Closing the Compass

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by Margaret Wright

— Since our launch two years ago, the New Mexico Compass has provided a home for hundreds of thoughtful articles created over thousands of volunteer hours. Co-founder Marisa Demarco and I couldn’t be more proud of what a dedicated crew made out of love for the work and this place we call home.

Our overarching aim for the Compass was to offer an outlet for local news and cultural stories that might not be told otherwise, and to create work that matters to people across the state. Thanks to our talented colleagues and generous partner organizations, that goal was assured from the start.

Other goals were both lofty and resistant to compromise: Figure out how to raise sufficient long-term capital to support a staff with living wages and benefits. Cultivate an organizational culture reflective of our state’s diversity and responsive to dissent and critical dialogue. Train up-and-coming journalists. Safeguard our work from outside influences. Amplify marginalized voices. Improve the transparency and accountability of New Mexico institutions, including within our own industry. Build trust with an audience cynical about news by sticking to journalism ethics. Innovate storytelling and discussion using online tools.

All we wanted was everything. (We still do.) But we also learned that everything was beyond the scope of our resources, especially since we’re like a lot of New Mexicans. Neither of us has money. No one we know well enough to partner with has deep pockets from which to lend or invest in our venture. We also believe life is too short, too beautiful and too interesting not to take a stab at the seemingly impossible.

We’re humbled and inspired by what we learned by our striving, proud that the Compass contributed to substantive local policy changes. We’re thrilled that several of the people we mentored over the years have gone on to find careers in journalism.

We’ve worked with so many smart contributors and benefitted from the support of other veteran journalists—like Carolyn Carlson, our friend to the end. A remarkable board of directors (Laura Marrich, Moira Gerety, James Montalbano) had our backs. Over the last several months, Deputy Director Joe Cardillo went to bat for this outlet, too, and “grateful” doesn’t begin to describe how we regard his expert help. The people and ideas propelling the Compass were all rock-solid.

The APD Files, this year’s major reporting pilot project and our fundraising test case, drew national attention and passionate local supporters. Unfortunately, the final tally of funds fell far short of what we need to complete the APD Files properly. We also concluded that the business models we explored for converting the Compass into a sustainable venture simply aren’t viable right now. Local media—especially hard news—is a tough sell, though everyone agrees it’s essential.

We started this venture without knowing how to run a business. While there’s always more to learn, we shutter the Compass with new skills and a firm sense of how to create a successful venture next time.

It’s been especially painful over the past several weeks to conclude we can’t afford to fulfill the full scope of the APD Files. Our concept for a police records database (an open-access, searchable tool we hoped would help foster accountability and reform around police/community relations) will have to be shelved. We also have to drastically scale back our plans for original reporting around the records. When the more modest series has wrapped up, it’ll be time to move on.

For those of you who donated to our Indiegogo campaign, please expect an email with more details on our amendments to the project.

For those of you who refer to the trove of content on nmcompass.com, we’ll keep the site live for at least the next year.

We’re brimming with fresh ideas and gratification that our idealism was tempered but not compromised by these past two years. Idealism still guides us, as the Compass is one chapter in a longer story my colleagues and I are eager to continue forging in this community we’re so devoted to.

The Compass came up short on cash but full of heart. Thanks to each of you for accompanying us on this adventure.

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