The Future Is Now

Over the time I’ve been telling you about the different aspects of our Prime membership program, many of you have written in to ask if you can contribute more to our efforts in addition to subscribing to Prime. Yes, there is a way and we’ve set up a program to allow you to do just that. I actually first announced this program in February. But it’s taken us since then to get all the different parts of it in place to do it right and do it at scale. After the jump I’ll explain the whole thing. Even if you don’t want to contribute – which is fine and which you should feel no obligation to do – you may still be interested to read because as part of this program we will be giving free TPM Prime memberships to all currently enrolled students – high school, college, community college, graduate school. All enrolled students.

The program is called FIN – the Future is Now program. The concept is simple. We are always looking for ways to grow our business to allow us to cover more news and do more original reporting. But after the November election, we felt that the need for more original reporting, specifically more muckraking reporting was newly acute. Our growth is by definition incremental. Your subscriptions have allowed us to continue growing our reporting team. But we felt it was important to do more now – not next year or five years from now but now. At the same time a lot of readers were coming to us and asking how they could contribute more on top of their Prime membership.

The FIN program allows you to purchase additional memberships which TPM will distribute to enrolled students. The revenue from those FIN subscriptions will be earmarked specifically and exclusively for our Investigations Desk, our currently expanding investigations team. It’s as simple as that. Want to invest more in our original investigative reporting? Buy FIN subscriptions. $50, $100, $500, $5,000. Any amount you want. We will take that money and earmark it exclusively for the Investigations Desk. We will also make free subscriptions available for enrolled students.

At first we planned to make them available to full-time students only. But we realized that many low-income students are part-time precisely they have to work while they’re in school. So any enrolled student is eligible.

Now, what’s been happening since February when we first announced we’d be doing this? At a small organization, things always take longer than you’d like. In this case, we needed to do two important things. First we needed to get the Investigations Desk up and running. We’ve now done that with Sam Thielman and Tierney Sneed reporting and with Catherine Thompson and David Kurtz as Editors. We are currently hiring for another Investigations Desk reporter. And we plan to hire more in 2018.

We also plan to give out literally thousands of free memberships to students. To do that at scale requires some infrastructure. And along with that infrastructure, there was a broader issue we needed to address. Prime has existed since the end of 2012 and only really got underway in a major way in 2014-15. Because it started out small and because we’re not a heavily capitalized company (understatement), the mechanisms for signing up and administering accounts grew up incrementally and in a not terribly rationalized way. It’s been rock solid from the start in terms of security and all the critical things about dealing with your money. No worries there. But in terms of making it easy to sign up, making the instructions clear, making it easy to update your account, know where certain things are, etc. etc., it was far from ideal. Again, this was largely due to Prime starting out as a very small part of our operation and having different parts of it grow up in an ad hoc way rather than according to one integrated plan.

Now we’ve done that. We will be rolling the new sign up and account management system soon after Labor Day. Once that’s done, I’ll do another post in the Editor’s Blog with specific instructions about how to buy into the FIN program, if you’d like to, and how to get a free Prime membership if you’re an enrolled student.