The granddaddy of debunking online rumors and hoaxes has escaped a brush with death, thanks to $500,000 worth of donations from nearly 20,000 people on GoFundMe in less than 24 hours.
Snopes.com made a plea for readers to step up on Monday, as a shared-ownership contract dispute with a vendor operating its back-end advertising and development platforms became critical.
The company’s income from advertising dried up in March following a 60-day contract cancellation notice sent to Proper Media, a San Diego-based vendor at the heart of this dispute.
“We haven’t received payment for any advertising revenues earned since February of 2017, so we’ve been operating for the last several months on zero income, off of our previous surplus,” [Snopes founder David] Mikkelson said. “… everyone knows the costs of litigation are quite hefty and can build up quickly.”
Proper Media’s attorney Karl Kronenberger did not address those specific allegations in a statement emailed to Poynter on Monday. However, he contested Snopes’ classification of the company as simply an “outside vendor,” saying that Proper Media is a 50 percent co-owner of Bardav. He also said Mikkelson “has engaged in gross financial, technical, and corporate mismanagement.” Bardav disputes both those claims in its cross-complaint.
Snopes.com started as a mom and pop internet shop in 1994. David and Barbara Mikkelson, a California couple who met in the alt.folklore.urban newsgroup, built a trusted resource to hunt down and debunk (or –sometimes–verify) the kind of chain emails unhinged relatives loved to share widely.
The couple created an S corporation, Bardav, for the site in 2003.
In 2015 mom and pop split up. It was a nasty divorce. The final settlement gave each of them 50% of the company.
David stayed with the company. Barbara sold her half to Proper Media the company her ex hired to “provide content and website development services as well as advertising sales and trafficking.”
It gets complicated here, as Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic explained:
What does the future hold for Snopes? That could become slightly more clear next Friday, when there is a hearing in San Diego to address competing motions. Mikkelson is seeking an injunction to force Proper Media to hand over control of the site. Meanwhile, Proper Media is seeking to remove Mikkelson as a director of Bardav.
In the meantime, it looks like the GoFundMe will at least cover the site running for a while longer, but based on conversations with those who know the site’s financial picture, Snopes’s operating expenses are close to $100,000 a month. If a resolution to the dispute isn’t reached soon, it could mean the end of both Proper Media and Snopes.
Which would be a terrible end for the kind of website that bracingly defied the logic of corporate digital media. It hadn’t pivoted to video. It was a site people trusted. It was technologically unsophisticated. It was profitable,
The monies raised through crowdfunding will be used for legal expenses and payroll for Snopes 16 person staff.
Over the years, various groups have done their level best to discredit Snopes, saying the founders were flaming liberals (nope), the Food Babe’s claim they were bought off by Monsanto (turns out she does this to just about anybody who challenges her.), and the Daily Mail’s distillation from the Mikkelson divorce papers (which David can’t respond to because of a confidentially clause in the settlement).
Snopes, along with ABC News, the Associated Press and other fact-checkers like Politifact.com, was named as one of the third-party sources Facebook would use to help it flag disputed stories. This has driven the alt-right to re-circulate past rumors.
I saw a tweet this morning bashing the “fashionable” news media. That’s a much better term than ‘fake news” I suspect people from many differing points of view can get behind. And the word is one description I doubt anybody could call Snopes.com.
I don’t want to think about the world of journalism without Snopes. They were not always right on the first try but were willing to keep digging when challenged. And I have disagreed with their analysis of the facts they uncovered. But I never disputed that their quest for the truth was governed by honesty.
For those of you unfamiliar with Snopes, I offer this:
The current Hot 50:https://t.co/HHXTKAHvcr
— snopes.com (@snopes) July 24, 2017
PS–There was so much potentially breaking news this morning I decided to avoid writing about anything that could be out-of-date two hours after publication. I’m watching Washington closely. I’m working on a San Diego housing/homeless story….
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