The SF Public Press hits the streets!

 Originally posted at the Independent Arts & Media blog

What a thrill to be in the thick of print production!

It was an honor to lend a hand last Monday as the Public Press krewe pushed through those final hours before going to press.

I hardly dipped my toe in the water, did a few page proofs, dispensed a little advice and tried to otherwise stay out of the way — and even that was the journalistic equivalent of cliff diving. Dizzying heights, harrowing free fall, and a tremendous, joyful, encompassing splashdown.

And what a splash! The San Francisco Public Press made its newsprint debut on Tuesday, June 22. Read all about it:
 
You can get your own copy at the soiree, from the crew of newsies (count me among them) who are going to line Market Street from Embarcadero to City Hall today, and at any of these fine Bay Area periodical vendors:
 

 

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I should mention that News You Might Have Missed also makes its print debut today as the national and world content for this great new newspaper. We take up half a page in the “Beyond the Bay” section with six short, pithy news items that are a wonderful preview of what a fully fledged NYMHM syndication service will look like.

Once upon a time this was all just a daydream. The only thing real about it was the prospect of ceaseless labor and uncertain returns.

Our dilemma has evolved. Now all we have to do is figure out how to scale it all up. It’s a popular and interesting problem. We could also try to scale Mt. Everest.

Or start an ad-free newspaper. Howbout them apples?

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The San Francisco Public Press newsroom on Monday afternoon was tangled with computer cables, piled with papers, reference manuals scattered on desks, backpacks heaped in corners, half-empty takeout boxes teetering on the edges of tabletops.

The clock ticked down the hours and minutes and the two, terrible press deadlines loomed — 6pm for the Treasure Island “ecotopia” spread, 10pm for the rest of the paper.

The open suite of three connected offices was packed with volunteers young and old, kids fresh out of journalism school hunched over proofs and laptops, a handful of once-weary veterans of the trade now grinning, shaking their heads in astonishment, squaring their shoulders and muscling through sheets and sheets of 10-point type with fine red pens.

I did my part. Plowed through a few newsprint proofs. Wrestled some cumbersome headlines into submission. Flagged some contradictions in a fact-checking piece about public power. Gave due encouragement and advice to a young page editor trying to sand down one particularly knotty, burly slab of text. Made some jokes and tried not to get in the way.

I cringed slightly when giving my proofs to ex-SF Chronicle gunslinger Rich Pestorich. He gazed calmly at the pulpy mass of bloody red ink I’d stuck in his paws, then at all the other marked-up pages waiting quietly next to his laptop, and then back at me.

He said nothing.

“You’re the copy chief, right?” I asked.

“No,” he said, expressionless.

He added my “corrected” page to the pile, and ambled out into the corridor to detach a fresh proof from the wall for me to scrutinize.

Later, I strove to get the attention of Jackson Solway, the beleaguered but remarkably cool-headed designer.

“You may want to know about an important typographical situation,” I said.

“DON’T START WITH THE CURLY QUOTES!” Suzanne Yada hollered, though her desk was about three feet away.

“It’s actually that the en and em dashes are all mixed up,” I said.

“F— YOU!” she offered.

A true journalistic renaissance woman, and one of the powerful forces of nature propelling the whole Public Press endeavor, Suzanne in her wisdom is not to be taken lightly.

Another volunteer, one of the young ones, piped up: “I’m fixing those right now.”

Talk about a roomful of beating hearts!

Newsprint, typography, layout, proofreads and copyedits, the quickening pulse as the deadline approaches — print production brings out a fierce sort of joy that can only emerge from something as serious as committing words to print. Like jumping off a cliff, there’s no turning back, and you better be damn sure the water’s deep enough.

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I first met Michael Stoll in 2004, at a World Affairs Council conference on press credibility produced by the nonprofit Independent Arts & Media, which I co-founded along with my artist-pal Adam Myers, and ex-MTVi production gal Jen Burke Anderson. We had created this entity because we had serious work to do in media and the arts, but we lacked the business and operational infrastructure to make that work possible.

At any rate, it certainly wasn’t going to happen at our day jobs.

Seems we were not alone in this quandary, and the resource we built turned out to be useful for other folks as well.

After the conference concluded, a thin, serious-looking young gentleman approached me. It was Mr. Stoll himself. I would later discover that his characteristic, soft-toned sobriety was just the calm surface of an oceanic depth of invention, focus, intellect, patience, and dug-in, mule-headed stubbornness. Qualities that have served him well as a “journopreneur” pursuing a decidedly contrarian approach to media production in the dawning digital era.

Michael asked me about Newsdesk.org, the news project I started under Indy Arts’ banner. He spoke about collaboration. He talked about his notion for an ad-free, nonprofit newspaper, one that could translate the public-radio funding model — and the multifacted eruption of online content — into newsprint.

The audacity of it! Delivered with such such an earnest demeanor! It was impossible to resist.

Eventually, when he founded The Public Press, Michael set it up as a fiscally sponsored affiliate of Indy Arts. We helped them get their first grants, and receive donations from hundred of individuals inspired by the Public Press vision, and stay in compliance with IRS tax law. We gave them free tables at our various media and arts expositions, promoted their work through Indy Arts’ newsletters and social media — and otherwise stayed the heck out of the way.

Michael brings such detailed, methodical focus to his work that it borders on inexorable. He recruited his advisers and teammates widely but astutely, held planning sessions at Pauline’s Pizza on Valencia, and soon found, amid the usual bumps and turmoil, that his vision had been taken up by more than a dozen colleagues, of every description and level of experience in the journalism world.

Suddenly The Public Press became a collective, and Michael was hanging on for dear life.

For the nonprofit wonks amongst you: This is the power of a smart, creator-friendly fiscal sponsorship program. It provides a platform for brilliant people to do remarkable things that they can’t do anywhere else. It helps them field-test their vision, launch their project, and then iterate.

Soon, The San Francisco Public Press will receive its own tax-exempt status from the IRS. It’s like they’re graduating! We at Indy Arts want to throw a party for them.

But they’ve taken care of that just fine on their own, thank you very much.

See you tonight at Passion Cafe — or buy a newspaper from me or any of the Public Press volunteers working their beat on Market Street.

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Oh yeah! One more thing. The SF Chronicle ran an item about The Public Press today. It’s good.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/06/21/DDFJ1E1B6M.DTL

Say what you will about the future of newspapers. All I know is I’ve been selling newspapers to interested people on the streets of the city I love.