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The Public Press Blog

How We Rocked Our $30,000 Journalism Kickstarter Campaign (and You Can, Too)

We recently ran a crowdfunding campaign for journalism that brought in three times the amount we were asking for. Here’s how we did it.

The San Francisco Public Press has a plan to increase visibility for the organization and double its San Francisco distribution network in just six months. We’re going to do it by launching a program to deliver our quarterly newspapers by bike instead of car to members, retailers and other distribution locations around the city. Of course, that will take money, so we turned to our community of readers for support.

Our Pedal-Powered News campaign asked for $10,000 to buy bike trailers, hire “newsies” to deliver the papers and print more copies of the newspaper. As an added incentive, the Investigative News Network connected us with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which offered a matching grant of $10,000 if we were able to get 1,000 backers.

Thanks to the support of our network of avid readers and fans of independent journalism, we raised $21,328 from 1,016 backers, thus unlocking the $10,000 matching grant — which means the Pedal-Powered News campaign raised more than $31,000 in all.

Why bikes?

Publisher Lila LaHood told a group of news managers at an Investigative News Network forum that bicycle delivery had been part of the organization’s long-term vision since it began in 2010.

“Michael Stoll, our executive director, rides his bike everywhere,” LaHood said. “From the very beginning when he came up with the idea of the Public Press, he always had it in his head: Wouldn’t it be fun to deliver this newspaper by bicycle?”

The project capitalized on San Francisco’s love of cycling and allowed the spirit of the Public Press to shine through, LaHood said: “The journalism that we do is very serious, but the personality of our organization is actually charming and quirky. This idea fits in with that.”

“We are delivering serious journalism,” she added, “but I think there’s a way to have a bit of fun with it, and this campaign has some of that spark and charm.”

Kickstarter tips for journalism projects

Executive director Michael Stoll said the campaign was the most successful seasonal pledge drive in the Public Press’ five-year history.

“Kickstarter is a great platform for motivating first-time and returning donors, as well as latent supporters. Especially so since it started promoting its Journalism category the week we launched, spotlighting Pedal-Powered News in its weekly newsletter.

He said the tactic of asking for many small “even $1” donations was disarming, technically easy and motivated donors to pledge more than asked.

“Nearly half our 1,016 donors gave $10 or more. 185 people became new or renewing official members of the organization at or above the $35 level — growing our membership by at least 50 percent in just one month!” he said.

“This was great publicity, attracting interest from a one-million-plus Twitter user, a prominent crowdfunding blog and the local CBS TV news crew, which aired a segment about the campaign on Sunday morning in the Bay Area.”

At INN, LaHood had some advice for journalists who wanted to launch crowdfunding projects: The campaign video took a long time to produce, and not everyone asked to participate in the campaign understood how Kickstarter worked.

She said the personal approach was the most effective and warned that “blasting email lists” did not get results.

“You have to ask again, again and again. People want personal contacts, and somehow Facebook is yielding better responses than email,” LaHood said during the campaign’s final week. “Surprisingly, we were able to raise that basic goal fairly quickly. Getting the additional $1 donations has been challenging.”

The organization spent about $1,650 on art and video production, $150 on technology and $300 on promotional postcards. A big social media push was key to the campaign’s success.

The Public Press has the following advice for crowdfunding beginners:

  • Making the video will take longer than you think.
  • Train everyone in your organization to be part of the campaign.
  • Identify and delegate the work.
  • It takes a while to get set up with Kickstarter and can take many days to get your campaign approved.
  • Figure out in advance what you’re posting when and where.
  • Plan your campaign updates ahead of time.
  • The personal approach works best.

“It takes a while to get set up on Kickstarter,” LaHood said. “Don't think you can put up your video, put up your text and be ready to go ... I would start a couple of weeks ahead of when you actually want to launch it.”

LaHood said more direct training of staff would have been beneficial.

“I thought we had done a good job explaining to everyone in the organization how we needed their help promoting this campaign, but we did not do enough,” she said. “I would do a lot more direct training and explaining to people what they need to do to help.”

A road map for Pedal-Powered News

The success of the campaign gives the Public Press an ambitious goal of doubling its San Francisco distribution in six months. The first step is to source the bicycle trailers and hire “newsies” to deliver the summer issue to members and existing distribution locations in late July; then the distribution team will focus on securing additional retail locations for the fall and winter publication cycles.

The campaign itself was an invaluable opportunity to reach more readers and build the organization’s reputation.

Stoll said that even a week on, support was still flowing through the web donation page.

“We have already shown that our donor ‘funnel’ has grown, and we can go back to those same people for more support during our next pledge drive,” he said.

LaHood said: “In terms of a membership campaign, this has been amazing.”

“The campaign itself was great for outreach, and just being able to rally people around the specific event with a time limit really did wonders for us.”

You can still back Pedal-Powered News by becoming a member today.

Thanks to our 1,016 favorite people, we got our $10K match!

Dear friends and supporters,

We did it! And it all happened thanks to you. Throughout this campaign, we were amazed by your generosity in backing Pedal-Powered News and by your contagious enthusiasm for supporting local public-interest journalism.

With your help, we raised $21,328 — more than double our Kickstarter fundraising goal — and recruited 1,016 backers, which unlocked an additional $10,000 in matching funds from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

If you followed the last few hours of the campaign, you know that we were showered with support on social media. The campaign went viral and reached 1,000 backers at 10:46 p.m. — just in the nick of time.

We love that 16 of you joined us even after we reached our participation target! If you wanted to back Pedal-Powered News and ran out of time, you can always support this effort by becoming a member on our website.

From all of us at the San Francisco Public Press, we can’t thank you enough for supporting this nonprofit, noncommercial news organization and our efforts to produce in-depth, data-driven, consequential investigations on under-reported topics.

We look forward to launching our team of newsies-on-wheels to deliver our summer issue later this month! Watch for a follow-up survey to verify the spelling of your name for publication on thank-you pages online and in our summer print edition, which is set to arrive at the end of July.

Special thanks to Knight Foundation and to the Investigative News Network for taking a chance with our offbeat idea for engaging the community and getting the Public Press into the hands of more local readers.

With sincerest thanks and great appreciation,

Lila LaHood, Michael Stoll and everyone at the San Francisco Public Press

Pedal-Powered News is Fully Funded on Kickstarter!

195 More $1 Backers Needed by Midnight!

Thank you for supporting our Pedal-Powered News campaign on Kickstarter — you have helped us raise more than $18,600!

We have one more favor to ask, and it needs to happen today.

The San Francisco Public Press has a shot at a great opportunity — can you help? We need 195 people to give $1 by the end of today to unlock a $10,000 matching grant.

With just eight hours to go, we are in the final stretch. You can help by encouraging your friends to give $1 to Pedal-Powered News.

If we can close the campaign with 1,000 backers giving at least $1 each before 11:59 p.m. today — July 1 — we will reach our high participation goal and receive a $10,000 matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

By all accounts, the campaign has been a great success. Thank you to everyone who has contributed already! With your help, the Public Press has raised more than $18,600 from 805 people for Pedal-Powered News and will receive a $5,000 matching grant from Knight Foundation.

Thanks to your generous donations, our newsroom will be able to bring more news to more readers and will have the capacity to produce more of the stories that matter to you.

Thank you for your continued support!

Michael Stoll, Lila LaHood and everyone at the San Francisco Public Press

In Stock: A Thanks to Our Retailers

With your support for our Pedal-Powered News Kickstarter campaign, we plan to double our San Francisco distribution network within six months, sending our newsies-on-wheels far and wide with local, in-depth journalism. In the meantime, we wanted to thank the retailers who are already making a place for our paper on their shelves. These wonderful Bay Area retailers include: 


Thank you again to our retailers! Look for our Summer 2014 print edition in stores soon, and if you haven’t already, please support our Pedal-Powered News campaign

Pedal-Powered News Campaign Kicks into High Gear

Our Pedal-Powered News campaign is kicking into high gear! While we’ve reached our $10,000 goal, we still need 1,000 backers to receive a $10,000 matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. With your support, we’ll have a team of newsies on bikes ready to deliver our summer print edition to destinations throughout San Francisco. Help us get them on the road — every dollar counts!

A Former San Francisco Newsie Remembers Life at the Corner of Van Ness and Vallejo

At the beginning of the week, we promised you an interview with a former newsie who worked right here in San Francisco. Today, we’re happy to introduce Santo Alioto, who sold papers on the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Vallejo Street in the 1950s. Below you’ll find our interview with him, as well as a video of Alioto talking to us at his old stomping grounds. You can help us hire our own newsies — who will take to the streets on energy efficient, environmentally friendly bicycles — by supporting our Pedal-Powered News Kickstarter campaign.

A born-and-bred San Franciscan, Santo Alioto was just 10 years old when he started selling newspapers on the corner of Hyde and Union streets in the early 1950s. He made $1.42 his first night on the job, which he calls “pretty good money back then.” Eventually, Alioto was promoted to the corner of Van Ness and Vallejo, where we recently interviewed him.

“It was mainly traffic from the cars,” explained Alioto. “The cars would come by and you’d be holding up the headlines.” Newspapers were 7 cents, and “if they gave you a dime, you were really lucky that night.” All told, Alioto made about $1.65 each evening. Working five nights a week, that came to roughly $32 a month. Some of that money went to help his family pay the rent, which was — get ready for it, San Francisco apartment hunters — $36 a month for a two-bedroom flat in North Beach.

Times were certainly different, in more ways than one.

“In those days, there wasn’t as much television or radio,” Alioto said. “So people would take the paper in the afternoon and they’d go home and read the paper in the early evening or after dinner. People were devoted to the newspaper.”

And they had options. Alioto told us that at the time, there were four newspapers in San Francisco: the morning papers were the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner, and the afternoon papers were the San Francisco Call-Bulletin and the San Francisco News. On top of that, each newspaper had different editions. The Call-Bulletin, for example, had the Home Edition, the Seven Star Sport (“for all the horse-racing junkies”) and the last paper of the day, the Nine Star Final.

The most popular paper was the Call-Bulletin. “People were devoted to the Call Bulletin,” Alioto said. “If you ran out of Call-Bulletins, many times they would say well I’ll come back later, or I’ll buy it at another corner, or they reluctantly, reluctantly would buy the News.”

With the rise of television, the afternoon newspapers began to fade and the Call-Bulletin merged with the News. By that time, Alioto was a student at San Francisco State University, and instead of working the corner at Van Ness and Vallejo, he answered calls downtown at the News Call-Bulletin’s Subscriber and Complaints Department.

Alioto worked his way through college and became a high school teacher. Now 74, he lives with his wife in Contra Costa County. A life-long newspaper reader, he maintains a subscription, but is dismayed to see how few daily newspapers there are still standing. “The one thing about the newspapers fading away,” said Alioto, “is where do you get your news from and how reliable is it?”

Still, he says it makes him feel good to reminisce about his afternoons on the corner of Van Ness and Vallejo. “It was fun selling newspapers,” Alioto said. “And the best part about it was that you got to go home and count out your change.”

Meet the Team: Noah Arroyo and Tearsa Hammock

If you’ve been reading the San Francisco Public Press for a while, you may be familiar with the work of Noah Arroyo and Tearsa Hammock – two members of our all-star team.  Today, we’ve asked them to introduce themselves and talk a bit about their work. Here’s what they had to say:

To get Noah and Tearsa’s work out to an even bigger audience, please donate to our Pedal-Powered News Kickstarter campaign! While we’ve reached our $10,000 goal, we still need 1,000 backers to receive a $10,000 matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. One dollar is all it takes to be a backer and support investigative journalism in the Bay Area!

Famous Newsies of Yore

Legend has it that the first newspaper boy was 10-year-old Barney Flaherty, hired in 1833 by the New York Sun in response to an advertisement that read: "To the Unemployed a number of steady men can find employment by vending this paper."

A boy on his bicycle delivering the Toronto Star in 1940. Photo by Marjorie Georgina Ruddy via Wikimedia Commons

Ambitious, enterprising youngsters were soon selling and delivering newspapers throughout the country. The first job for many a successful person, the list of famous folks who got their start as newspaper delivery boys includes:

  • Walt Disney
  • H. Ross Perot
  • Bob Hope
  • Ed Sullivan
  • Danny Thomas
  • John Wayne
  • Bing Crosby
  • Jimmy Durante
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Herbert Hoover
  • Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Harry S. Truman
  • Ed Sullivan
  • Isaac Asimov
  • Carl Sandburg
  • Tom Brokaw
  • Wayne Gretzky
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

Source: Newspaper Association of America via Library Spot

Want to know more about what it was like to be a newspaper delivery boy? Coming up later this week, we’ve got an interview with a former newsie who worked right here in San Francisco. In the meantime, support our Pedal-Powered News Kickstarter campaign and help us get our own bicycle-riding newsies on the road!  

Roundup: The Best of the San Francisco Public Press

In the mood for a good Friday afternoon read?

Since it launched in March 2009, the San Francisco Public Press has published in-depth investigative stories on public-interest topics ranging from human trafficking to smart growth. With our Pedal-Powered News Kickstarter campaign, we’re hoping to double our San Francisco distribution, giving more readers access to these important, under-reported stories.

Here’s a roundup of some of our best articles and special reports:

David Cohn on Artisanal News

“What I love about what the San Francisco Public Press is doing is the idea of treating news almost artisanal… Lots of time, and love, and energy, and sweat and blood goes into each paper…”

David Cohn is a San Francisco Public Press board member and longtime advisor in the realm of all things digital. After founding, which was acquired by American Public Media, David joined the founding team at Circa – a mobile news app that covers world events by constantly recombining brief updates – where he is now Chief Content Officer. Here’s what he had to say about the San Francisco Public Press and our Pedal-Powered News Kickstarter campaign:

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