The Public Press Blog

Public Press on ‘Dan Rather Reports’

In early April, the San Francisco Public Press was featured on “Dan Rather Reports” in a segment titled “Taxing News.” The segment focused on the Public Press and other nonprofit journalism startups’ struggle to gain nonprofit status from the IRS. Though the Public Press currently accepts tax-deductible donations through the San Francisco-based Independent Arts & Mediaindependent 501(c)3 status from the IRS would pave the way for additional funding. 

Though the full episode, “The Queen of Green” is available for download in iTunes for $1.99 or by subscription on Xfinity by Comcast, a three-minute excerpt can be viewed here and on the San Francisco Public Press’ YouTube channel.

For more information on the “Taxing News” segment, visit our blog. For additional information regarding other nonprofit news organizations, check out the PBS article “How Non-Profit, For Profit Newsrooms Are Working Together” or the San Diego Reader’s piece “IRS Delays, Questions Nonprofit Status of News Organizations.

Behind the Scenes: News Partnerships

The Public Press partners with more than 30 nonprofit news and civic organizations to expand our coverage of community issues. We feature news reporting, edited text from radio programs, graphics and photos from these partners on and in our quarterly ad-free newspaper. 

We talked about partnerships recently with Lydia Chávez, managing editor at Mission Local, a bilingual nonprofit news outlet covering San Francisco's Mission District.

Why does Mission Local share stories with the Public Press and collaborate on reporting, as it did in a story about extended Mission District bus detours?

The Public Press is invaluable in getting information to the public. Even in the digital age there are simply people you don't reach online and news should be consumed as widely as possible. We too put out a print edition and find that some of those who become digital readers, first find us first in print.

How can nonprofit news operations fill some of the gaps left by the commercial press?

 They can play a tremendous role, but they need the public's support. News gathering takes time and people. The pieces that appear in the Public Press represent a lot of time and care by editors and reporters who are working for very little money. If we truly believe in a democracy, nonprofits like the Public Press should be supported by foundations and individuals. We all benefit by having a more informed populace.

Thank you to all of our nonprofit partners for working with us to share more context-rich, public-interest journalism with communities throughout the Bay Area

The Bay Citizen, Bay Nature, California Watch, California Northern Magazine, Central City Extra, KALW News: Crosscurrents Radio, KALW: Philosophy Talk, KALW: Your Call, KPFA, City Visions Radio, KQED: The California Report, KQED News, KQED Forum, Mission Local, National Radio Project, New America Media, Shareable, Spot.Us, Center for Public Integrity, Mother Jones, El Tecolote, San Francisco Neighborhood Newspaper Association, Oakland Local, PBS MediaShift, Consumerist Union: Consumerist blog, Creosote Journal, Earth Island Journal, Center for Investigative Reporting, Public Policy Institute of California, Commonwealth Club of California, World Affairs Council of Northern California

Support local public media by becoming a member of the Public Press today. For $35, your annual membership will include copies of the newspaper, invitations to special member events and other perks. 

Public Press wins national award


The San Francisco Public Press has won an award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Last month, the group recognized our reporters and editors with a national Prevention for a Safer Society award for their articles on experiments in San Francisco with “restorative justice,” an alternative method for dealing with youth misbehavior in schools. 

The series, produced in collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., delved into alternative, nonpunitive routes that the city’s schools are taking to mediate conflict among students and prevent suspensions and expulsions.

In the lead story, “Bucking a punitive trend, San Francisco lets students own up to misdeeds instead of getting kicked out of school,” lead reporter Jeremy Adam Smith revealed that through innovative new approaches involving counseling and confronting peers, San Francisco schools achieved some of the lowest expulsion rates in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Public Press reporter T.J. Johnston and editors Rich Pestorich and Michael Stoll, as well as the Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferris, also received recognition for their work on the report.

Behind the Scenes: Meet the Director of Design

Tom Guffey, director of design, has a key role in conceptualizing the layout of the Public Press print editions. Here's his perspective on the creative process.

What do you enjoy most about designing the print edition?

What I love about designing the newspaper is that it is catered to a more patient and deliberative reader. We are not under pressure to put fluff and flotsam on our pages. Also, we are still changing and growing as a publication, which makes it easier to play with different formats and styles.

The Public Press doesn't accept any paid advertising. Does that give you more room to experiment with design?

One of the surprising things I've discovered in designing an ad-free newspaper is that in some ways it's harder. Our design and layout have to stand on their own. On the plus side, every page is better-looking and easier to read. The negative side — for the designers at least — is that there are no "easy" pages.

The front page is an index of everything you are going to find inside the newspaper. You can literally judge our book by our cover.

What interests you about newspaper design?

I fell in love with newspaper design working at my college newspaper and reading Tim Harrower's amazing books on editorial design. What I love about it is the mixture of substance and style. You're giving people vital information for life, but trying to do it in a way that's interesting. It's the fundamental challenge that all journalists face whether they're writers, photographers, or something else — our job is to make the important things interesting.

Become a member today. For just $35, your annual membership will include copies of the newspaper, invitations to special member events and other perks. To acknowledge your contribution, we will publish your name in every print edition for one year.

Behind the Scenes: Production of Issue No. 7

Step into the Public Press newsroom where reporters and editors are preparing to publish Issue No. 7 — coming next month. Michael Stoll, executive director, explains the thinking behind the 16-page, ad-free, broadsheet.

What is distinct about the print edition?

The Public Press is, as far as we know, the largest circulation nonprofit newspaper in California. As a community-funded news organization, we pride ourselves on strident independence from the powerful in business, government and other sectors. We are able to go deeper than many mainstream news outlets because we're not focused on maximizing profits.

The special section of the next edition focuses on smart growth. Why did the Public Press decide to report on this issue?

We've seen terms like smart growth bandied about by government planners, academics, developers and activists, but there's little consensus on what these ideas actually mean. Many news outlets have covered individual developments or public meetings, failing to consider the big picture. Bay Area regional planning is becoming very controversial. A team of seven reporters, two graphic designers and two photographers is exploring a region-wide political firestorm that could derail planned transit-oriented developments and walkable communities in all nine Bay Area counties.

How can people support the newspaper?

The Public Press was founded on the example of public broadcasting, which relies primarily on cultivating small donors. We need community support to continue to provide freecoverage of local public affairs on our website and distribute the paper below cost across the region. All individual donations go into developing unique editorial projects that have public impact.

Please consider becoming a member or making a donation, so we can continue to publish public-interest news stories online and in print.

Become a member today! For just $35, your annual membership will include copies of the newspaper, invitations to special member events and other perks. To acknowledge your contribution, we will publish your name in every print edition for one year.

Follow us on Twitter and find us on Facebook for updates about the next print edition.

‘Dan Rather Reports’: San Francisco Public Press, others, face IRS roadblock

Last week’s edition of “Dan Rather Reports” featured a revelatory 13-minute report on the San Francisco Public Press and a handful of other nonprofit journalism startups around the country whose nonprofit status has been held up at the Internal Revenue Service for months.

The segment, “Taxing News,” (April 10 edition, “The Queen of Green” — download in iTunes for $1.99 or by subscription on Xfinity by Comcast) examined the Public Press’ 27-month-long struggle to be named an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

Uneven fight against human trafficking — San Francisco Public Press Issue #6



Michael Stoll, executive director

Lila LaHood, publisher

(415) 495-7377, news (AT) sfpublicpress (DOT) org


SAN FRANCISCO — The Bay Area’s battle against the scourge of human trafficking has been hampered by state inaction because of budget cuts and internal competition among an array of local law enforcement agencies and nonprofits that work on the issue. As a result, some counties arrest hundreds of traffickers and some hardly any; and victim services providers often have strained relations with the police.

Those are among the findings of a team reporting project in the Spring 2012 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press, hitting newsstands on Feb. 15. Stories will also be rolled out at over the following two weeks. This issue features a 10,000-word special section on human trafficking produced in collaboration with New America Media and the San Francisco bilingual newspaper El Tecolote.

Stories in the package, to go online through Feb. 23, explain why a 2005 California law that made trafficking illegal fell far short of the criminal punishments imposed by other states, and why a citizen initiative is trying to amend that law on the November ballot. Another story, produced by New America Media, explains why the current reform stems back 10 years to the horrific Berkeley “sex slavery” case, in which a wealthy abuser got only eight years in prison and is now free.

The Spring 2012 print issue also features stories about the Healthy San Francisco universal health care program, and how its future could be drastically changed by President Obama’s national health initiative. The issue also tackles the peril facing community gardens in the Bayview, ranked-choice voting and the transit chaos anticipated during the America’s Cup races.

In addition to its own independent, nonpartisan reporting, the Public Press brings quality reporting from other nonprofit media to new audiences. Also in the newspaper are articles and radio transcripts from more than a dozen local public-media and civic organizations, including KQED, KALW, California Watch, Bay Nature and Oakland Local.

The 16-page full-color broadsheet newspaper will be available for $1 at more than 50 retail locations throughout the Bay Area. For locations, visit Copies can be ordered online for $4 at

The San Francisco Public Press was launched online in 2009 and in print in 2010. Its mission is to enrich civic life in San Francisco by delivering public-interest journalism to broad and diverse audiences through print and interactive media not supported by advertising.

The Public Press receives major funding from the San Francisco Foundation, and has received financial support from KQED, the Center for Public Integrity, the California Endowment and more than 500 individual donors. A one-year membership starts at $35. Donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. The Public Press is fiscally sponsored by Independent Arts & Media of San Francisco, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

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Event — ‘The Future of Universal Health Care: Is San Francisco Leading the Way?’

WHEN: Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012, 5:00-6:30 p.m.

WHERE: 330 Ellis St. (at Taylor), San Francisco


Download the 8.5" x 11" flier

Four years ago, the city launched Healthy San Francisco, a pioneering plan to bring universal health care to residents through a network of community clinics and hospitals. Though the program has earned rave reviews for the quality of care and expanding access to thousands of the uninsured, the city is not immune to the national pressures of skyrocketing health care costs.

In an election year in which health reform is on the political front burner, what lessons can the nation learn from San Francisco’s experiment? Will preventive care save or cost more money in the long run? What are the potential long-term policy implications for patients and health care providers? What other cities might have the answers?

Hear diverse perspectives from a distinguished panel of public health planners, care providers, patients and journalists — and share your own health care experiences.

Admission is free. Healthy snacks and beverages will be provided. The facility is wheelchair accessible. 

  • Moderator: Barbara Grady, reporter, San Francisco Public Press (lead author of the Winter 2011 edition special report: Healthy S.F.: Who Pays?)
  • Tangerine Brigham, director, Healthy San Francisco program
  • William Dow, researcher, UC Berkeley School of Public Health
  • Pat Dennehy, director, Glide Health Services
  • Karen Hill, clinic manager Glide Health Services
  • Abbie Yant, vice president of Mission, Advocacy and Community Health at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital... and a Healthy S.F. patient

Sponsors: The San Francisco Public Press, Glide Foundation, Glide Health Services, UC Berkeley of Public Health. 

For information:

Examining local universal care: How San Francisco took an independent -- and expensive -- approach to covering the uninsured

This is a repost of a blog item  for Reporting on Health, the website of the USC Annenberg School for Communications & Journalism California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, which supported the Public Press’ Healthy San Francisco reporting project this winter.

In 2007, San Francisco embarked on a rare and bold experiment, resolving to provide universal health care to its residents. The premise was simple — take an existing local safety-net system of clinics and hospitals and transform it by tracking all patients in one database and giving each patient a medical “home.” The approach, aspects of which are being rolled out in communities across the country, promises to reduce cost, increase quality of care and expand the number of uninsured people covered.

Four years later, many of the goals of the program, Healthy San Francisco, have been met. Over time, more than 100,000 previously uninsured people have been covered. The current enrollment of 54,000 people is anywhere between half and three-quarters of the estimated uninsured population in the city.

But to do so, the city’s Department of Public Health has dug deep into its general fund at a time when most of the other departments in the city have had to cut back. And it has earned less than expected from other sources — payments from low-income patients and a newly created business fee. A $27 million federal government grant expired in July, so the city will have to look for alternative funding sources. The city’s baseline safety net expenditures of about $100 million annually have been wrapped into the $177 million budgeted for the program, and with medical costs rising every year, that liability is expected to continue to grow much faster than inflation.

The big question confronting this ambitious program: can it be sustained financially?

Patient medical records are still kept on paper at the Chinatown Public Health Clinic. Photo by Jason Winshell/SF Public Press

The short answer, after a three-month investigation: yes — but only if the economy picks up, federal grants continue to flow and businesses stop fighting health care mandates.

(Left: Patient medical records are still kept on paper at the Chinatown Public Health Clinic. Photo by Jason Winshell/SF Public Press)

The San Francisco Public Press, which covers public policy in the city and across the region on its website and in a quarterly broadsheet newspaper, decided to go in depth to address this fundamental problem. Coverage of this massive health care program has been nearly absent from the mainstream media outlets. The most in-depth piece about the program was a story in San Francisco Magazine more than a year ago, discussing mostly the program’s promise, before it had much of a track record. Recent coverage in the two daily papers, two weeklies and broadcast media focused almost entirely on a current controversy about health fees levied on businesses, but not on the macroeconomic picture of the program.

With a USC Annenberg/California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship starting last spring, we were able to focus on Healthy San Francisco’s financial sustainability. The rising cost of health care has dominated headlines for years and is one of the key points of political contention between the major parties in Washington. We wanted to examine up close a promising local initiative that could, perhaps, inform the national discussion and trim some of the billions wasted in the current medical care business model. We also wanted to explore what its services have meant to the health of city residents.

Patients vox by SF Public Press

The resulting project: “Healthy San Francisco: Who Pays?” was a special four-page section in the Winter 2011 edition of the print newspaper. Three reporters, two photographers and a graphic designer contributed to the research, interviewing the director of the program, clinic directors, technology specialists, medical staff, independent experts and dozens of patients. They visited nearly a third of the medical clinics and hospitals in the Healthy San Francisco network and discovered some compelling trends:

— While the program has succeeded at providing something like health insurance to tens of thousands of people who never had access to that level of care, without taking into account pre-existing conditions, most of the patients are poor — below 200 percent of the official poverty level. As a result their contributions are millions of dollars below the planners’ initial projections.

— The requirement that medium-size and large businesses pay for the program by giving some level of coverage to their employees, including an option for medical savings accounts and direct contributions to Healthy San Francisco, the program has brought in less money than projected.

— Some businesses are exploiting a loophole in the law to drain unused funds at the end of the year. And there is evidence that some businesses, after initially complying with the law, are lately dropping private insurance in favor of reimbursement plans that are much cheaper. They also leave patients not fully insured.

— Healthy San Francisco appears to be a big bargain, with the average cost of care calculated at $276 per person per month. That compares with an average of $402 for private insurance. But the accounting does not include millions of dollars that clinics and hospitals have had to absorb to care for the additional patient load and technology upgrades to make the system function efficiently.

— Federal grants to spur innovation in health care helped get the program off the ground but may not be renewed, especially if political winds change direction. And while the program was intended to be a bridge to national reform efforts, those programs now face challenges in Congress and the courts.

We published the stories in the print edition Nov. 16, and online later in the week. The response has been very encouraging. In the following weeks the series of four articles has received several thousand hits on the website and has contributed to a marked uptick in purchases of the newspaper, which sells for $1 at about 50 retail locations. The story has been Facebookedtweeted and retweeted more than 1,000 times. Copies were dropped off at the offices of every city supervisor, the mayor and the Department of Public Health, where we have yet to receive an official response.

We have, however gotten ideas for follow-up stories through social media. The point of this project wasnot to produce a package of stories in one lump and then move on. The reporters all say that they have deepened their understanding of health reporting and want to do more. Their laboratory will be follow-up stories on this program and its evolution over time through the Public Press. We are hoping to engage user of the program especially however they can best interact with journalists — online and offline.

See explainer graphic: reader wrote in response to a beautiful half-page graphic (left) by Tom Guffey — showing the growing costs of the program and demographic information — that mental-health spending appears to have shrunk as a proportion of the public health budget. We intend to investigate.

Also our lead reporter, Barbara Grady, got a cache of documents from the city indicating which companies had reduced their private insurance offerings. We plan to do follow-up articles on this, as well new reporting by Angela Hart on new budget information — public records that clinic directors should have shared with us months ago. We expect to find several million dollars in extra cost for technology that is not part of the official $177 million tally for the program.

We are planning a live event in in January in collaboration with the Bay Area chapter of the Association of Health Care Journalists to get responses from patients, doctors and the general public to our stories and get ideas for follow-up coverage. Reporter Kyung Jin Lee is developing a produced audio story for public broadcasting that uses the extensive recordings we did with a wide variety of sources.

The fellowship was helpful to us in three concrete ways.

First, senior fellow Frank Bass helped us break down the demographics of San Francisco by studying recent U.S. Census data. This helped not only this project but also other reporting on a wide array of stories, indicating neighborhood by neighborhood information on where we would expect to find health problems on a local level. The data show income levels by census tract. Even though one survey asks health insurance status, this information is not asked frequently enough for us to get meaningful neighborhood statistics.

Second, the fellowship helped us moderate the ambition of our project, which still took six months to assemble. We couldn’t report on the quality of care for any of the thousands of medical conditions treated through the system. We were also planning to spend a few weeks hanging out at the San Francisco General Hospital emergency room to observe and interview uninsured patients as they were admitted for non-emergency conditions. It is Healthy San Francisco’s contention that the program has significantly reduced emergency room visits by catching problems earlier and diverting them to clinics, saving money. Healthy San Francisco has produced numbers to suggest that these savings are significant, but the statistics are difficult to interpret because individual health cannot be tracked if tens of thousands of people enroll and disenroll every year.

Third, it helped us focus. Finance remained our main concern — the potential savings notwithstanding, in part because of the unique nature of San Francisco’s foray into health coverage. There are a number of localities — states, cities and counties — rolling out their own universal care programs. Massachusetts and Vermont have the most ambitious, but San Francisco’s approach of tweaking an already robust safety-net clinic system makes it the first major American city to take this route.

Third, the $2,000 stipend that came with the fellowship allowed us to pay decent freelance fees to experienced journalists who could afford to spend the time to do significant shoe leather reporting. We supplemented this with $537 in extra donations earned through a pitch to readers through the online journalism micro-funding website Spot.Us. We hope that our careful but high-impact local reporting on a complex issue, supported by the USC Annenberg California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, will pave the way for future funding from foundations and individuals for similar projects and even an ongoing health care beat.

See the entire package of stories:

* * *

P.S. Like all the participants in my cohort of the Health Journalism Fellowships, the San Francisco Public Press is part of an explosion of startup experimental local news organizations attempting to address shortfalls in serious news coverage as news organizations across the country cut back. The Public Press is nonprofit and noncommercial. We do not accept advertising. We relying on foundation grants (such as The California Endowment’s), syndication, micro-funding, newspaper sales ($1 retail) and the generous support of hundreds of individuals who have donated through our membership program, which is based on the public broadcasting pledge model. Basic memberships start at $35 a year, which entitles you to mailed copies of the newspaper for a year and discounted or free entry to events. Send us $50 and you also get a vermillion SF Public Press branded T-shirt. We are doing a shameless pledge drive because it is necessary to support independent, professional local reporting on topics not covered by the mainstream press. If you’re moved to help out, please contribute!

Help us Zoom in on Important Local Stories

We hope you are having a wonderful holiday season. With less than a week left in 2011, we are in the final stretch of our end-of-year fundraising drive.

Please help the San Francisco Public Press flourish as an independent news source. Every dollar you donate up to $3,000 will be matched by our board of directors through Dec. 31.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed so far during this campaign. We need just $830 to reach our goal, so please donate today!

Jason Winshell, Photo editor

For twice the buzz, use the Public Press to make an origami dragonfly.

Which story have you enjoyed working on the most?

I have a strong interest in human rights, so a story I enjoyed working on concerned the San Francisco Police Department's use of human trafficking grant money to do street sweeps of prostitutes in the Polk Gulch neighborhood. The story took months to research and served as my initiation into investigative journalism. I plan to continue reporting on the topic.

Why should people support public media like the Public Press?

Public media is beholden to no one. It covers stories that go neglected and promotes accountability and justice. An informed public is essential to formulating rational public policy, coming up with sensible solutions to problems and shaping a government that works for everyone.

Monica Jensen, Multimedia editor and reporter

Capture attention with an origami camera.

When did you join the Public Press?

I got involved back in 2009, when it was an online-only news outlet. I started off by taking photos, but quickly got more involved with other reporting projects as it evolved.

What's one memorable project you've worked on?

The City Budget Watchdog series was one of Public Press' first big projects. The overall impact of the series and the discussions the stories inspired gave me a lot of faith in this profession and organization. Plus, it was my first, and you never forget your first.

Why should people support the Public Press?

The organization has accomplished a lot in a short period of time and with limited resources. Additional and ongoing support will yield more in-depth coverage of issues in San Francisco that impact lives.

Consider making a year-end donation today and help the Public Press deliver quality local journalism in San Francisco.

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