Global Mail searches for new backers

Australia’s first major experiment with philanthropically-funded journalism is facing closure unless new backers can be found.

Wotif founder Graeme Wood, who funded the site, has announced he could no longer continue to finance The Global Mail.

Mr Wood helped start the not-for-profit website less than two years ago, originally pledging $15 to $20 million over five years. He told staff of his decision to pull out on Wednesday night, saying he would be unable to keep funding the digital journalism producer after February 20.

However, Mr Wood gave his blessing to staff to seek other investors and philanthropists to continue the project. In a statement on the TGM website, staff noted “with the support of key figures in media globally, The Global Mail team is exploring various models – both philanthropic and commercial.”

A more light-hearted plea on its Facebook page read, “anybody know any millionaires?”

Mr Wood has recently suffered financial setbacks, with Wotif losing $280 million in value after shares fell 32 per cent. As the major shareholder, he is understood to have lost $45 million.

TGM launched with 97,000 unique visitors in its first month in February 2012, which dropped to 47,000 the next month. However staff said in a statement: “In TGM’s shift to more project-based journalism in 2013, it published fewer stories but gained audience, averaging 120,000 unique visitors a month; its e-news subscriber base has doubled, to more than 18,000.”

The site also established a “substantial and engaged” social media following, without the use of paid marketing or advertising.

Should the site close, as many are speculating, the team of 21 staff will be made redundant.

The Global Mail team is pursuing editorial and publishing partnerships in Australia and beyond, having had works ranging from long-form journalism, and photography to video, multimedia and data projects published elsewhere, including CNN, Time.com, The Guardian and The Daily Beast.

In the past month, it has also collaborated with the Freedom of the Press Foundation to launch SecureDrop, a secure platform for sources to safely pass on information without compromising their privacy.

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