Chatting With The Establishment About Paying Writers and Funding a Women’s Media Company

New media site The Establishment launched today, focusing on content funded, written, and curated by women. I’m always curious about how media sites get their funding, how they pay their writers, and what constitutes “financial success” — see my interview with Manjula Martin about the life and death of Scratch Magazine — so I reached out to The Establishment founders Kelley Calkins and Nikki Glaudeman to see if they were interested in talking about how The Establishment does money.

Nicole: Hi!

Kelley and Nikki: Hi Nicole! Founders Kelley and Nikki here! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat.

Nicole: So the two of you just launched The Establishment. Can you tell us a little bit about the project?

Kelley and Nikki: There’s actually three of us founder-types! Our compatriot is Katie Tandy, and to round out the rest of the team, we have Ijeoma Oluo as our editor at large, Ruchika Tulshyan as contributing editor, and Jessica Sutherland as our marketing and social media director.

Nikki, Katie, and I were all coeditors and founders at a women’s site called Ravishly, but left in June to found our own venture. We identified what we feel is a sizable niche in the market: media content that’s curated by women, but addressing a wide swathe of subject areas. Every issue is a women’s issue!

Nicole: How often do you plan to release issues? Is this a daily site, or weekly/monthly?

Kelley and Nikki: We’ll be publishing daily! We’ll feature a range of content from humor pieces to original podcast and documentary series to long-form investigative journalism.

Nicole: Nice. This is exciting!

Kelley and Nikki: Thanks! We think so…!

Nicole: So since we’re The Billfold, I want to ask you about how you Do Money. How did you get your initial funding for this project, for starters?

Kelley and Nikki: Welllll, we were fortunate enough to track down a female angel investor in Silicon Valley (we’re based in the Bay Area) who was impressed by the work we’d done at Ravishly and wanted to support a new website both funded and run by women. At this stage, she’s our sole investor.

Nicole: That is awesome! And what is your income model for the publication: ads, sponsors, advertorial, more investors, subscriptions…???

Kelley and Nikki: Our first aim is to make a splash and build up a sizable and committed audience/community.

Our investor has committed to $1 million in seed funding. By that stage in the game, we hope to be, ahem, ESTABLISHED enough to be in a position to attract capital from venture capitalists and fine-tune our revenue strategy. We’re definitely interested in diving into live events and incorporating them into this model.

Nicole: $1 mil in seed funding is great! I’m really excited to read the stories you put out. Can you tell us about any pieces we might want to watch out for?

Kelley and Nikki: Thanks so much! We’re pretty pumped about our longer form investigative pieces; we have a great one exploring the medical child abuse accusation epidemic. The author conducted over 20 interviews to get to the bottom of this important issue.

Our multimedia content has also been a lot of fun to do. We’ve commissioned an original podcast series called “Hellion.” It’ll feature a conversation between a comedian and a writer discussing badass women from history who’ve not gotten their due.

Our editor at large, Ijeoma Oluo, also scored an interview with comedian W. Kamau Bell that’ll be great. We could go on and on…

Nicole: I am assuming that The Establishment is on the side of paying its writers, yes?

Kelley and Nikki: Yes, of course! AKA “the right side of history.”

Nicole: How did you decide what would be a fair wage for freelance work?

Kelley and Nikki: Paying our writers fairly was one of our chief concerns, especially in a media landscape where far too many people are “paid” in exposure and writers are so undervalued. We settled on $125, which we felt was a competitive wage that still worked within the confines of our budget. We’ll be paying higher rates for long-form investigative pieces and are paying multimedia on a case-by-case basis. We decided we’d pay contractors an hourly wage comparable to our salaries.

It’s our aim to bump up these rates as soon as it’s feasible for us…!

Nicole: That all makes sense. So it looks like you have a lot of goals for The Establishment, and a lot of plans. What does success look like for you, let’s say at the one-year mark?

Kelley and Nikki: We’re certainly looking to grow a sizable and devoted audience by then. Our goals are less about just pageviews and more about people engaging in our content and becoming loyal readers. We feel like the tides are turning against clickbait and aggregation, and we think we can provide smart, substantive, original content that resonates widely. We hope within a year, our name is recognized and synonymous with a growing new establishment.

Nicole: Excellent. I am excited to see what happens!