The Lens is about to finish its fourth year of serving the New Orleans community, and we’ve enjoyed impressive growth in readership, reach, impact, recognition and fundraising.

However, we find ourselves at a critical point, and we need your financial support.

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Some national foundations that have funded us since we first published in January 2010 have shifted their priorities away from the local, public-interest journalism that The Lens provides to you. Locally, our aggressive watchdog reporting examining how public money is spent — or not spent — on criminal justice, education, the environment and blight has challenged powerful people and institutions, and that in turn has hurt some of our major donations.

Still, The Lens remains viable. Our base of paying members who care about the city continues to expand steadily, and our work has attracted new funders who have made sizable donations recently. These contributions will allow us to deepen our reporting and expand into new areas, particularly data-oriented reporting.

Those new contributions haven’t kept up with our losses, though. That forced us to make the difficult and unprecedented decision to cut one editor from our staff this week.

That will help balance our budget for some time. But we need your help to bring The Lens to ongoing sustainability so we can continue delivering the same level and quality of investigative reporting you expect from us.

As a nonprofit newsroom, we don’t have shareholders. We have stakeholders: You, our neighbors, our readers and our fellow pioneers in the post-Katrina effort to make the city a better place.

If you want coverage of every charter school in the city, something no other news outlet can match, please support us.

If you want unflinching, honest reporting on the state’s efforts to restore our coastline, and the questions about the science behind it, please support us.

If you want Baton Rouge political coverage that doesn’t run with the Capitol press corps pack, but provides insight into how the political process works, please support us.

If you want straightforward reporting about the everyday problems you face in your neighborhood — unscrupulous developers, potholes, blight, sagging city services — please support us.

Convinced? Go ahead and click this button now.

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If you need a little more encouragement, read on.

The Lens is about reach. Our unique reporting reaches readers, viewers and listeners through media partners at newspapers, on television and on public radio, touching thousands of people weekly. You can hear our stories on WWNO-FM every week. Our reporters appear on Fox 8 News. Our stories are printed in four newspapers serving the city, and publications statewide and nationally have reprinted some of our work. We live-blog and tweet important meetings. Last month, we started our “Breakfast with the Newsmakers” series, which brings our audience up close to agenda-setters in the city.

The Lens is about impact. When the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University asked a leader in the charter movement about our work in covering more than 40 charter school boards, here’s what she said:

The Lens, by the fact of being present in charter school board meetings, brings a greater focus around the work of boards,” said Caroline Roemer Shirley, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools. “There’s actually now a consequence, a possibility that your board’s actions could be written up in a less than positive way. As a charter school, you are held accountable in ways that aren’t just about your academics…overall, you are supposed to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

It costs The Lens a minimum of $800 a year to cover one charter school board. It’s a relatively small cost for the benefit provided to the community, but it adds up when considering the number of boards in the city.

The Lens is about innovation. We designed a website that encourages you to dive into a story rather than entice you to click on something else. As part of our effort to increase government transparency, we’ve uploaded 2,300 contracts between the city of New Orleans and vendors — more than you can see on the city’s own website. Our reporters participate in Web chats and meet with readers at coffee-shop events to explain how they did their work and what it means, and to hear what interests our audience.

The Lens is about service. We want to help our readers sort through all the news that’s out there, not just our own stories. So every weekday, we round up the best news in the topics we cover and email a digest to readers. Since we launched “What We’re Reading” less than a year ago, it’s become a must-read of its own — a smart, essential compilation of the most interesting and important news in and about New Orleans.

It’s time for New Orleans to step up.

The most successful nonprofit newsrooms across the country have shifted their financial reliance away from national foundations to local community support. We, too, must make this transition. Years of pledge drives have cemented an awareness that the community must support public radio and public television. Now there’s public journalism — newsrooms such as The Lens. In order for this one-of-a-kind effort to continue, we need your support.

Just a month away from our fourth birthday — you’re all invited to the party — we think we’ve shown what we do well and how it’s different. Now we need your support to keep it going.

How to give

We urge you to join the over 350 readers who have chosen to stake their claim in The Lens with a gift.

You can donate on our secure website. Consider making an ongoing gift that is deducted each month. If you prefer, you can email a pledge commitment to Development Director Anne Mueller, and she’ll follow up.

Every gift counts, no matter the amount. Thank you for your continued support.

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Steve Beatty

Steve Beatty is the publisher and chief executive officer of The Lens. He worked as an editor for The Times-Picayune for 15 years, leaving New Orleans just before Katrina to take a position as an editor...