The Public Press is meeting with neighborhood groups in San Francisco. Can we talk to you?

The Public Press Blog

Evidence that the micro-funding paradigm works for journalism

The Public Press is now officially more than halfway toward raising $5,000 for our City Budget Watchdog beat, an initiative we launched in collaboration with, the micro-funding Web site.

The total has reached $2,710 -- $1,000 of which came from a particularly generous New York donor, Ruth Ann Harnisch. Thanks to all who have dipped into their  pocketbooks to help make this vital experiment in community journalism a reality.

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical that we'd get this far this fast. It was less than a month ago that we "hired" a team of writers to work on unearthing stories that other news organizations weren't covering. You can see the results in the running list of stories we've been able to produce on our growing project page.

Skeptical because it's a recession, and many people are less able to give financially. But also because it was less than a sure thing that enough people would hear about our fund drive.

It's been an exciting process, if only because it's become increasingly clear that there are thousands of employees whose jobs are affected, and hundreds of thousands of city residents who will feel the effects of cutbacks in services. Among the things we're looking into for future stories:

  • more in-depth interviews with each of the city supervisors
  • the roles of lobbying by unions
  • the fees in disparate departments that are going up in lieu of tax increases
  • the disparate growth of compensation in some departments whose budgets have been particularly controversial this year

    ... and much much more.

What's been refreshing in this process is that we've gotten donations through from people we've never heard of. As David Cohn mentioned on his blog (linked above) we had a very good problem happen to us. One member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was so taken by the idea that we might bring some independent reporting to the issues that he donated $20 last week.

While we appreciated the gesture very much, taking money from people we're preparing to interview for this particular series, we thought, might open us up to accusations of compromising our independence, if only a bit.

As in campaign finance, it's the perception of a conflict of interest that's probably the most important factor, rather than the threat of being bought off with a handful of dollars. David thanked the supervisor for the gesture and redirected the donation to other projects of the donor's choosing.

We will have the opportunity to thank the donors to this project:

Ruth Ann Harnisch, Full Circle Fund - Technology, Full Circle Fund - Environment, David Cohn, Lila LaHood, Megan Casey, Kara Andrade, Louise Yarnall, Neal Gorenflo, E.O. Stinson, Sylvain Foissac, Suzanne Yada, Ariel Vardi, Deepti Gottipati, Renata Ament, Mike McCarthy, Howard Rheingold, Andrea Genovese, Sara O., Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig, Amy Gahran, Lauren Rabaino, David Amann, Adele Fasick, Scott Rosenberg, Donica Mensing, George Kelly, Sarah Milstein, Joni Marshburn, donors through the Facebook Cause (names to come!), Tony Long, Rosa Lara-Fernandez and Eric Arbanovella.

Thank you! You're pioneers in community-funded journalism by helping to fund the first regular beat through

We have a long way to go, but I'm confident that we'll be able to reach our goal in the next two months if we all get the word out about the ground-breaking stories we're producing for the site.

KALW's Crosscurrents Radio talks to City Budget Watchdog

Holly Kernan, news director at San Francisco's KALW, interviewed Kevin Stark, one of our City Budget Watchdog reporters, for Crosscurrents on June 22.

Here's a description from "The city is trying to find ways to close a nearly half billion dollar deficit, which means cuts. After the board of supervisors reworked Mayor Newsom's proposed budget last week, the debate seems to be centered on funding public safety or funding public health programs. Reporter Kevin Stark of the Public Press has been following the city’s budget blues and joins us now to help us sort out the budget quandary."

And here's a link to the segment:

Help us probe San Francisco's deficit with City Budget Watchdog

When firefighters and advocates for the disabled get into shouting matches over resources, you know there's a lot at stake.

It's happening in San Francisco, in this summer's city budget battle. Trouble is, there's little in-depth, nonpartisan coverage of the issues residents are screaming at each other about. That's what we hope to change with our City Budget Watchdog project.

As Kevin Stark reported from Tuesday's board meeting, the half-billion-dollar deficit that San Francisco has to plug this summer is tying the city in knots, as hundreds of city jobs and services for thousands of residents face cutbacks.

This is not just another story for The Public Press. This kind of story is our lifeblood. The changes in store for how San Francisco doles out its much smaller purse define the kind of reporting on core issues that we intend to spearhead.

But we can't do it alone.

The Public Press is collaborating with, the Bay Area-based journalism microfunding Web site to raise $5,000 for this three-month project. So far series editors Christopher Cook and Kristina Shevory, and reporters Kevin Stark and Michael Pistorio, have covered the day-to-day protests, ongoing negotiations and the stories behind the numbers.

Consider donating even $25 to this collaborative effort. And drop us a line if you have a story tip: citybudgetwatchdog [AT]

First frame (r-l): reporters Patricia Decker and Michael Pistorio, News Editor Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig, reporter Kevin Stark. Second Frame: Stark and series editors Christopher Cook and Kristina Shevory. Photo by Michael Stoll/The Public Press.

Turning another page in the news

The future of journalism is in Las Vegas -- or at least that’s what Rob Curley, multimedia extraordinaire and tech consultant for The Las Vegas Sun, imbued into a large group of entrepreneurs and media folks at Stanford business school Tuesday night.

“What if a newspaper could start over?” he began his presentation by asking.

Ten minutes later, it appeared the audience believed the Sun had.

Are we prepared for newspapers' demise?

By Michael A. Chihak

We are as ill-prepared for newspapering’s demise as we were for economic meltdown.

An odd comparison, perhaps, because we will recover from economic arrhythmia in relatively short time. Replacing the role of newspapers could take longer, and that has the potential to threaten our democracy.

Newspapers for more than two centuries were American democracy’s bulwark: constitutionally protected watchdogs. The founding fathers knew a free press would sustain democracy, so they included it among the Constitution’s foremost rights.

The recent demise of several daily newspapers and the impending deaths of others are making shaky the frame upon which democracy sits. Without free-flowing information, the experiment that Abraham Lincoln defined as “of … by … for the people” will not endure.

The Public Press at the Web 2.0 Expo

In early April, The Public Press attended the Web 2.0 Expo at the Moscone Center West in San Francisco, and was flooded with interest from technologists and entrepreneurs. Steering committee member Lila LaHood had the chance to speak with a reporter from KRON 4 News.


Freelancers' union gets off the ground

Last week I attended a meeting of the California Media Workers Guild. The group met to discuss the possibilities of extending membership to freelance journalists, making it one of the first locals in the nationwide Communications Workers of America to consider such a move.

Meet us at the Journalism Innovations conference May 1

Join us to discuss new ways of doing journalism at a forum sponsored by Independent Arts and Media, our fiscal sponsor, and the Society of Professional Journalists, on May 1.

NPR's Vivian Schiller addresses 'buzz' on expanding public-media model

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