One year ago today, at 2:27 a.m. on April 12, 2014, I took a deep breath and sent out the first announcement of the existence of ANIMALS 24-7.
After 45 years on humane beats in print journalism, but barely 45 days of learning the ropes and wires of electronic publication, I was about to find out if the world would respond positively to the debut of a new kind of humane news media –– not a slick magazine, not a newspaper, not a stream of shallow activist alerts, but an online forum providing frequently updated background on the urgent topics of the day, hosting debate among experts over questions that advocacy organizations with entrenched positions might prefer to suppress.
My ambition remained what it had been through four and a half decades in print: to serve the humane community of interest, much as community newspapers used to serve communities united by geography, presenting everything from urgent breaking news to obituaries for distinguished citizens.
The big unknowns were whether humane news in a new format would be well-received by a reading and thinking audience, and whether wholly donor-supported news for such a selective audience could fly.
Almost everyone cares about animals, but only a very special subset of people who care about animals actually care enough to want to be well-informed about the causes, issues, and organizations to which they donate money and volunteer time.
Were there enough such people willing to contribute to enable ANIMALS 24-7 to grow and thrive?
I had no advertising, no grant support, no wealthy underwriter, and no major or even minor national or international animal charity behind me –– just my own good credit, and an electronic mailing list I had spent weeks assembling from my personal contacts.
I pushed the red button on my laptop screen and ANIMALS 24-7 was launched. Successfully, or just off the deep end into the unknown?
Six long minutes
For six long minutes I waited. Probably no one would be up so early, I thought. Probably no one would see the ANIMALS 24-7 announcement until later in the morning.
Then came the first reader response, a note of congratulation from Debasis Chakrabarti, founder of the Compassionate Crusaders Trust in Kolkata, India. Debasis’ 2003 essay “How no-kill dog control came to Kolkata, India” has helped directors of neuter/return programs around the world to effectively balance the needs of animals with the concerns of humans. It is in fact reposted on the ANIMALS 24-7 web site: http://wp.me/p4pKmM-gK.
Three minutes after that came a warm and supportive message from Shamsudeen Fagbo, DVM, MSc, Coordinator, zoonotic diseases, at the Ministry of Health in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Internationally known for many contributions to the understanding of zoonotic diseases, Shamsudeen Fagbo may be the world’s leading expert on illnesses contracted by humans from eating dogs.
As the world turned and more people rose to check their e-mail and face the day, additional messages of support came, and some donations, too. More than 1,800 people visited the ANIMALS 24-7 web site that first day, and more than 1,500 the next day.
But launching ANIMALS 24-7 was one thing; sustaining our momentum was another, against intensive competition from mainstream media, other animal-oriented electronic media offering just a short-and-shallow take on current events, and the reality that practically anyone online who cares about animals is inundated in alerts and appeals, among which the daily ANIMALS 24-7 announcements of new content may get lost.
There was also the reality that ANIMALS 24-7, as independent media, presents independently researched perspectives on humane issues––and often those perspectives conflict with what major national and international organizations would like you to believe.
ANIMALS 24-7 was extensively quoted by other leading news media within weeks, including in a TIME magazine cover feature. Our first few dozen donors were practically a who’s who of humane movement leaders who no longer work for major national and international animal charities, and therefore feel at liberty to speak their minds about some of the wrong turns the big groups have taken.
But none of the really big groups have even acknowledged in their own media that we exist.
And when we began to attract advertisers, we soon ran into an organized boycott, for pointing out that the big national groups’ advocacy of pit bulls and other dangerous dogs conflicts with the views of nearly two-thirds of the public, including animal advocates who keep other pets.
On the other side of the coin and the issues, a former police officer, animal control officer and vet tech felt so strongly favorable toward me and my work that in July 2014 she left her home in Florida and threw in her lot with me and ANIMALS 24-7. Beth Clifton soon became my wife, partner, and the ANIMALS 24-7 social media editor and photographer. Readership has rapidly increased since her arrival.
ANIMALS 24-7 posted 524 news articles, editorials, and guest columns in our first 52 weeks, reaching nearly 220,000 readers.
And we know now that our concept is viable. While celebrating our first birthday, we look forward to many happy returns, with your continued generous support. With every click on our free subscription link at the right side of the ANIMALS 24-7 home page, every click to read ANIMALS 24-7 content, and every click to add your own perspective as a comment, you tell us that ANIMALS 24-7 matters to you, as the independent voice serving the humane community.
Your generous donations continue to be vital to our work. We welcome every birthday gift, every lighted candle, and every voice raised in song around our vegan cake. We are still young and growing––and we vigorously represent your hopes and aspirations for a better, kinder, healthier world for animals and the people who care about them.
Please click here to send us your birthday greeting!
Merritt & Beth
Merritt & Beth Clifton, editors, ANIMALS 24-7