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The Public Press Blog

Bay Area development giant Lennar accused of fraud

The Sacramento Bee reported that the Bay Area’s mammoth housing developer Lennar Corp. and its spinoff company LNR Property Corp. are being accused of defrauding the California Public Employee’s Retirement System and others in a new lawsuit.

“The suit says Lennar and LNR Property used ‘grossly inflated’ land appraisals in securing the CalPERS partnership investment and a separate $1.5 billion loan commitment from a group led by global giant Barclays Bank.”

The investment was made in LandSource Communities Development, a portfolio of properties that went bankrupt in 2008, causing CalPERS to lose $922 million. (For more on the lawsuit, see the Sac Bee article.)

The general spirit of the suit suggests that Lennar is accomplished in wooing investors with promises of high returns, which should be a heads up to Bay Area residents. Lennar has fingers in a handful of Bay Area development projects, including Mare Island, Hunters Point, and Treasure Island.

The San Francisco Public Press published a special report in June on the redevelopment of Treasure Island. Lennar and its investors are putting up 50 percent of the capitol needed to prepare Treasure Island for development. San Francisco-based Stockbridge Real Estate Funds will fund the other half.

When interviewing Jack Sylvan, redevelopment director for the Treasure Island Development Authority, and the city’s agent negotiating the public-private partnership, he called the Treasure Island project, “about as risky a project as you can find and yes the pro forma shows, which is what they [the developers] need the pro forma to show, that they’re actually going to get a return, or nobody is going to invest in the project, but does that mean that it’s actually going to happen?”

Good question given Lennar’s track record and current legal problems.

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:


* * * * *


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?

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *


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, 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.

* * * * *


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

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.

Welcome to SF Public Press, beta version

What you hold in your hands is an experiment.

Just as public radio and television arose generations ago to take news in a more substantive direction, so the San Francisco Public Press aims to conjure a new class of news organizations — local, accountable, noncommercial and innovative — that deliver news effectively across print and digital platforms.

Our long-term goal is to publish a nonprofit, ad-free daily newspaper — online and in print — that contributes to a competitive news environment for intelligent and in-depth journalism.

It will combine timely, nonpartisan original reporting with other quality writing and visuals from existing media partners that already produce public-interest news. The idea here is to cross media boundaries to expose this work to new local audiences.

This pilot newspaper is our foray into print. The Public Press has been publishing news online since March 2009 after receiving a startup grant from the San Francisco Foundation. Since then, more than 100 writers, photographers, videographers, multimedia specialists, nonprofit workers and concerned citizens have collaborated to produce professional-quality, in-depth reporting on public policy and social trends in and around San Francisco.

Why no ads? As the newspaper advertising market has drained to Internet competitors, we need to search for other sources of income to support quality journalism. Advertising has also warped the content of the newsroom, both explicitly and subtly, encouraging newspapers to shift their coverage to topics of interest to businesses and wealthy readers — the targets of ads. Noncommercial news, while often less lucrative, has the luxury of independence.

Why print? In an era when most journalism innovation is taking place online, we see untapped opportunities in print, too.

Here’s why:

  • Newspapers help bridge the digital divide. Not everyone is wired 24/7, even in the Bay Area. According to San Francisco’s 2009 City Survey, more than 34 percent of households with income under $50,000 cannot access the Internet at home via personal computers.
  • Newspapers serve as communal touchstones. You can never tell what people are reading by looking at the backs of their laptops. Instead, consider the experience of glancing at a headline over the shoulder of a fellow Muni passenger or picking up a copy of a paper someone left at a coffee shop. These moments spark real conversations with neighbors.
  • We want to pay our hard-working staff for the work they do. Readers might not pay for news online, but they still buy newspapers: 50 million are sold every day in the U.S. 
  • People use paper and electronic devices differently. There are times and places when even the most tech-savvy Bay Area digerati enjoy some screen relief. But the Public Press’ mission and purpose extend far beyond our case for print. If independent news organizations are going to survive into the digital era, what will they look like? Who will control them? Whose interests will they serve? We envision a cadre of newsrooms operating as accountable, locally based publicinterest organizations with high professional standards.
  • We do not stand alone in our aspirations. The Public Press would not exist as it does today if not for an outpouring of volunteer help from scores of people who believe in this vision. And yet, the organization must evolve if it is to thrive beyond this pilot venture. We intend to grow into an independent newsroom that can afford to pay journalists for the work they produce.

To do this, we need your help. If this newspaper in your hands represents to you a worthy experiment, one worth refining and repeating, again and again, support our efforts by becoming a member of the San Francisco Public Press today.

With your pledge you will get home delivery of future editions of the newspaper, free admission to our public events and the knowledge that you are helping redefine journalism for San Francisco.

Contact the Public Press newsroom at news [AT], or (415) 495-7377.


Radio interview: San Francisco Public Press in big print

“Media Minutes,” a national radio program from the nonprofit media policy group Free Press, aired a show June 11 that included an interview with Lila LaHood, director of operations and development at the Public Press, about the upcoming print pilot edition launchBelow is a transcript of the program:

click here to download

The San Francisco Public Press is a nonprofit news organization that publishes public interest reporting with the help of more than 50 professional and volunteer journalists and other nonprofit groups.

Online since 2007, the San Francisco Public Press is about to launch a pilot print edition. In an era where other newspapers are shrinking in size, the Public Press print edition will be big – 22 x 14 inches – with 28 full-size broadsheet pages, mostly in color, filled with news and features, but with no paid advertising.

Lila LaHood is the Director of Operations for the Public Press, which relies on support from foundations and individual donors.

Lila LaHood: We’re trying to do public interest, civic affairs journalism. Some local culture as well. A lot of our stories look at public policy and try to analyze, maybe, larger trends through a local lens. We do a lot of stories that focus on local civics and politics, public policy – issues that would affect a broad range of people who live and work in San Francisco.

LaHood says the Public Press has a commitment to underserved communities.

Lila LaHood: We hope to reach those audiences more with the print edition. Really, the problem isn’t so much with the print newspaper – people still subscribe to print newspapers – but it’s with the advertising model. And having news sponsored by advertising to support print newspapers just isn’t working anymore. We’re looking a
print as a way to bridge the digital divide. Even in a place like San Francisco, not everyone has broadband access at home, and if print newspapers disappear, we’re
limiting access to news for a lot of people in San Francisco.

LaHood says they are experimenting with innovative ways to tell the news. In one feature, they’ve paired a comic artist and a reporter together to produce a graphic novel
that will take up one full page.

Lila LaHood: We think this is going to capture a lot of attention because it’s a great way to present and illustrate an important public policy story, but in a more compelling way
that we think will help deliver it to a broader audience.

The print edition will start out as a quarterly. They hope to move to a weekly edition within a year. For more information about the San Francisco Public Press, go to

SF Public Press print edition coming Tuesday, June 22!

Our pilot print newspaper hits the streets in less than three weeks! We have more than 50 stories lined up from our reporters and more than two dozen independent and public media partners — so much great content that we're expanding the paper from 24 to 28 full-size, broadsheet pages. That's 28 pages filled with news and features — and no paid advertising.
Buy a copy for $2 from
our street hawkers or one of our local retail partners. Or become a member and your copy is free!

We invite you to come celebrate the birth of our pilot print edition from 5 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, June 22 at Passion Cafe, located at 28 Sixth St. near Market Street in San Francisco. Join us for drinks and appetizers on the rooftop terrace of this stylish French bistro. Tickets — which include a copy of the newspaper — are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Members get in free!

Buy a ticket or become a member today!


Join us for Journalism Innovations III

We're posting this on behalf of Independent Arts & Media, our fiscal sponsor and one of the lead organizers for Journalism Innovations III. We'll be participating in the conference and hope you'll consider joining this extended conversation about the future of journalism. — SF Public Press

*               *               *               *               *

Journalism has changed. Thanks to the Internet, we can now find hundreds of articles, about a single topic, from multiple sources, at the push of a button.

Journalism continues to change, as aggregators and community based sites combine traditional reporting with the dialogue that we share among ourselves, online, on the streets and within our neighborhoods.  

We will adapt and overcome as journalists, as dialogue makers and as those who rely on news and information, adequate enough to help us make daily decisions in a modern democracy.

On April 30, Independent Arts & Media, the University of San Francisco, The G.W Williams Center for Independent Journalism and the Society for Professional Journalists will present the third annual Journalism Innovations Conference (JI-3).  Over a period of three days, we will gather on the verdant campus of USF to meet, discuss, commiserate, consider and innovate.  

JI-3 will not be an exercise of self-congratulations for incorporating Twitter into a distribution method.  Nor will it be a series of talking heads reiterating what we already know about modern journalism. This conference is designed to recognize the diversity within the field, to encourage exchange, and to learn from different perspectives.  Our workshops will address new trends, new ways of doing business, and what it now takes to stay in the news business with workshops, panels, and plenary discussions.  

If you are interested in journalism, news, information or community based dialogue, we invite you to join us beginning April 30. You need not be a professional journalist to attend.  Online registration is now open, with self-identified fees or a sliding scale.  No one will be turned away for inability to pay.  Visit the Journalism Innovations website for a schedule of events and activities

Journalism has changed, but the need for reliable information has not.  Join us to help discover how we will continue to meet that need, which is so vital to our democracy.

Journalism Innovations III
April 30 – May 2
University of San Francisco, Fromm Hall

Presented by Independent Arts & Media, University of San Francisco, The G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism, and the Society for Professional Journalists.

Register now: For additional information call 415-738-4975.



Christopher Cook on KALW's "Crosscurrents Radio"

Tune to KALW's "Crosscurrents Radio" today at 5 p.m. to hear Christopher Cook and KALW News Director Holly Kernan discuss his recent coverage of the trial between the Service Employees International Union and the National Union of Healthcare Workers, a rival union created by former SEIU staffers. They will talk about the meaning, importance and drama of this major labor trial, explore the larger battle within SEIU over leadership and direction, and consider a possible silver lining in an often ugly fight.

Listen to the broadcast on KALW at 91.7 FM or streaming online, or find the podcast here once the program has aired.

Read Cook's coverage of the trial: Rival union vows fight after SEIU wins $1.5 million verdict

Support this reporting by making a contribution via



SF Public Press collaborates with New York Times Bay Area Report

We're pleased to announce that a story collaboratively produced by SF Public Press and The New York Times appears today in the Times' Bay Area Report and on the and Web sites.

The story — ‘‘Seeking to Help Budding Researchers With a Click of the Mouse’’ — by Public Press reporter Victoria Schlesinger looks at the efforts of young scientists at Stanford and the University of California-Berkeley to do an end-run around traditional sources of government grants by seeking funds directly from the public to support research with environmental and socially beneficial applications.

The piece was edited by staff in both newsrooms and photographed by New York Times staff. The Times Bay Area Report, which was launched in 2009 is edited by longtime Times business and environment writer Felicity Barringer.

The Public Press is the second local nonprofit to provide articles to Times local editions outside New York, after the Chicago News Cooperative began producing whole pages for a local section there last year. The Times Bay Area Report, which runs as a two-page spread in the Northern California edition of the Times each Friday and Sunday, is slated to be produced by another nonprofit organization, The Bay Citizen, later this year. 

* * * Meet Public Press reporter Victoria Schlesinger and learn more about her story this Saturday at our "Print-raising" Party at Tonic! Click here for details. * * * 


Start the presses! — SF Public Press is going to print


Come to a print-raising party at Tonic on Saturday, April 3, and join the leading grassroots campaign to advance local, ad-free, public-interest journalism in San Francisco.

All tips collected during the event will help SF Public Press produce, print and distribute a pilot newspaper this spring. We hope you’ll contribute.


We’ll offer chances to win one-year Public Press memberships and free copies of McSweeney’s award-winning San Francisco Panorama!


WHAT: SF Public Press Print-raising Party
WHEN: Saturday, April 3, 6-9 p.m.
WHERE: Tonic, 2360 Polk St. (at Union) in San Francisco


RSVP at eventbrite to help us plan accordingly.



SPJ forum TONIGHT: “Your Views on Local News”

Community members will have a chance to discuss their views about the local news with a dozen leading figures in journalism, education, business and politics at a town hall meeting produced by the Society of Professional Journalists on Thursday, March 25. Participants will talk about how the current crisis in the news industry creates opportunities for the public to help shape new kinds of journalism that contribute to a vibrant democracy.

WHAT: “Your Views on Local News – A Town Hall Forum” 
WHEN: Thursday, March 25, 5:30-7:30 p.m. 
WHERE: Koret Auditorium, SF Public Library, 100 Larkin St.

Admission is free. Sandip Roy and Hana Baba of public radio station KALW-FM will moderate. The program will be recorded and broadcast by SFGTV, San Francisco’s government channel. For a list of participants, please visit SPJ Northern California Chapter's Web site at 

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