Nonprofit journalism on the rise
At a time of layoffs and budget cuts at traditional newspapers, foundations and donors are funding new journalism ventures.
The police chief's rosy crime statistics were a lie, it turned out. The councilman who urged water conservation was discovered to use 80,000 gallons a month at his home, more than five of his colleagues put together. And the school board president, according to an investigation, spent a full third of his time out of town and out of touch.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The Voice of San Diego, a nonprofit online media outlet, doesn't have enough journalists to field a softball team. Yet it has managed to take on the powerful with the panache of a scrappy big-city paper.
The success of the tightly focused Voice, which relies on donors, offers a ray of hope for a troubled industry. Plagued by shrinking circulations and advertising, newspapers are shedding staff and downsizing their offerings. Even the pages have gotten smaller.
By contrast, several nonprofit newspapers – though rare and often tiny – have sprung up in recent years both online and in print, funded largely by foundations and individual donors.
The strategy of nonprofits like the Voice "may be one of the ways to preserve the integrity of journalism," says Mr. Nelson.
Young, eager, and serious
"We were created to fill a gap" in news coverage, says Scott Lewis, executive editor of the three-year-old Voice of San Diego. "I don't think that we realized how quickly that gap would grow."
The Web daily, which has won numerous awards in its short existence, now plans to expand its staff of eight reporters and editors. Most are in their 20s, which Andrew Donohue, another executive editor, attributes to modest salary levels and to a desire to hire young, eager reporters who won't get a second glance from big-league newspapers. But new hires will be more experienced, he suggests.
The Voice's coverage tends to be earnest and serious, focusing on growth, housing, and politics, over the traditional newspaper fare of parades, house fires, and high school football games. It emphasizes "what people need to know the most, instead of the headlines and photos that will get the most hits," says Mr. Donohue.
Its readership is still fledgling. The website attracts 17,000 visitors daily, compared with the San Diego Union-Tribune, which has a paid weekday circulation of 278,379 and had 1.2 million online visitors in December, according to industry statistics.
Despite the still small numbers, donors to the Voice – which include a local steakhouse and a credit union – continue to support it to the tune of about $600,000 a year.
Funding journalism to help democracy
Nonprofit newspapers are not new – long-standing ones include The Christian Science Monitor and the St. Petersburg Times in Florida. But the Internet, by doing away with massive printing costs, may make it easier for them.
Recent nonprofit online, newspaper, and journalism ventures include:
Voice of San Diego, an online daily
MinnPost, an online and print daily in Minneapolis
ProPublica, investigative journalism group in New York
Minnesota Monitor, one of four statewide online papers funded by the Center for Independent Media
New Haven Independent, Conn., an online daily