2022 was quite a year for Jacksonville Today

We launched Jacksonville Today in October of 2021, and we consider 2022 the year we gathered steam (a lot of it). Here’s a recap of what we’ve accomplished. We’ll try our best to be brief, but here’s the “too long, didn’t read”: Thank you.

Thank you to you to our newsletter subscribers, jaxtoday.org visitors, those who gave us feedback and news tips, those who expressed and continue to express how much you rely on us or what you think we could improve upon, and thank you especially to the foundations and individuals we count as our major funders and the almost 550 of you who also joined our Founders Circle by contributing to our year-end fundraising efforts.

We are grateful.

There is a lot of Northeast-Florida-love in our newsroom. That’s not only because we’re locally owned and operated, but really because we’re honored to cover the communities we serve. Local journalism is not always glamorous, but it is rewarding, and we love serving you.

 

We listened (to you)

Here’s a brief look at what we’ve done, major themes we’ve reported on, and some of our most notable stories. But it all started with the act of listening – listening to what this community needs, to what you’re curious about, and to what isn’t being covered. Our ears are always open, and you can reach out to us any time at news@jaxtoday.org.

There’s also some business to report on as well – which began in the same place. Surveys, emails, grant applications… listening. 

In 2022, we also used analytics to find out how and why people arrive at our front page, whether that’s our jaxtoday.org/signup page, or jaxtoday.org. We studied the anonymized data to find out what you are most interested in seeing on jaxtoday.org and what design choices make it a usable, friendly experience worthy of your return - which we hope you will do often for your local news. Below is a look at our website traffic in 2022 (the spike in November corresponds with local elections).

 

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We also diversified our funding sources in 2022. We hosted a series of local fundraising events to educate the philanthropic community about the need to support local news in their giving priorities. We were successful in gathering the local community support we needed to get started, but that work continues as we strive toward financial sustainability in the long term. And our sponsored content program for the newsletter is gathering steam as well.

Every time you suggest Jacksonville Today to a friend, share an article, or forward a newsletter to a friend, it means more traffic to our website, a person our sponsors can reach out to through our audience, or a newsletter subscriber who could eventually support our work.

And of course, those of you who supported us at the end of 2022 are a big part of some of that revenue diversification. Our very first effort to ask you to support us was a resounding success: 520 Founders Circle members supported us at the end of 2022, and every cent of their contributions was matched by two institutions that have a vested interest in our success as well as that of local news as a whole: the local Jessie Ball duPont Foundation, and the national NewsMatch program.

One more thing (this is important): when it comes to larger sums of money from one source, like those matching funds, it’s imperative to make sure you know who our major funders are and that none of them have any influence on coverage. In the spirit of that transparency, we also have no anonymous donors - big or small.

 

Our best accomplishments of 2022 (in a timeline)

January 3rd, 2022: Thanks to a three-and-a-half-month windup, the “State and Local Preview of 2022” newsletter hits the inboxes of 4,340 subscribers written by what was then, and is now, a two person newsletter-writing team.

 

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January 18th: The first ADAPT story of 2022, Could bacteria help reduce shoreline erosion? UNF researchers aim to find out. ADAPT is part of Jacksonville Today and covers Northeast Florida’s local adaptation to sea level rise.

January 31st: Break out the confetti, Jacksonville Today is officially sent to over 5,000 subscribers. (Are you an original member of this group? Send a quick message to news@jaxtoday.org and tell us what first made you subscribe)

February 14: Our first Voter Quiz is published during the leadup to the at-large city council seat election vacated by the late Tommy Hazouri. (Skip to February 2023: we’ve come a long way from there to our recently-published Mayors Quiz, seen by just under 5,000 people as of today).

February 27: We may have buried the lead with that last one… that original voter quiz was the first article by Jacksonville Today‘s first full-time reporter, Claire Heddles. She followed that up on February 27th with an in-depth, interactive look into voter turnout: EXPLORE: Is your voting precinct one of Jax’s highest-turnout? Or the lowest?. Read about Claire here.

February, March notables:  Public art in bloom — yes, even at the Duval Courthouse by our Arts and Culture editor Matthew Shaw, who you may know from his weekly Arts Picks; Also published during this time: Climbing costs leave Jacksonville families struggling for food written by Claire Heddles. 

April 4: We had 6,000 subscribers, no kidding (and no April Fool’s joke). As hard as it was to believe that we had grown at a rate of 1,000 subscribers per month for six months, it was all happening 🥳.

May 11th: What is this, a hiring spree? Jacksonville Today welcomes Will Brown, a Report for America corps member focusing on race, inequality and poverty. Here’s Will’s intro (very much worth a read).

May notables: Independent Florida water providers are shutting down. American Beach’s doesn’t want to be next by Claire Heddles, Former Jax area Wells Fargo SVP says he was fired for objecting to fake interviews for non-white candidates by Will Brown, and What Duval Schools is cutting from its LGBTQ+ Support Guide by Claire Heddles.

July 15th: Hellooo 8,000 subscribers 🎉, and another notable ADAPT article: Citizen scientists help map the heat in Jacksonville.

July 19th: Let’s start talking about the candidate forums coming up, the subject of our newsletter that day (one of those candidate forums being our very own - but we’re getting ahead of ourselves).

August highlights: PHOTO ESSAY | Eastside Jax ‘on the right path’ by Matthew Shaw, Dennis Ho and Jessica Palombo, and 5 takeaways from Tuesday’s elections in Jacksonville by contributor Andrew Pantazi of The Tributary, Duval’s Black voters have mixed thoughts on congressional redistricting by Will Brown, and an opinion column from contributor and former state senator Rob Bradley, Government can work. Here’s proof.

September 15: Jacksonville sheriff candidates Lakesha Burton (D) and T.K. Waters (R) answer questions about crime, police misconduct, money and more during a hybrid online-and-in-person candidate debate hosted by Jacksonville Today and the Jacksonville Bar Association.

September 23rd: We knew it was coming, but 10,000 subscribers meant everything to us 🥹.

 

 

 

At the end of the year, we hit our stride

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Voter guides/interactives: Leading up to elections in November, the voter guide and voter quiz section of jaxtoday.org became far and away some of our most popular pages to date. This was especially true of our Northeast Florida Judges Voter Guide, which seemed to hit a niche purpose, helping many of you be informed about judges at the ballot box (did it help you? let us know with a quick note to news@jaxtoday.org).

A runner up in popularity: our Sheriff’s Quiz, which was also a hit with civically engaged subscribers. You valued this work of ours, and that’s why we made more this year. You can find it all at jaxtoday.org/vote.

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Education: Claire Heddles kept readers up to speed on the ever-changing Duval County Public School policies: Duval Schools still out of compliance with new state laws, Condom demo policy approved; more sex ed changes coming in Duval, and Duval Schools to keep 73 ‘diverse, inclusive’ books out of classrooms, an article which has since been entered into the United States Congress' congressional record. Claire and other Jacksonville Today reporters continue to make sure readers have the facts on these issues in 2023.

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Political analysis: Our reporters contextualized and localized the midterm elections with data reporting and boots-on-the-ground looks at local voters, like Will Brown’s article Could Duval’s Black voters dictate the Florida midterms? and Claire Heddles’ data-based piece, EXPLORE: How DeSantis’ congressional map affected Northeast Florida midterms.

Explainers and investigations, like Mayor Lenny Curry could be violating the First Amendment on Twitter or $500K idling, facilitators ghosted: A timeline of Jax Confederate monument inaction, to name a few.

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And finally, Report for America stories (thanks to our Report for America reporter Will Brown) that gave news you can use to local parents considering school options: 2 new Northwest Jacksonville schools mix HBCU culture with elementary curriculum and highlight the culture of Northwest Jacksonville: PHOTO ESSAY | Northwest Classic in pictures.

Skipping ahead to 2023 for a second: Will also created a guide, praised by the school district, for enrolling your kids in the new school year: Enrolling your child in Duval County Public Schools | JAX TODAY GUIDE.

 

Why did we start Jacksonville Today?

In short, local journalism keeps local representatives honest, it helps counteract the divisive nature of social media posts and partisan politics, it informs voters, counteracts misinformation, and boosts voter participation. It even reduces the riskiness of government loans when there are journalists to investigate corruption. After all, who cares about partisan politics when you just want your garbage picked up? Remember that local story? It was the subject of one of our test newsletters for Jax Today, sent to a small group before launch.

In case you weren’t aware, there is absolutely a problem with local news in Northeast Florida. As local newsrooms across the region have varying degrees of success at going digital, consolidate print resources, reduce their publication cycle, or market forces compel them to run leaner and leaner, good local journalism becomes a dwindling resource. The largest example of this, of course, is Jax’s newspaper-of-record, the Times-Union, a 15 decade old intitution (a history written by our friends at The Jaxson) which has done some incredible work with fewer and fewer resources. We have a strong partnership with the Times-Union and many other local newsrooms, and we want them to succeed alongside us.

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It's up to all of us to make sure local journalism thrives. Whether you have the capacity to support local news or not, we believe all of us are equally worthy of access to truthful, nonpartisan, fact-based information. That’s why we work on a nonprofit model, why we have partnerships with other local newsrooms, and why we thrive on a partnership with you. You partner with us every time you share an article or suggest that a friend signs up to get Jacksonville Today.

And you help us solve the local news crisis when you choose to support our work.

Anyway. Back to our work in 2022.

 

Finally, our finances

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As with most business ventures, our most important and expensive asset is none other than our staff. Professional services such as consultants and tech tools that help us grow, and contributors who add to the quality and breadth of our reporting are important as well. Rounding out the pie are advertising costs and taxes and insurance.

We also diversified our funding sources in 2022. We hosted a series of local fundraising events to educate the philanthropic community about the need to support local news in their giving priorities. We were successful in gathering the local community support we needed to get started, but that work continues as we strive toward financial sustainability in the long term.

Our sponsored content program for the newsletter is gathering steam as well. Every time you suggest Jacksonville Today to a friend, share an article, or forward a newsletter to a friend, it means more traffic to our website, a person our sponsors can reach out to through our audience, or a newsletter subscriber who could eventually support our work.

And of course, those of you who supported us are a big part of that same revenue diversification. Our very first effort to ask you to support us was a resounding success: almost 550 Founders Circle members supported us at the end of 2022, and every cent of that money was matched by two institutions that have a vested interest in our success as well as that of local news as a whole: the local Jessie Ball duPont Foundation, and the national NewsMatch program.

 

Where we go from here

We have a ways to go to meet our long-term goals, and we consider ourselves only barely past the first mile of this marathon. 

In 2023, we’ll be continuing the same work we’re proud of with our Jacksonville Today newsletter (which is fast-approaching 15,000 subscribers at this very moment).

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In 2023, we’ll expand that focus to our growing online audience at jaxtoday.org, adding more compelling features to that website for those who are not (and may never be) a Jacksonville Today newsletter reader.We have a ways to go to meet our long-term goals, and we consider ourselves only barely past the first mile of this marathon. 

On the revenue side, we’re also going to add benefits for those who support our work, and add more sponsors to our newsletter and on jaxtoday.org. This will further diversify our revenue (a major focus of ours in the long-term), and we’re exploring even more ways we can raise funding.

We also want to make sure we continue to listen to you. If you’ve made it this far, please go a step further and send us your feedback. We can’t always guarantee a response, but we always have time to read it. Drop us a line anytime at news@jaxtoday.org. We can’t do any of this without you, and our work not only depends, but it thrives, on your input.

Thank you for reading, and here’s to more tracking down leads, finding the truth, and keeping you informed in 2023 and beyond.