Ready to know more about San Diego?


Big Idea: Get news. Give back.

Newsflash! The future of journalism is bright—when you rethink the business as a nonprofit.
Scott Lewis

By Scott Lewis

Big Idea: Get news. Give back.

Big Idea: Get news. Give back.

Scott Lewis

Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s say that the San Diego region needed 70 additional investigative reporters. This is in addition to the hard-working souls still plugging away at the news operation that I run, Voice of San Diego, and the other gallant organizations in town.

Why 70? Start in South Bay. Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, National City, and San Ysidro have about 470,000 residents. The area includes dozens of agencies—school districts, water districts, community college districts, city halls. Yet only three reporters focus on it on a daily basis. It’s a news desert. The UT and Chula Vista Star News need reinforcements. Stat!

Traditional newspapers are not expanding. People are still reading newspapers. The digital revolution, however, has given advertisers infinite options to get their messages out. Newspapers are competing with Google and Facebook.

They’re losing.


Scaling nonprofit news coverage across the county

70 – New reporters (10 in North County, 10 in East County, 10 in South Bay, 40 in San Diego)

$9 million – Cost to hire new reporters, (at $120,000 each plus support staff)

$100 – Amount that 60,000 readers would need to donate annually (plus sponsors, grants, events)

To respond, papers are turning to readers to pay directly for the product online. They’re trying to tactfully cut off access to their work unless people pay. Unfortunately, people believe that most of what they hear about online, they can find somewhere for free.

At Voice of San Diego, which started as an online-only entity, we believe getting money from people in this world requires us to demonstrate our value more effectively, be transparent, and be more accessible, through events with our readers.

This is what nonprofits do all the time. Nonprofits are not holier than for-profits. It’s just a different structure, set up to help people address needs in their community and access donations to do it.

The need for more investigative journalism in San Diego is just that sort of problem.

Imagine 10 new investigative reporters in South Bay—and 10 new ones in East County and 10 in North County.

Then divide the city of San Diego up into 40 sections and put one new investigative reporter in each one. This person could hold a struggling school accountable for improvement, or tell the fascinating story of why a lot remains vacant or who is the most notorious slumlord in the area.

That’s 70 new reporters.

“Newspapers are competing with Google and Facebook. They’re losing.”

They would have visible, daily impacts on quality-of-life issues and corruption or inefficiencies. Each reporter would cost $120,000. That would have to include their benefits, equipment, and, crucially, all the editors and support staff they need. In fact, I’m budgeting $1.4 million (more than Voice of San Diego’s entire 2014 budget) just for editors, web developers, designers, an accountant, and a HR director.

To get 70 new reporters, we’d have to come up with $8.4 million a year. Let’s just say $9 million. It might seem like that is a lot. It’s not. San Diegans enjoy the services of many nonprofit institutions in town with bigger budgets.

The former leaders of the San Diego Opera, for example, could not imagine functioning at the 2015 budget its new leaders set: $11 million. To be clear, I’m not asking you for this. (Well—if you’re interested, let’s talk.)

But keep pretending: If that $9 million enterprise reached 300,000 loyal readers and if 20 percent of them agreed to become paying members, that is $6 million in revenue each year, if they donate at $100 each, as Voice of San Diego members do, on average. Add sponsors, grants, events, and you’d have more than enough.

The fall of newspapers is disconcerting. But amid the scary problems in the world today, the lack of investigative reporting is one we can fix easily. We have

to, if we want to solve the scarier problems.

Big Idea: Get news. Give back.

Scott Lewis

Share this post

Contact Us

1230 Columbia Street, Suite 800,

San Diego, CA