place in the country. We need a Lynchburg reporter. That’s the largest metro area in our coverage area where we don’t have a reporter based. We could use a reporter specifically dedicated to the Roanoke and New River valleys and, as mentioned earlier, more editing capacity. To support all that, we also plan to bring in a full-time development specialist. To further ensure our long-term sustainability, we’ll be embarking on a strategic planning process in 2023 to help us plot out where we want Cardinal News to be in five years and how we intend to get there.
We’ve grown in other ways this year, too:
We also launched two additional newsletters this year. For those for whom a daily email is too much, we now have a weekly email that lists our 10 best-read stories for the week. And we’ve launched a weekly weather newsletter, featuring the work of weather journalist Kevin Myatt. If you’re not already on any of these lists and want to be, you can sign up here. As our coverage expands, we expect to add more newsletters for specific topics.
To help develop other revenue streams to support our operations, we will soon be offering sponsorship opportunities for our newsletters. Oakey’s, a family-run, locally owned funeral home in the Roanoke Valley, sponsors the Cardinal Weather newsletter, which helps us defray the costs. We expect to announce additional sponsorship opportunities in early January.
Also in 2022, we branched into offering live events, with three installments of the Cardinal News Speaker Series where we’ve brought in nationally known speakers to address some aspect of the economy.
In June, we hosted Rep. Ro Khanna in Blacksburg – with the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center and the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council as co-sponsors. Khanna is the congressman from Silicon Valley and a proponent of making sure the nation’s technology sector is more widely distributed. In September, we hosted Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, in Danville to talk about the future of manufacturing – with American National Bank & Trust Company, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. Danville and First Piedmont Corp. as co-sponsors. In October, we hosted Governor Glenn Youngkin in Bristol to talk about economic development in Southwest Virginia, with the Bristol Chamber of Commerce as our co-sponsor. We’ll have more events in 2023, starting with author Beth Macy in Clifton Forge on Feb. 6. Be on the watch for details in the coming week. Our ability to secure these speakers underscores the respect that Cardinal now commands.
I’ll close by pointing out something that always surprises people: We’ve built a statewide audience. We set out to reach our coverage area west of Richmond – and hoped to get some attention in the state capital, too. Instead, we have readers all over Virginia. The internet knows no bounds. The map above shows our readership to date this year. As you can see, our biggest source of readers is in the Roanoke Valley. However, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads are effectively tied for second place. Whenever I hear from readers in those places, I always ask them why they’re reading us. After all, we’re not covering them. The answer is almost always the same: “You’re covering a part of the state we don’t know much about,” they say. But now they do. Thanks to you.