Why I won't be sending you a Nat Herz bobblehead

A thank-you for Northern Journal's first year in business, and a request as it heads into year two.

Why I won't be sending you a Nat Herz bobblehead
This year’s work for Northern Journal took me to the Seward Peninsula, and a night in the Brevig Mission school’s gymnasium, for a story on the Graphite One project. (Berett Wilber for Northern Journal)

For $500, a limited edition Northern Journal notebook and a cross-country ski lesson.

For $250, a Nat Herz bobblehead. Or, a $1,000 membership that comes with me cooking you dinner and facilitating a discussion with guests about the future of the Permanent Fund dividend and Alaska’s oil industry.

Northern Journal has officially been around for a year, and all these are ideas that have been kicking around in my head about how I can make this business sustainable for year two.

Before I get to that, I want to stop and express my gratitude to each person who has subscribed — more than 2,000 of you — and the 429 paying Northern Journal subscribers. Even if you subtract out my parents and other blood relatives, those numbers are still humbling to me. Thank you.

Last month, I was on the East Coast visiting my journalism brain trust — my mother and stepfather — and talking to them about the future. For the past year, I’ve been working on Northern Journal roughly half-time, as well as writing investigative stories under a contract with Alaska Public Media. That contract is up at the end of 2023.

Northern Journal readers have been generous, but the roughly $40,000 in revenue from the project is not enough to live on: I will spend nearly $10,000 on health insurance premiums alone this year, several thousand dollars on business expenses and travel, and Substack and its payment processor will collect an additional $5,000 from me.

Over dinner, I asked my mom and stepdad: Should I find another part-time gig? Launch a second newsletter, for paid subscribers only? Do something else entirely?

Their answer: Why not see if you can make Northern Journal your full-time job?


I have enjoyed the work I’ve done over the past year as much as any I’ve done in my life. With help from many patient sources and friends, I think I’ve provided Alaskans with some new insights into issues that directly affect their lives. And I have so much more that I want to do.

Guided by my ex-newspaper-publisher stepdad, we spent the next hour talking through money stuff: subscription prices, marketing, how to convert free members into paying members. The math is a little daunting, but it also feels possible: To make things work, I think I need roughly 1,000 paid members by the end of the year.

I thought about creating some subscriber incentives like the ones I mentioned at the top of this post. But in the end, I decided that the best case I could make is for my work: If you support me, I will keep doing the same kind of stuff that I’ve been doing for the past year — and more of it. If I end up with more revenue than I need to support myself and pay for business expenses, I will commission more freelance pieces, or even hire a reporter to work with me.

A few additional details and reminders:

• You do not, and will not, need a paid membership to continue reading my work. The model I’ve chosen here is to raise money from people who support and enjoy Northern Journal, and then to make stories available to as large an audience as possible. Distribution to outlets across the state comes through a partnership with the Alaska Beacon, which republishes Northern Journal stories under a Creative Commons license. To be clear: I don’t earn any money when the Beacon or other outlets republish my work, which is why I’m asking for your support.

• I’ve added a new “founding member” subscription plan that allows people, if they choose, to contribute more than the current, $100-a-year paid option. The default level is $500, but you can choose to give more or less. I’m still not doing home-cooked meals, but I will send anyone a newly designed Northern Journal hoodie to anyone who gives $250 or more.

• I’m also going to start selling ads that will run, for a flat fee, in each edition of Northern Journal. Contact me for more information.

Send me a note if you have questions about any of this. I’m enormously grateful to everyone who’s supported this project over the past year and allowed me to do work that I love. More to come.