The Public Press Blog

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.

Don't Let the Fog Fool You

San Francisco is getting sunnier. Not in the way you might learn about from TV news or features in the daily papers; superficial stories about the warm weather at street festivals are cheap and easy to produce.

The sunshine we need is of a kind that’s harder to capture.

Journalists at the San Francisco Public Press are hard at work for you, illuminating complex and consequential policy questions in the city and across the Bay Area. In every quarterly print edition and in updates online we produce an in-depth team reporting project exposing obscure public documents that we wrest from recalcitrant city and regional agencies.

In the last year, our reporting has often led local coverage. We broke the story about a plan to reduce the minimum apartment size to 220 square feet, unleashing a national debate about urban housing standards. Our domestic violence report led Police Chief Greg Suhr and District Attorney George Gascón to launch internal probes on the handling of investigation records. And after we unearthed a list of the 3,000 buildings city inspectors think will be especially vulnerable during the next big earthquake, tenants packed a public meeting to ask why city officials neglected to tell them they were at risk. Michael Krasny of KQED’s “Forum” called on us in February to explain the city’s landmark legislation requiring apartment buildings be retrofitted.

Our upcoming summer edition shines light on California’s ambitious plans to battle the greenhouse effect. We’re scrutinizing state records that few have bothered to look at, and have found what some might call early warning signs that the state’s cap-and-trade pollution marketplace might not achieve its goals in controlling gases that add to a warming atmosphere.

But the real news is that sunshine like this isn’t free. This kind of work requires exhaustive reporting, thorough data analysis, careful writing and compelling visual presentation. To keep that going, we rely on the support of hundreds of individuals who have donated to the Public Press to support independent, nonprofit, in-depth local reporting.

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation during our Sunshine Membership Drive. If you’re already a member, thank you for your support! If you haven’t yet given, or if your membership has expired, this is a great time to start or renew. Help keep the lights on at the Public Press. Thank you for your support.

Best regards,

Michael Stoll
Executive Director

Bring on the sunshine!

Summer is as good as here in San Francisco, which means it’s time for the San Francisco Public Press to kick off its Sunshine Membership Drive.

Bring on the sunshine!

As you dust off your barbecue grill and start packing your Memorial Day picnic, we hope you’ll take a moment to send a little sunshine our way — by becoming a member or renewing your membership.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of our current members! Your support makes our work possible.

The journalists here at the Public Press are hard at work to bring you our next print edition's special reporting project on California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For a preview of the project read Chantal Jolagh’s recent story, “California Environmentalists Decry Governor’s Raid on Cap-and-Trade Dollars.”

Pledge now, and you’ll become a member just in time to receive Issue No. 11, coming in mid-June. You’ll also be invited to our quarterly member mixer later in the month.

Membership begins at $35 a year and offers a range of benefits, including home delivery of the next four issues. Visit for more details.

So, bring on the sunshine and become a member today!

Warmest thanks,

Shinwha Whang

Membership Manager

San Francisco Public Press

(Sunrise photo from Shutterstock.)

Thanks for making our fall drive a success

Thank you for making the San Francisco Public Press fall membership drive a big success! Tremendous thanks to all of our new and renewing members for helping us surpass our goal. Your support means so much to us.  

If you weren't able to join during the fall drive, it's not too late: Become a member today.

Annual Open Board Meeting

Annual Open Board Meeting

Join us this Saturday for our annual open board meeting. Our executive director, publisher and other board members will present reports on current operations and future plans. There will be time for public comment and discussion. We will provide coffee, tea and snacks.

When: 10:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Nov. 3
Where: San Francisco Public Press, 965 Mission St., Suite 220, San Francisco

Please let us know if you will attend:

This meeting is open to the public. We will hold an annual meeting for members in early 2013.

Fall membership drive - LAST DAY!

This is it. It’s the last day of our fall membership drive, and your last chance to help us reach our goal of adding 25 members, and to own one of these reusable shopping totes with our logo. We’re still just a few members shy of meeting our goal.

We hope you will help us make it happen. 

As you know, we are modeled on, among other things, public broadcasting. Our funding model depends on the support of our readers to keep producing 100 percent ad-free journalism. Our independence from commercial funding allows us to cover stories that see the city and the Bay Area from the viewpoint of average people, and to cover stories and communities that traditionally receive little attention from the press.

But we can’t do it alone. Join us. Memberships start at $35. One benefit of membership across all levels is a subscription to the print edition. Each paper features a special team reporting project that takes an in-depth look at an under-covered news topic. Recent reports include:

As a member, you’ll receive print editions in the mail, hot off the presses, for a year. Don’t miss another issue. Become a member today!

Thank you for your support.

Michael Stoll                 Lila LaHood

Executive Editor           Publisher


Two days left of our membership drive!

We're in the final stretch of our fall membership drive, which runs through Wednesday, Oct. 31. We'd like to give a big THANK YOU to our newest members and renewers — your support is greatly appreciated. With just two days left, we are six members away from reaching our goal of adding 25 members during the fall drive. Time is running out. Please help us meet our goal by joining or renewing your membership today. Memberships start at $35 and come with a host of benefits.

And don't forget, if you join or renew by tomorrow, as a bonus we'll give you a reusable, stuffable shopping tote with our new logo, custom made for us by ChicoBags.

As a member of the San Francisco Public Press, you'll be in good company. Here's what David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for the New York Times, L.A. Times and Philadelphia Inquirer, and author of "The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use 'Plain English' to Rob You Blind," has to say about the work we do:

"I contribute to the Public Press because San Francisco needs serious journalism about issues that affect the quality of life."

The San Francisco Public Press is small but growing. Your support will help us continue to report on undercovered topics, bringing attention to the plights of underserved communities and holding the powerful accountable. If you're a regular reader, then you know that we produce the kind of in-depth, content-rich, investigative stories about issues affecting San Francisco that no one else is covering. You can help us continue to produce important public-interest journalism by becoming a member today.

Thank you for your support!
Michael Stoll                              Lila LaHood
Executive Editor                       Publisher

Fall membership drive — join now!

Did you hear that San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced at a press conference that he was investigating his department’s low rate of prosecutions for domestic violence?

That was because of reporting in the fall 2012 edition of the Public Press, which found that San Francisco takes just 28 percent of cases to court — the lowest per capita rate in the Bay Area.

In the cacophony of sensational coverage of the San Francisco sheriff to win back his job after being charged with domestic violence, the Public Press went in depth to look at the thousands of other cases — some of which lead to severe and repeated injuries — that never make the headlines.

Team reporting projects like these are what distinguish the Public Press in an era of shrinking resources for local journalism and commercial news operations that no longer have the stomach to do independent research.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your support to do more reporting projects that hold the powerful in our community accountable.

The San Francisco Public Press is small but growing. In August, after an epic, 32-month struggle with the IRS, we earned our independent 501(c)3 charitable status. That means that 100 percent of your tax-deductible donation will go to reporting and infrastructure that keeps our independent, nonpartisan professional journalism voice alive.

Help us celebrate our first membership drive as an independent nonprofit! You can become a basic member for just $35 a year, and get four quarterly editions of the newspaper mailed to you.

And for the two weeks of this fund drive, we’ll also send you a custom Public Press reusable, stuffable grocery tote from Chico Bags. Just in time to deal with San Francisco’s ban on plastic bags at the check-out line!

Of course, we’ll love you even more for a donation of $50 and above, which also gets you a vintage vermillion SF Public Press T-shirt.

Thanks for your support!

Michael Stoll                         Lila LaHood
Executive Director               Publisher                        

IRS Awards 501(c)3 Status to San Francisco Public Press

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, Sept. 14, 2012

Contact: Michael Stoll, Executive Director — 415-846-3983; Lila LaHood, Publisher — 415-846-5346


IRS Awards 501(c)3 Status to San Francisco Public Press

After 32-month wait, independent ad-free newspaper finally receives charitable status, paving way for several similar nonprofit news startups


SAN FRANCISCO — After more than two and a half years, the IRS has awarded 501(c)3 nonprofit status to the San Francisco Public Press, a nonprofit, noncommercial local news organization that publishes in-depth public-interest news daily online at and quarterly in a print newspaper.

The ruling allows the Public Press to directly accept tax-deductible donations from individuals, and elevates the organization to the same legal status as NPR, the Associated Press and the Center for Investigative Reporting, among many others. Importantly, it enables the startup news organization to solicit more significant grants from foundations — many of which say they are more comfortable funding 501(c)3’s. Since its founding in 2009, the Public Press has operated as a fiscally sponsored project of Independent Arts & Media, providing vital bridging services as we waited for our final 501(c)3 approval.

The Public Press, described by the Investigative News Network as “the poster child for nonprofit news projects deserving charitable status,” is funded by small grants from about a dozen foundations and more than 200 individual members. While it pays its reporters and photographers, it is largely volunteer-run, and like many magazines and noncommercial radio stations does not accept advertising, in order to maintain editorial independence.

The eighth edition of the newspaper, featuring a team report detailing San Francisco’s inconsistent efforts to battle domestic violence, will be published on Sept. 18.

“We are thrilled to have received this positive determination from the IRS,” said Michael Stoll, executive director of the San Francisco Public Press. “It will allow the Public Press to pursue larger grants and other opportunities restricted to nonprofits with 501(c)3 status.”

The Public Press first submitted an application to the IRS in January 2010. Nonprofit professionals say that the application processing typically takes between two and 12 months. After more than a year of delay, in early 2011 the organization sought help from the Digital Media Law Project at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and from the Investigative News Network, a nonprofit organization representing more than 60 nonprofit news producers around the country.

"It is reassuring that the IRS has finally recognized the critical educational function that the San Francisco Public Press serves,” said Jeff Hermes, director of the Digital Media Law Project, which provided pro bono legal assistance. “Hopefully, the Public Press has now paved the way for other journalism organizations to receive their federal tax exemptions more quickly.”

While the IRS does not comment on pending cases, agents working on the case have confirmed that “several” other projects are still in nonprofit limbo, including The Lens, an award-winning investigative online publication in New Orleans that has been waiting 23 months for a 501(c)3 determination. Both organizations have been supported by Kevin Davis, CEO and executive director of the Investigative News Network.

"The San Francisco Public Press is 100 percent focused on the mission to inform and educate the community in order to foster a vibrant democracy," Davis said. “We hope that this is the start of a phase where the IRS not only grants 501(c)(3) status to the other equally qualified organizations that have been waiting patiently for their turn, but also brings clarity to the process so new organizations can help fill the gap left by commercial media.”


The Public Press gained national attention for its fight for recognition by the IRS from many publications and broadcasters:

“Dan Rather Reports,” Season 7, Episode 7 (April 2012), second segment — ($2 download for whole hour-long program including 14-minute segment) (See a short cut here:

The Chronicle of Philanthropy —

Columbia Journalism Review —

American Journalism Review —

Save the News —

Yes Magazine — —

Nieman Journalism Jab —

The Nonprofit Times —

Inside Counsel — —

Knight Blog — — Some News Organizations in Limbo as IRS Consolidates Review of Exemption Applications (search under News Stories)

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News Quiz Night on Sept. 27!

Are you a pub quiz pro? A local news junkie? Show off your big brain and support local public-interest journalism — come to News Quiz Night, a zany, interactive fundraiser for the San Francisco Public Press! Purchase tickets here:


to our sponsors who have donated products or services to 

News Quiz Night, a fundraiser for the San Francisco Public Press!

If you would like to contribute quiz contest prizes or items for the silent auction, please email

San Francisco National Maritime Museum

Exygy Web + Mobile

Andrea Carla Michaels

Bi-Rite Market

The Booksmith

Cal Shakes

California Academy of Sciences

Charles Michael Photography

Christopher's Books

Contemporary Jewish Museum

Doc's of the Bay


Fins on the Hoof

 Green Apple Books

The Green Arcade

Iliana Montauk

 Little Green Cyclo

Magnolia Pub and Brewery

Maryann Hrichak

 Namu Gaji

Real Food Company

San Francisco Ballet

Skylite Snowballs

Voodoo Van

Yelp if you need HELP!





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