November 14, 2016

Call it the John Oliver bump.

On Sunday, the “Last Week Tonight” host wrapped up a segment on President-elect Donald Trump with an appeal to his audience: If you want good journalism, pay for it.

“You need to support actual journalism by buying a subscription to outlets like The Times, The (Washington) Post, your local newspaper, or donate to groups like ProPublica, a nonprofit group which does great investigative journalism,” Oliver said, steering viewers away from fictional websites like “Republigoofs.redneck” and “Democrappy.cuck.”

The result? In the hours since Oliver urged HBO viewers to donate to ProPublica, the nonprofit has seen a surge of donations, said Richard Tofel, ProPublica’s president and founding general manager.

“We are now 12 hours after the broadcast, and still running at multiple donations per minute,” Tofel said.

By comparison, ProPublica usually gets a few donations per day, Tofel said. Last year, the investigative nonprofit raked in about $500,000 in donations. This year, thanks to the election and Oliver’s recommendation, they’re on pace to “exceed that very significantly.”

ProPublica isn’t the only news organization to see a surge in audience support in the wake of the election. The New York Times saw a six-fold increase in its digital subscriber rate since Tuesday, and The Wall Street Journal has also experienced a subscriber bump.

Tofel declined to say how much additional money Oliver’s appeal has generated because the donations had yet to be tallied Monday afternoon.

Two of Oliver’s researchers used to work for ProPublica, Tofel said. The nonprofit got a heads-up from his show in advance so they could be ready for a potential influx in donations.

Although ProPublica editors aren’t treating money from the John Oliver-induced surge differently than they would other donations, they’re conscious of the fact that many donors intend to support journalism about politics, Tofel said. ProPublica held a meeting to discuss coverage ideas last Wednesday, and editors are interested in “opening up new beats and assign(ing) reporters to things that are important,” he said.

“With the possible exception of New Year’s Eve, we have never seen anything like what we’ve seen in the last 13 hours,” Tofel said.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Benjamin Mullin was formerly the managing editor of He also previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow,…
Benjamin Mullin

More News

Back to News