By Frank Mungeam • LMA Chief Innovation Officer
It was mid-September and I was going stir crazy from what felt like a triple quarantine. I’d already given up riding my bike with friends because of the pandemic; then, wildfires enshrouded Oregon in smoke for 10 days. Air quality was rated “hazardous.” On top of it all, I’d hurt my knee doing household chores. So, instead of riding my bike, I was couch surfing, watching videos of cycling on YouTube. That’s when I discovered “everesting.” The idea — hiking the equivalent elevation of Mt. Everest — had been around for a while, but during the pandemic a bunch of sidelined pro cyclists turned it into a competition, and were ‘everesting’ in a day by bike — 29,029 feet of climbing in under eight hours! Stuck on the couch, I envisioned my own spin. I’d combine my passions for journalism and cycling — and try to do good for others, while doing something good.
Almost exactly one month later, in the clear skies of Arizona, I saddled up for the first ride of my month-long “Everesting for Local Journalism” fundraiser. I promised I’d climb the equivalent of Mt. Everest on my bike, and used Facebook’s fundraiser tool to set a goal of raising $2,900 for local investigative journalism through the 501(c)(3) Local Media Foundation. Over the next month, I rode in snow (in Arizona), crawled up hills at 3 mph and plunged down at 40 mph, binged on sinful snacks, and had my fancy road bike break down the day before my final ride up Arizona’s longest, toughest climb to the 8,200-foot summit of Mt. Lemmon. I shared my journey with daily posts on Facebook, including videos as well as photos. Along the way, I learned a few things about how journalism and philanthropy intersect.
Schadenfreude. It’s a German word meaning, roughly, to take enjoyment from the suffering of others. There’s a lot of suffering involved in climbing 30,000 feet on your bike. And followers of my Everesting adventure did seem to enjoy mine. Not judging, just reporting! Several of my most popular posts were about my most epic and difficult rides.
Narrative counts. Journalists know this! I applied that to my quest, and took my followers along for the ride. I was transparent about the highs — literally and figuratively — but also about the lows. One of my post popular posts, and the one that seemed to widen the audience for the remainder of my challenge, was the one where I admitted I didn’t want to ride at all that day, and I described all the bargaining I went through to get out the door. So many people related to that struggle! On another day, I just posted the three (three!) decimated bags of snacks that I ate for “second dinner.” I mean, who hasn’t had a cheat day?
Give before you ask. The premise of my month-long challenge was that I hoped to “earn” support, rather than simply just hit friends with a “donate” request. I also wove into my posts the “why” — what both journalism and cycling have meant to me. I didn’t start by assuming I was entitled to anyone’s support; I took the approach that I ought to work for it.
“Please” and “Thank You” are the magic words. When the first of my friends donated in those early days of the challenge, I was genuinely so appreciative. It’s hard to be the first! Of course, I publicly thanked and tagged them. As donations surged in the final week of my challenge, the “thank-you’s” became the “headline” of many of my daily updates. That’s as it should be. We all want to do good. It’s OK that we’d like to be recognized for that! Facebook’s donation features make those shout-outs easy and “social.” The generosity of my friends and followers was inspiring, and one of the top three posts from the challenge was on the second-to-last day, a post which I simply called “gratitude.” Gratitude is good.
My challenge had a plot twist I myself didn’t expect. The afternoon before my planned epic final ride up Mt. Lemon, both shifting cables on my road bike broke, jamming my rear shifter. With my bike disassembled on the living room floor, it looked like I would not reach my climbing goal. I was rescued by a friend in the eleventh hour, and reached the summit – and my Everesting goal – on a borrowed bike.
I’ve been working in — and believing in the value of — local journalism for three decades. I took a new job this summer with Local Media Association to join the effort to develop sustainable business models for news. Part of that work involves exploring philanthropy as a funding pillar for journalism. Like most people, I’ve given to a variety of worthy causes. And, I’ve used features like Facebook’s fundraiser tool to turn my birthday into a chance to support such causes. But, perhaps like many of my colleagues, I’m not used to thinking of journalism as a “worthy cause.” Yet I’ve never felt more proud of my profession than during this past year. Local journalism, at its best, builds strong communities and serves the public good. That’s worth a little schadenfreude.
This Giving Tuesday, I hope you’ll join me in supporting the important work of the Local Media Foundation with a donation to the Fund for Local Journalism.
Everesting for Local Journalism: By the Numbers
36,387 feet climbed
478 miles ridden
Average speed 13.7 mph; top speed 44 mph
14,809 calories burned
$2,694 raised for Local Media Foundation