How one media outlet raised funds with a satirical telethon

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It’s a Thursday night in late March 2021, but you would be forgiven for mistaking Arthur Newspaper’s online fundraiser as an archived broadcast from 1999.

The video is riddled with nostalgic blasts from the past, from vintage local advertisements to old school public service announcements. The event’s bread and butter is the fictional news stories that satirize real events, delivered by the editors-in-chief of the Trent University student press: Brazil Gaffney-Knox and Nick Taylor. Plus, there’s the sketch comedy videos prepared by reporters, staff and community members.

The three-week-long fundraiser was part of the Peterborough, Ontario-based newspaper’s goal to raise $10,000 by the end of April to support their operations over this coming summer — a plan that includes ambitious reporting projects and maintaining audience engagement throughout the whole year, rather than beginning and ending with the school year.

Scrappy enthusiasm gets others excited

Gaffney-Knox and Taylor knew they wanted to do something fun and entertaining as the capstone on their fundraising push.

“I think, more than anything, this is a testament to trying to build relationships during this time,” Gaffney-Knox says. “What we realized is that people are very ready to be excited about things if you push them and get them excited, and clown around for them.”

The whole idea came together in two weeks, thanks in part to how much the Arthur staff “were really excited by the idea,” Taylor says.

In a whirlwind of preparation, the editors reached out to their staff and invited them to submit sketch comedy videos, to act as callers to the telethon and to help with the production for the broadcast. 

Arthur Newspaper, like many student press publications, has been hit hard by funding insecurity in recent years. Gaffney-Knox says that their work this year has been about building stability into Arthur — which can be a daunting prospect, considering new editors are elected by students every spring. 

Gaffney-Knox and Taylor have also been working on building a membership revenue stream since last year. 

“We had been having ongoing conversations about fundraising and we’d been putting it off as long as we could, in all honesty, because it’s just not the most exciting part of the job for us,” says Taylor.

“We realized we really needed to build a narrative,” says Gaffney-Knox. 

And the narrative they settled on was a satirical take on a small-town television station raising funds to stay on the air. 

As the date of the fundraiser got closer and preparations were being made, the two also had to grapple with their own anxieties: Will anyone watch? Will anyone donate? Will anyone find this funny? 

“Putting your face on the internet is really scary these days,” says Gaffney-Knox. 

And it was community members, Taylor says, who helped them to see that “everyone who’s attending this wants to see us succeed and [they’re] very willing to laugh with us.”

Stephen Stohn was one of the founding editors of Arthur Newspaper and contributed matching funds to this campaign. 

“There are some seriously good journalism projects they can pursue with some additional funding, and I was proud to help raise awareness of that, but equally proud to simply bask in the ridiculousness that was the telethon,” Stohn said in an email.

Ultimately, the event raised $1,490 – almost half of what they raised total during the fundraising campaign.

It was also a good way to blow off steam.

“Because so much of this job has been really serious, whether it’s the journalism that we’re doing, or whether it’s the amount of stress that we put on ourselves to excel and be good bosses, it was so gratifying that we could create something fun for other people to enjoy at a time when that’s really difficult to do.”

“I think what we ended up doing was just doing something very vulnerable and scary. And people responded to it,” says Gaffney-Knox.

You can watch the telethon recording on the Arthur Newspaper Youtube channel, or help them reach their fundraising goal.