Mother Jones, a liberal periodical that specializes in investigative journalism, is trying to raise nearly $200,000 from its readers in order to head off what the money-losing magazine calls the "worst financial crisis" in its nine-year history.
Though officials of the San Francisco-based publication say Mother Jones is not in danger of folding, they warn of publication cutbacks next year without more money. Mother Jones normally puts out 10 issues a year.
"How bad is our financial crisis? Very bad," Publisher Don Hazen said in a recent staff memo that is being distributed to subscribers as part of a fund-raising effort. "We need $197,000 or we won't have enough money to print the first two issues of 1986."
Mother Jones' 1985 revenue should fall about $750,000 short of the magazine's $3-million-plus in expenses, Hazen added in a phone interview. The magazine is trying to reduce costs by cutting one issue from its 1985 publication schedule and putting its 10 editorial employees on a one-month unpaid furlough.
This is the second year in a row that Mother Jones has appealed to its readers for financial help. The not-for-profit magazine raised $149,000 last year through a similar appeal.
Hazen said that donations already are "pouring in" but noted that it would be several weeks before he knows if the fund-raising goal will be met. "We're pretty confident we'll raise the money we need," he said.
Most of Mother Jones' money problems stem from rising postal rates, a small advertising base and declining circulation. Circulation has dropped to 155,000 from nearly 200,000 five years ago, while postal rates have have gone up 88% "since Reagan took office," the Hazen memo noted.
Since its founding nine years ago, Mother Jones has made a name for itself through a feisty and combative form of investigative journalism. The magazine is named after Mary Harris Jones, a little-known labor activist and union organizer who died in 1930. Her stern picture sits atop the magazine's masthead.
The magazine is perhaps best known for its stories in the late 1970s charging that Ford Pintos were fire hazards because their gas tanks were flawed and tended to rupture during accidents.
In addition to its financial problems, Hazen said, Mother Jones is suffering because its left-wing approach has become too predictable. As a result, Hazen said, the magazine is planning design and content changes intended to give the magazine new life on the eve of its 10th anniversary.
"We have to be more cognizant that the 1980s are not the 1960s," the publisher said. "We will balance our political reporting with stories about people's personal needs."