The Public Press Blog

S.F. Chronicle refugees needed

We were saddened to learn late last week that the San Francisco Chronicle again is pursuing another round of staff reductions, seeking to eliminate 125 jobs through buyouts.

Carl Hall, the eternal curmudgeon (we love you, Carl!) at the Northern California Media Workers Guild, told SF Weekly that "It looks like the end for print journalism." We're not so sure about that. It is true that the advertising market has tanked with the advent of Craigslist and Monster. It's also true that for national and international news, there are a surfeit of online alternatives to the newspaper. But we continue to believe that there's a hunger out there for quality, timely and accurate news about the local community. We also believe that many people are willing to pay for a printed product because it is more portable, affordable and easy on the eye than any existing digital medium.

The Public Press is actively seeking volunteers to help us shape the editorial agenda for a new news service in San Francisco focused on public policy, social trends and consumer education. If you're an experienced journalist who wants to be part of a conversation about creating something new, instead of dismantling something old, we'd love to have your help.

Apparently, under the terms of the buyouts at the Chronicle, staffers get at least four weeks' pay -- and two weeks' pay for every year of service. We'd love those journalists to consider working with us on a volunteer basis during the transition time. Right now we can't afford to pay. But we hope to have a budget for staff within the next 12 months. In the meantime, get involved in our brainstorming and skill sharing! E-mail us: volunteer (AT) public-press (DOT) org.

Help us fundraise: Fact-checking political ads for upcoming election, The Public Press and the Knight Foundation-supported SPOT.US "crowdfunding" project are teaming up to raise $2,500 to support investigative coverage and fact-checking of San Francisco-focused election advertisements. Your micro-donation will make a difference!

[ editor Josh Wilson interviewed by David Cohn of Spot.Us]

    Pledge Your Support for SF Election Ad Fact-Checking:

If you are a San Francisco voter, your pledge of $25 will help us meet our funding goal, and hire a professional reporter to provide weekly investigative coverage and fact-checking of election ads, running from Labor Day through Election Day. These reports will run for free on and, and will be made available for free to any media partners who wish to use them.

The need

It's election season, and your brain is the target of one of the highest-stakes, most expensive influence campaigns in the world.

What's the quality of the information you're getting? Where can you turn for a breakdown of the facts, issues and money behind those election advertisements? Not just for the grand-scale national races, but at the local level?

Sadly, there is a historical gap in Bay Area news media's coverage of campaign advertising. During the 2004 elections, for example, found that Bay Area TV news averaged 1minute 24 seconds nightly covering ballot initiatives, but ran 2 minutes 41 seconds of paid advertising for those initiatives.

Help and the Public Press fill that gap by supporting a weekly investigative report on Bay Area campaign advertisements, to run from Labor Day through Election Day.

Our goal is to help Bay Area residents cut through the barrage of influence advertising, and make truly informed decisions at the voting booth -- from the candidates to the ballot initiatives and propositions.


Since 2000, has led commercial mass media with groundbreaking, nonpoliticized coverage of veterans' health care and PTSD; the 2004 presidential election and the 2003 San Francisco mayoral runoff; the energy industry in the developing world; genetically engineered agriculture, and much more.

Newsdesk also is the producer of News You Might Have Missed, a unique source for important but overlooked news from around the world, published every Wednesday since February 2002.

Your donation is an investment in high quality, truly independent coverage of an important issue that has been neglected.

Thank you for your support!


San Francisco Magazine discusses the Public Press

Check out the capsule interview San Francisco Magazine did with me in the current issue of the magazine, in "The Next Big Charity: News." The subhead is: "With newspapers on life support, a new/old solution may provide a cure."

The Public Press is featured in a breakout box alongside David Talbot's San Francisco Free Press and Louis Freedberg's CalExpress. It's on Page 52 of the August 2008 edition.

In the box lableled "San Francisco Public Press," it starts by quoting me:

"We're trying to essentially reinvent the newspaper industry," says Micahel Stoll, a San Jose State journalism professor who's looking for grants to start, surprisingly, an actual print newspaper, only one that eschews ads and is funded by a public broadcasting-style subscription base. "I have yet to find anyone who can tell me why the KQED and PBS models won't work in print," Stoll says. And without the layout constraints of those pesky ads, he adds, the Public Press can be sleeker, thinner, and more eco-friendly.

Hand it to San Francisco Magazine -- they boiled down a lot of nuance into an accurate and understandable bite. My only quibble is that thankfully I'm not alone in this endeavor.

Sale of San Diego paper could end family ownership

Profit uncertainty is about to spell doom for family ownership of one of the nation's largest newspapers.

According the its Web site, the owners of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Copley Press, are looking for a prospective buyer for the publication and other local holdings in southern California.

Lack of new ideas could be trouble for newspaper business

Newspapers are "too elitist."

Newspapers should be "INTELLIGENT … not intellectual."

So are the words of Lee Abrams, a former XM Radio satellite executive and now chief innovation officer at the Tribune Company, according to Eric Alterman's blog.

For newspaper companies, going private could be option

Cutbacks at major newspapers have done little to reassure Wall Street investors, one observer of the media business has said.

Alan Mutter, author of the blog Reflections of a Newsosaur, wrote last Wednesday that precipitous drops in the value of stock at news companies such as Gannett, McClatchy, and the New York Times Co. have made taking the companies private a viable and worthwhile option.

Cutbacks cause controversy at Contra Costa Times

The union representing employees with Dean Singleton’s Bay Area News Group are alleging staff cuts were retaliatory, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The Northern California Media Workers Guild filed a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board, concerned that the 13 percent staff reductions at the Contra Costa Times targeted union organizers.

The layoffs came two weeks after staff voted in favor of union representation at the Contra Costa Times, and includes several strong proponents of unionizing the Times’ 225 eligible employees.

Spot Us Reporting - A Collaboration With the Public Press

A quick and belated blog post to announce that  Spot Us, a nonprofit that will pioneer "community funded reporting," will be working with the Public Press to help finance local enterprise reporting here in San Francisco.

Spot Us has received a grant from the Knight Foundation to take it from idea-to-production mode ASAP. (read more)

I've spoken with Michael Stoll about the concept. Indeed, he has been instrumental in helping me conceive of ways to design the platform to best aid and abet local enterprise reporting.

If you go to the Web site ( you can leave your e-mail so that you will be informed when we launch. There you can also learn more about how the project will work.

I am available to discuss the details as well. Feel free to contact me. I am particularly keen to hear from local freelance reporters. My goal is to get you paid to do what you do best: report on important issues. Michael and I are very open to collaboration -- so it isn't an affront to the Public Press at all. In fact, as I see it, and I believe Michael feels the same, Spot Us is a tool that the Public Press can use. 

Turning advertising against itself

In the broad range of organizations that question the expanding role of marketing in public life, a group called the Anti-Advertising Agency Foundation For Freedom stands among the most ardently opposed to the traditional but uneasy co-existence of advertising and the editorial craft.

But the AAAFFF is the only one we know of that is willing to pay advertisers not to ply their trade, through an award that offers "creative freedom" and a "giant check." So says the press release:

CHICAGO -- The most creative and forward-thinking professionals of our time work in marketing. The Anti-Advertising Agency Foundation For Freedom wants them to quit. And they're offering cash.

The AAAFFF was organized by Steve Lambert and Anne Elizabeth Moore, both of whom have much to say about the world of marketing -- some of it tongue-in-cheek, some quite serious.

Their work to eliminate advertising in  grocery stores across the country and bus stops in Oakland has garnered national attention. Which, presumably, is the point. The group aims to question the role of advertising in public space "through constructive parody and gentle humor."

"Our work will de-normalize 'out-of-home' advertising and increase awareness of the public’s power to contribute to a more democratically-based outdoor environment," says its mission statement.

The contest might not solve the great debate, but it’s a start to rid the streets and cyberspace of mental clutter. The contest aims to do this one person at a time. Providing "tips, training, and networking opportunities" and the Anti-Advertising Agency says that it has known "you've always wanted to devote yourself solely to those pursuits."

On May 9, Moore updated readers on the progress of the Foundation For Freedom contest with some excerpts from respondents. This one in particular spoke to the goals of the Public Press project, in creating a culture of unmediated and civic-minded journalism:

I have worked for the past 4 years (since I graduated from a very prestigious culinary school) doing R&D for a food manufacturer ... Boy, throwing away 5,000 pre-packaged hamburger buns when they don't get used is even more egregious when you wake up to CNN telling you that people are rioting in Haiti and Egypt because they can't afford a loaf of bread. Poor people are so silly. I'm all ready to quit my job so that I can devote my time to the theatre which is my true love ... -- Midwestern Ad Man

Lambert's resumeof art projects and published work is thought-provoking, as is Moore's work with independent publishing. Neither is primarily focused on journalism, but their efforts to get a consumerism-drenched culture to consider alternatives is inspiring.

Desperate times call for innovation

It's the same old song, second verse: The old ways of paying for quality journalism are slowly dying and will continue to decline until a new model that works has been created. Though what the best news model looks like is always up for discussion.

American Journalism Review's senior editor, Carl Sessions Stepp, wrote a bulleted list of ways to succeed with the new newspaper. "Maybe it Is Time to Panic," Stepp says.

A few highlights:

  • Make it better not worse
  • Make it astonishingly, irresistibly better
  • Make it easier, not harder, to use and enjoy
  • Involve everyone from school kids to staff members to senior subscribers in the ultimate group science project of creating the greatest news outlets imaginable

Hey, he's singing our song!

Nonprofit and noncommercial journalism dovetail nicely with the outline Stepp provides. Like the other leading journalism publications, Columbia Journalism Review and Quill, AJR has long been hunting for solutions to the business-model mess. In 2004 Stepp spent some time at the St. Petersburg Times (owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute) and NPR, and wrote in a forward-thinking piece titled, "Journalism Without Profit Margins," that the staff working in nonprofit newsrooms seem to have an enhanced "shared ethic and enthusiasm" to make the product the best it can be. In that piece, Stepp wrote:

My own observation, based on years of working in, visiting and studying news operations, is that noncommercial journalists have no monopoly on commitment or quality. Large media corporations have the resources and clout for in-depth coverage, investigations and enterprise. No matter who pays their salaries, journalists tend by tribal habit to be aggressive, competitive and mindful of public service.

Yet in visiting less-commercial newsrooms and interviewing their journalists, I was struck by the palpable sense of relief and liberation, the exhilaration of professional autonomy.

When journalists feel in control, audiences gain something extra and special: news, analysis and opinion tailored to community and civic needs by professionals who care deeply.

Following up on these observations by writing a laundry list of ways to improve newspapers is a start. But the time to implement new ideas is now. Let's hope that "panic" is only the first emotional response to dealing with this crisis, not the last.

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