Substack offering up to $100,000 advances to local journalists

Substack, the newsletter platform that allows writers and journalists to receive payments directly from readers, is launching a $1 million program to support local journalists, the company announced Thursday.

“Today, we’re announcing Substack Local, a US $1,000,000 initiative to foster and develop the local news ecosystem by helping independent writers build local news publications based on the subscription model,” the company wrote in a post on its website.

Substack will support up to 30 local news writers — chosen by a panel of independent judges, the company said — by pairing them with a journalism mentor and offering subsidized health insurance, design services and “a cash advance designed to reduce the financial risk of starting a new business.”

The company said the advances, which range up to $100,000, are meant to support writers for one year while they build up their audience. During that time they’ll also receive 15 percent of their newsletter’s subscription revenue.

After a year, the writers will begin earning 90 percent of their publication’s subscriptions, the standard Substack agreement.

Irving Washington, the executive director and CEO of journalism trade group the Online News Association, said the Substack program could help shore up the local media industry, which has suffered from layoffs and the closure of media outlets over the last several years.

“Substack’s announcement to more strategically enter into the local news arena is promising. Given the disruption in the field, we need as many experiments as possible to support local journalism,” Washington said.

However, as a board member for the nonprofit American Journalism Project, which also supports local journalism, Washington said he hopes Substack is in it for the long haul.

“I hope this is a long-term commitment from Substack to recognize the importance of local journalism sustainability,” he added. “This needs to be more than just an experiment based on encouraging signs and seeing what happens. Substack also needs to be committed to embracing journalistic principles, ethics, and long-term resources to journalism in local communities.”

Writers have until 5 p.m. PDT on April 29 to submit an application and the program is open to anyone globally. The company will announce the winners in May.

Ideal candidates, the company said, will have a strong news reporting background, be serious about growing their own media business and “care deeply” for their community.

The judges choosing the winning applicants are Zeynep Tufekci, publisher of Insight, Anne Helen Petersen, publisher of Culture Study, Dick Tofel, publisher of Second Rough Draft, and Rachael Larimore, managing editor at The Dispatch.

Substack was founded in 2017 to provide journalists and writers with a way to earn money in an era of media cutbacks. Since its inception, several prominent writers, including Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Andrew Sullivan and Matt Yglesias have migrated to the platform.

However, earlier this year Substack came under attack for supporting and giving advances to writers that some have accused of being antagonistic toward trans people and the advancement of civil rights.

Separately, in late March news broke that Substack was trying to raise $65 million in funding as the platform grew in popularity and its newsletters gained traction.

— Updated at 1:17 p.m.

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