Online commentary website New Matilda has one week to raise nearly $60,000 in its last-ditch subscriberthon, or its virtual doors will be shut permanently.

Nearly $10,000 was raised from individual donations in the last two days, so the $175,000 target figure — “the minimum budget for one year, the very minimum to relaunch the site with,” according to editor Marni Cordell — is not impossible.

The fund-raising strategy used by New Matilda is an Australian first for a news and commentary site. It’s attempting to adopt the strategies of a community radio station, to “operate more like a public radio station than a subscriber service” and convince readers to support New Matilda and sign up as “supporters”, although all content will remain free.

In May Crikey revealed that New Matilda was to close in June after advertising and funding revenue dried up. Cordell then bought the publication from Duncan Turpie for the grand sum of $10 — the same price Turpie paid three years earlier. In October Cordell announced that New Matilda was relaunching, with a critical “save New Matilda” style subscriberthon to raise $175,000 by December 15.

New Matilda is a labour of love for Cordell, who is currently doing all work for it, for no money, in her spare time. Associate editor Catriona Menzies-Pike is being paid to work on the site full-time. Since the October relaunch an average of two stories per days have been published on the site, although all authors are now working voluntarily.

If the $175,000 is reached, the money should fund about four days of work per week for Cordell and Menzies-Pike, as well as paying authors — previous standard was $100 per piece — for publishing two articles daily.

But what sets New Matilda apart from the masses of online commentary and opinion? “We’re a place that people go to to get context to what’s in the news,” said Cordell. “We take our role as editors quite seriously and everything that is published is thoroughly fact-checked and goes through a process of consideration and editing that I think other outlets don’t necessarily do.”

Many of their writers used New Matilda as a stepping stone to hone their skills before then also being published elsewhere.

“Ben Eltham, Ben Pobjie, they weren’t writing (for New Matilda) before I became editor and I think we built up a good stable of regular voices and we became known for that. I want to foster new talent, more often than not people are picking established talents from other outlets rather than fostering new talents and I think that’s a shame,” declared Cordell.

New Matilda, founded in 2004, started as a subscription-based paid service, before the pay model was lifted in 2007. Is there much lamenting that the original subscriber model was abandoned? “I don’t think we should have dropped the pay model, I just think we should have dropped the paywall. We dropped a really good revenue scheme and we never made up the shortfall.”

But why go down the community radio station-style road? “Main reason is we don’t want to limit our audience to people who already know they like us,” said Cordell. “The readership has really grown since we dropped the paywall and if we close the content we could lose it.”

Kath Letch, general manager the community broadcasting association of Australia and station manager for 14 years at the successful Melbourne community station 3RRR, understands difficult subscription drives and building supportive independent media communities.

How to convince people to pledge money for something they can have for free? “It’s about wanting to be part of that community by supporting it,” Letch told Crikey. “It’s about the content itself and it’s also about identifying strongly with something and want to feel some way a part of that.”

Cordell expects to run similar subscriberthons every year, although hopefully future situation won’t be as critical.

But building successfully community-funded independent media takes time and consistency. “Not to say there isn’t a role for one-off campaigns, but if the intent is sustainable funding, then the consistency of the message to the users is an important part of building up support,” explains Letch. “That’s the pattern of the stations that have strong levels of support.”

So far New Matilda has adapted the public radio model fairly well, says Letch. “I don’t think independent media is necessarily sustainable on a commercial model. It’s about people identifying and valuing a broad range of views in circulation and wanting to access information outside a commercial media approach and it’s a really great idea to look at community broadcasting models that have been close to sustaining services for close to 40 years.”

Not that community funded media is a new completely concept for funding news and commentary websites. The Drum is run on taxpayer funds. As readers know, Crikey works on a subscription model, with subscribers paying $160 per year and only limited original Crikey content being available free on the website.

There’s also a plethora of crowd-funding journalism organisations. Pro Publica is a not-for-profit US site, relying on personal donations — and funding from other organisations — to fund journalism in the public interest. Spot.Us, another US site, works on similar principles.  Australia’s own Public Interest Journalism Foundation — where Crikey media writer Margaret Simons, health writer Melissa Sweet and publisher Diana Gribble are all on the board — has the YouCommNews initiative, with story pitches by interested journalists for the public to fund at their choosing.

Things are still a little grim for New Matilda. “I don’t think we’ll make it through on individual donations at this stage,” Cordell revealed. “But we’ve put our case to a few individuals. We still need more people to get on board and but we need one or two big donations to get us over the line.”

*The New Matilda campaign is run by FundBreak, meaning that if you pledge money and the total isn’t reached, then all your money is refunded. Click here to become a supporter.