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The Public Press Blog

‘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.

Donate to Illuminate Local Public Media

We've had a great response to our fundraising drive so far, but we still need your help to reach our $6,000 goal. Our board of directors will match donations up to $3,000 til the end of the year. One more week!

Please support independent public media in San Francisco by becoming a member today.

Our first intern, Ambika Kandasamy, shares her perspective on working in a nonprofit newsroom

How did you get involved with the Public Press?

I joined the organization in February 2009 as an editorial intern. At the time, I was a student at Boston University, working on my master’s degree in journalism. I moved to the Bay Area to finish up my final projects and was looking for opportunities to gain reporting experience and internship credit.

How have you grown within the organization?

I returned to the Public Press less than a year after my internship ended, and I've been writing for the website and print editions since then. I worked on the San Francisco Bay Area Journalist Census project as a researcher. Most recently, I’ve been working as a partnerships editor — curating stories from our news partners like Mission Local, KQED News, California Watch, El Tecolote and other news and civic groups.

How is the Public Press helpful for young reporters?

It’s a great place for young reporters to grow intellectually. The editors offer much support to all reporters, but especially to those who are just starting out in the field.

Most Public Press stories are tied to larger policy issues and require a significant amount of research and reporting. There’s also a strong emphasis on original reporting — we publish stories that aren't getting much attention in mainstream news outlets. That kind of reporting builds a solid foundation in journalism.

What do you enjoy most about working here?

The staff is wonderful. I also love working on the print editions. I graduated at a time when traditional print journalism was sort of disintegrating, and being able to work on our quarterly newspaper has been an exciting opportunity to learn about the print medium. Our ad-free model gives us space to experiment with the design, layout and graphics of the print editions, which is quite fun.

Why should people support the Public Press?

At our news meetings, we find that we always have a surplus of great story ideas, and though we’re able to tackle many of them, there are some stories that we have to push aside simply because we don’t have the funding to pay journalists to pursue them.

Also, we would love to supplement more of our stories with multimedia. Additional funding through memberships, donations and grants would help us buy cameras, editing software, computers and other technological tools.

Your donation will help the Public Press build a more robust newsroom to cover under-reported stories in San Francisco and beyond. Consider making a year-end donation today.

Donate to Help us Fish for Public-Interest News

We hope you are enjoying hearing from some of the key people involved with the San Francisco Public Press. Today our series continues with two intrepid beat reporters who lead our coverage on housing & homelessness and transportation.

Please become a member, so we can continue reporting stories that matter to the community. Our board of directors will match donations up to $3,000 until Dec. 31!

Make a boat like Jerold Chinn's (right) or a fish like T.J. Johnston's (left).

T.J. Johnston, Housing & Homelessness beat reporter

How did you become interested in this topic?

In 2000, I took an intro to journalism class at Media Alliance. We did an investigative piece on nonprofits that serve homeless and impoverished people through city contracts. Only, these nonprofits paid their executives six-figure salaries. The story ran in a zine published by the Raising Our Voices program at Media Alliance, Street Sheet and Street Spirit. I started focusing on housing and poverty issues after that.

What have you learned from covering your beat?

I've become more aware of the civil and human rights components inherent in homelessness. Any coverage on homelessness benefits from information that is truthful and accurate, as well as inclusive of the homeless community. Media that provide such coverage, like the Public Press, deserve support.

Jerold Chinn, Transportation beat reporter

Why do you enjoy writing about Muni?

I'm always learning something new about Muni, whether I'm muninjudahlearning about sander hoses or how the Muni Metro operates. Through my reporting, I'm able to provide riders who can’t attend Muni meetings the latest news about service delays, budget plans, upcoming projects and other important announcements.

How would additional funding help with your coverage?

It would give me time and resources to do more investigative pieces. I would also be able to add more visual elements to my stories, as I did with my video series “Can S.F.'s next mayor save Muni?” which included interviews with almost all of the mayoral candidates on their positions on the city’s transportation system.


Consider making a year-end donation today and help the Public Press expand regular beat coverage of important topics like homelessness and transportation in San Francisco.

Leapfrogging the Commercial Press

Thanks to everyone who became a member this week! Your donations were doubled through our end-of-year matching grant. If you haven't already, we hope you'll consider becoming a member. Your contributions will be matched by our board of directors dollar for dollar up to $3,000 through Dec. 31.

Please become a member today.

Board member Maryann Hrichak explains why she supports the Public Press

Don't you love newspapers? Here are instructions on how to make your own origami frog!

What do you enjoy most about being on the board of directors?

I enjoy talking about the Public Press with people in the community and thinking about ways to get the paper out there. I also enjoy the camaraderie of the board. It's the first board of directors in which I've ever participated. I love seeing the progress of the organization each time the board meets.

What have you learned?

All about the hard work and dedication it takes to actually make this organization run. And how good news is hard to come by. It’s been great to work with such a committed and dedicated group of people who also like to have fun and contribute important, relevant and timely news for people in the Bay Area.

Why should people support the Public Press?

Because their journalism is excellent and the issues they report on are not covered as indepth anywhere else, to my knowledge. This is a good organization to call your own, especially if you live in San Francisco.

Why do you support public media?

All kinds of public media are important to our daily lives, especially in a place like the Bay Area. You get some of the best views and critical news from those who are involved with public media and helping to make it really work. Your perspective is broadened and you learn a lot.

What's the best way to get involved?

is important not only for the special benefits you get as a member; it also gives the organization a steady financial base so the editors and reporters can focus on doing good journalism. Members also get to meet other members at special events, share common interests and concerns, and feel like they are part of something much larger than themselves.

Please consider making a donation today.

Double Your Donation to Independent Media!

Great news! Our board of directors will match your donations up to $3,000 now through Dec. 31, 2011. Your gift will help the Public Press continue to do serious reporting on important under-covered stories in San Francisco. Please become a member today.

We Don’t Duck Important Stories

Our news editor, Rich Pestorich, who has worked in Bay Area journalism since 1987, asks you to support the Public Press this holiday season.

Why did you join the Public Press?

I liked the idea of it being a startup. We are covering areas other newspapers and news organizations aren’t. The whole idea of nonprofit, noncommercial news is intriguing.

What’s the best part of your job?

I like the variety of stories and people I get to work with — a lot of people come through here with a range of talents. It’s interesting to see how they attack stories. It’s also been fun to help guide young journalists and help them improve their reporting

Newspapers are fun! Click here for instructions to make your own origami duck.

Why quarterly newspapers?

This is a good, old-fashioned broadsheet that has a good mix of stories with our own original investigative and explanatory reporting along with reports from news partners. It’s a unique array that you can’t find anywhere else.

So, the Public Press also publishes stories from more than two-dozen Bay Area news and civic organizations. Why?

A lot of these organizations don’t have a print outlet. They only publish online, so people who don’t have regular access to the Internet don’t have a chance to see those stories. That’s one of the things we offer with print — we help bring important news to underserved communities.

Why would you encourage someone to become a member of the Public Press?

Membership gives people an opportunity to be involved with the Public Press and with journalism in general. We’re not making decisions in some far-off boardroom. We’re making them right here on Mission Street in San Francisco. Members are always welcome to visit our newsroom and share their ideas with us.

Your donation to the Public Press will expand our ability to hire freelance writers and editors to cover under-reported stories in San Francisco and beyond. Consider making a year-end donation today.

Not all newspapers are dinosaurs!

 As the year comes to an end, we would like to take you behind the scenes of the San Francisco Public Press and introduce you to the editors, reporters, photographers and others working together to dig up unheralded local stories in the public interest.

We can't do this work without your support. Please donate to the Public Press during our end-of-year fundraising drive.

Michael Stoll, Executive Director






Why did you start the Public Press?

The inspiration came from the deterioration in local news media that a lot of colleagues and I saw in the late 2000s, due to corporate consolidation and the loss of advertising revenue to the internet. No one had thought to combine the newspaper subscription model and the public broadcasting "pledge" model, so we officially began our endeavor in March of 2009 with a grant from the San Francisco Foundation. We launched the print edition just over a year after that.

What makes the coverage in the Public Press different?

We’ve done stories about local development and the problems of overspending on capital projects resulting from political interference — like the Bay Bridge report from 2009 and the Treasure Island package from 2010.

The just-published Healthy San Francisco reporting project is a great example of how a small independent news organization can take a deeper look at a very big local program than any of the mainstream news media have done before. 

What is the benefit of your ad-free model for news?

We can do journalism more independently. In our first edition, we investigated dubious sales practices in the gem department of Macy's, something that is unlikely to receive a lot of attention in a commercial newspaper.

The in-depth story on the payday loan industry, published in the Winter 2011 print edition, is another great example of business coverage not from the perspective of people who invest in businesses, but from that of average consumers. That’s not the approach that the business page of a daily newspaper usually takes.

What is the biggest challenge that the organization faces?

Money to bring readers more and better independent reporting. We currently have bigger ambitions than resources. We have more than 75 active freelance contributors, volunteers and interns, and a larger network of supporters across the Bay Area. We would love to be able to pay our staff competitive freelance rates and publish both the paper and the website more frequently.

What can we expect from the Public Press in 2012?

We are already developing two big collaborative reporting projects for the next two issues, and we hope to roll out additional reporting on the low-income finance industry, environment, transportation, and housing and homelessness. Our dream is to increase frequency of the publication to monthly by the end of next year.


Will you help Michael bring serious, independent news back to San Francisco? Memberships start at $35 for one year. Contributions of all sizes are welcome, and are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. Please become a member today


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