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The Fourth Estate and You

Note from the editors, in the summer 2013 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press

Welcome to the future. Thanks to the collapse of print advertising and über-consolidation of formerly competing commercial news companies, independent journalism is becoming a threatened, if not endangered species.

In the news vacuum this trend has created, journalism entrepreneurship is accelerating. But it’s unclear which ventures will achieve influence and sustainability.

That’s where you come in. By design, the San Francisco Public Press is supported by readers, not corporate advertising. Startup nonprofit news organizations around the country are realizing the powerful and liberating potential of this approach.

If you’ve ever tuned into NPR or PBS, or any of the local noncommercial stations around the country that rely on donations, you know the “pledge” model. You may find it charming or a bit grating — but it works. Year after year it helps deliver public affairs programming you can’t find anywhere else.

Without a compelling new commercial model to flood city halls around the country with crusading public-interest muckrakers, the public broadcasting approach is an attractive alternative for media innovators.

It’s a model that might actually expand the ability of the press to do what Glen Greenwald of the U.K. Guardian calls “adversarial journalism.” Think “investigative,” “accountability” and “watchdog.”

Many news organizations have curtailed that kind of reporting when faced with declining ad revenue — the status quo economics of the news business in the 2010s.

 At the Public Press, our focus is public-interest news in a limited geography — San Francisco and the Bay Area.

We know that readers here are hungry for independent reporting on local issues, and that many will support a nonprofit news organization that addresses this need.

We’re hearing from more and more readers who voice appreciation for in-depth reporting that presents complex under-covered stories in context. But to keep the reporters on the beat, we need to build a broad base of public support.

What do you get by becoming a member? In addition to the swag, you’ll know you’re contributing directly to public policy reporting on a range of topics.

Greenwald said that reader-supported journalism holds great promise for emancipation from elite interests. The model, he wrote, “enables journalism that is truly in the public interest — and that actually engages, informs, and inspires its readers — to be primarily accountable to those readers.”

With community support, we can focus on consequential topics that spark meaningful debate. As our member roster grows, we’re prepared to bring you more powerful reporting to extend those conversations.