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Editor’s Note: Encyclo has not been regularly updated since August 2014, so information posted here is likely to be out of date and may be no longer accurate. It’s best used as a snapshot of the media landscape at that point in time.

Mother Jones is a nonprofit, liberal, bimonthly magazine that specializes in investigative reporting.

Mother Jones was founded in 1976 and is based in San Francisco. In 2008, the magazine opened a Washington bureau with seven staff members. The bureau had a staff of 16 as of 2014, while the entire magazine had a staff of about 80.

Mother Jones is published by the Foundation for National Progress, which exists solely to support the magazine. About half of the magazine’s annual revenue comes from major grants and donations, with the remainder from smaller donations, subscriptions, newsstand sales, and advertising. It has stood out from other nonprofit news outlets for its diversity of revenue sources. In 2012, nearly 39,000 people donated to the magazine. It also sells ads for both the print magazine and website.

Mother Jones’ circulation increased sharply in the early 2000s, though it has dipped slightly during the Obama administration. The magazine says total circulation is 215,000, about three-quarters of which are paid subscriptions.

Mother Jones was among the first magazines to launch a website in 1993. In 2009, the magazine rebuilt its site on the open-source platform Drupal with the intent that readers help it with data mashups and other projects. The redesign also included a commenting system that allows users to tag comments as “solutions” or “results” as a way to highlight civic participation. The magazine was also among the first news organizations to join the data archiving project DocumentCloud.

In 2010, Mother Jones launched The Climate Desk, a collaborative initiative covering climate change, which it spearheaded. The project includes The Atlantic, the Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, Slate, Wired, and PBS’ Need to Know. Mother Jones is also a founding member of the Media Consortium, a group of liberal publications that launched in 2006, also creating an advertising network.

The magazine reported record-breaking web traffic in February 2011, a 420 percent increase from the year before. Mother Jones attributed its growth in part to an expanded focus on explainers, which bring context to big news stories, as well as to rapid growth in social media. Its digital ad sales also rose 97 percent in the first of half of 2011 over the previous year. It doubled its previous record high traffic number in September 2012, when it posted a video of presidential candidate Mitt Romney making controversial comments about American who didn’t pay federal income tax. Its traffic continued to rise to new highs in 2014, thanks to continued work in drawing traffic from social media.

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Dec. 12, 2019 / Hanaa' Tameez
Four ways Mother Jones became profitable in this turbulent industry — When a news organization is slapped with a defamation lawsuit, it can be a cause for panic. In 2012, Idaho billionaire Frank VanderSloot sued Mother Jones over a story it had published about his political efforts. Mother...
Sept. 25, 2019 / Christine Schmidt
Treating individual donors and major givers alike, Mother Jones is on track to raise $25 million in its first major campaign — This is a story of how to turn 47 percent into $25 million. In 2012 — eons ago in the speed of news cycles these days — Mother Jones released video of Mitt Romney at a private fundraiser claiming 47 percent of Americ...
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Dec. 19, 2017 / Shan Wang
To make fundraising appeals more appealing, Mother Jones turns them into stories readers want to read — December is the season for fundraising appeals. In an inbox awash with individual appeals from publishers, standing out is tough, and brevity seems the obvious way to go. Mother Jones has found success instead in longfor...

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Primary author: Mark Coddington. Main text last updated: August 14, 2014.
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