Knock LA’s Horrifying, Colossal, Wonderful Year
2021 was very bad for our mental health. It was also very good for running a local news website.
The past year has been transformative for Knock LA. We left Medium and created our own website, published a groundbreaking 15-part investigative history on deputy gangs in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and grew both our revenue and our readership exponentially. In the interest of transparency, we felt that it was important to share with our readers (including any goons the Los Angeles Police Department pays to monitor us) exactly how Knock LA grew and developed in 2021. But first, some context.
Knock LA, then styled KNOCK.LA, began life as a Medium blog in 2017. It was created by members of Ground Game LA, a grassroots nonprofit, to fill the gap in alt-weekly coverage of Los Angeles left by the death of LA Weekly. Then as now, Knock LA was powered by passionate journalists, organizers, and advocates donating their free time to keep the site running.
Throughout the first three years of our existence, from 2017 to 2020, Knock LA raised $24,663 in donations and generated 1,016,137 unique pageviews.
In 2021 alone, we raised over $45,000 in donations and generated over 1,220,232 unique pageviews
So, How Did This Happen?
More volunteers and better articles.
We understand that it’s better writing to include three examples, but these two factors were far and away the key to our growth this year. Because we are living in a dying empire and systems are failing all around us, more Angelenos became interested in civic engagement and fact-driven local news coverage.
This led to more people engaging with Knock LA, which led to more donations and volunteers for our editorial team, which led to higher quality articles. And as more people read those well-written, well-researched articles, the effects compounded.
Specifically, Cerise Castle’s 15-part investigative history, “A Tradition of Violence: The History of Deputy Gangs in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” was a game-changer. First published on March 22, the series accounted for around 45% of Knock LA’s total unique viewers this year, and almost immediately led to an effective doubling of donations. More importantly, Castle’s reporting directly influenced the CA Department of Justice, the LA Democratic Party, Representative Maxine Waters, the Civilian Oversight Commission, and others to investigate deputy gangs in the LASD. It was also a massive collaborative effort on the support side, involving at least a dozen editors, researchers, technical experts, and one brilliant illustrator volunteering hundreds of hours of cumulative time.
Our new website was also a huge piece of the puzzle. Primarily crafted by three egregiously talented developers, including Danny Cohen, it allowed us to make it easy for people to connect, pitch, and donate to us. It also provided some sorely needed tools to improve our editing pipeline, as well as increasing our organic search visibility. The new site gave Knock LA better control over its article library, unshackling us from Medium’s (frankly) Draconian content policies. Plus, it looks WAY better than any Medium blog. You can learn more about Knock LA’s 2021 growth in this interview a few of our managing editors did with the Columbia Journalism Review.
Lastly, we found a mysterious hermit in a cave and, after answering his riddles three, he granted us one wish. Knock LA is only, like, 90% sure this was an effective driver of growth.
So What’s Your Guys’ Deal With Money?
While the writers, editors, and volunteers who make up Knock LA hold a wide variety of opinions (sometimes contradictory) on how to make LA a better place to live, our general consensus is that money is fucking stupid and made-up and capitalism is literally killing the world.
So, Knock LA doesn’t accept money from advertisers, sponsorships, or retail affiliates. We want to be accountable to our community, not corporations. We make all of our revenue from reader donations, generally from two sources: Patreon for recurring donors, and ActBlue for one-time donors. Knock LA also occasionally benefits from fundraisers, like this one hosted by Maggie Mae Fish and Jamie Loftus in partnership with NOlympics LA. We strongly believe this is the best way for Knock LA to maintain editorial independence and journalistic integrity.
In 2021, we raised approximately $45,000 through those donations. We spent around $22,000 (or 49% of our budget) on freelance payments for writers, editors, photographers, translators, and others. We spent around $5,000 (or 11% of our budget) on administrative costs, like server fees, transcription software, digital co-working tools, and access to court documents. Part of the reason our administrative costs have remained so low is because Knock LA has no full-time employees. The dedicated administrative and logistical volunteers who work behind the scenes to keep Knock LA running have declined compensation for their services in favor of prioritizing payments to the freelancers who create our articles.
Another factor in keeping our admin costs low: the many incredible lawyers and law students who have provided Knock LA with pro-bono services. Specifically, we’d like to thank Professor Susan Seager and her legal clinic at the University of California, Irvine. They have been integral in supporting Knock LA through 2021 — we wouldn’t be here without them.
That leaves Knock LA just over $18,000 heading into 2022. As it’s an election year (and potentially the last one of our lifetimes, who can say), a good amount of that war chest will likely be devoted to translation fees — which typically run into the many thousands — and other expenses associated with the next installment of our Progressive Voter Guide.
What’s Next for Knock LA
We believe that, when unobserved and underreported, power leads to corruption. We believe that corporate media outlets are too often forced to serve as publicists for institutional power. We believe journalism should be a public utility, not a profit machine. Our vision for Knock LA is to create a media outlet that can provide consistent, high-quality local news about Los Angeles that aligns with these values.
And we believe that the best way to do that is by building a small team who are able to liberate their time and bring you that compassionate coverage. While Knock LA has gotten this far on volunteer power, we need full-time employees to take us to the next level. In order to hire our first staff member at a $50,000/year salary while maintaining our article output, we need to increase our annual revenue to at least $100,000 in donations.
The best way we’ve found to raise the money to do so is by creating better (bleh) content. In 2022, you should expect more from us, like our new weekly write-ups of LA City Council meetings, our new weekly newsletter, and of course the 2022 edition of our Progressive Voter Guide.
Knock LA also has some exciting new projects coming up that we can’t quite talk about yet.
We hope you’ll continue to read Knock LA as we grow our community-focused coverage. We hope that our articles have impacted your life, and connected you more deeply to this city we love. And we hope you’ll join Knock LA in working to make Los Angeles a better place for everyone. We can’t do this without you.