Professional Journalist Non-profit Sites
“I don’t know if we’re here to stay yet. ... Our real goal is to prove it can be done.”
On a budget of $120,000 a year from grants and sponsorships, journalist Paul Bass runs New Haven Independent, a site that breaks news with Bass and one other full-time reporter, two half-time reporters, a public schoolteacher who blogs on retainer, a Hartford correspondent on retainer, a consulting webmaster and half a dozen freelancers who are paid by the piece.
Citizens contribute by turning the article comments sections into debates and by sending tips, photos, audio, videos and features such as the local crime map one created. Bass’s goal is to break stories, bring undercovered issues to the forefront and stimulate more and better reporting by all local media. Though the site is having an impact, he said, he can’t continue indefinitely to do all his jobs, which he described as “editing the site, raising the money, maintaining the finances, administrative work, hiring people, writing my own stories, dealing with the public. It’s not sustainable,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re here to stay yet. ... Our real goal is to prove it can be done.”
The two-year-old Voice of San Diego has an annual budget of a half-million dollars mostly contributed by local foundations. The site employs two co-editors and five other full-time staff members, and draws on several paid and unpaid freelancers and consultants. Backed by local foundation executive Buzz Wooley, the site was launched as an alternative news source to the monopoly daily paper, The Union-Tribune, with an invitation for citizens to supplement the professional journalism.
The editors selectively recruit citizens to write pieces in their areas of interest for free or small fees, then edit their work to meet professional standards. Citizens also post photos and take part in discussion forums. Executive editors Scott Lewis and Andrew Donohue say readers also contribute to stories as they develop. On some breaking events, reporters post intermittently to the site as they report, and invite citizens to help fill in the gaps with tips, documents and other materials to help advance stories.
Lewis and Donohue say it’s difficult to find citizens who are strong writers and will contribute regularly for free, but a token payment of $25 is enough to encourage and build the confidence of some contributors. One continued to write in exchange for business cards.