The San Francisco Public Press – the news nonprofit that could

I’m on the board of the San Francisco Public Press. I’ve been associated with them since the beginning and helped raise a ton of money for them while I was running Spot.Us.

They currently have a Kickstarter up. They are past their original goal, but they have an opportunity to make more. If they get to 500 donors (even if the donor just gives $1) the Knight Foundation will contribute 5k over their Kickstarter goal. If they get to 750: they’ll throw in $7,500 and if they get to 1,000 contributors, even if they just give $1- the Knight Foundation will give them $10,000 over their Kickstarter goal.

I have the spare $1, you are thinking to yourself, but I am also giving this blog post side-eyes David. Who are these Public Pressers and why do I care.

The SFPP is, by its very existence, a phenomenon. When I first met Michael Stoll, the Executive Director, and he told me about his plans to start a noncommercial, nonprofit, nonpartisan, newsPAPER – I thought he was crazy. But he went ahead and started it. How could I not join that ride – even if it was just to give my .02 (which sometimes was not in harmony with the SFPP ethos, but they would listen to me nonetheless). He has managed to inspire folks like Lila Lahood (Publisher) to join him in the most contrarian of startups. The SFPP is an interesting experiment and one that bucks the trend. That alone deserves our attention and admiration.

Remember the McSweeny Newspaper stunt, The SF Panaroma. Their cover story was powered by the San Francisco Public Press’ journalism. In fact, almost all of the SFPP’s investigative stories have later turned into front page pieces at the Chronicle or elsewhere. If you are a journalist in SF, you pay attention to what the SFPP writes. They set the agenda. They do the hard work and digging that nobody else does. They know this and don’t toot their horn enough about it. So here I am.

Remember the Bay Citizen? They had an operating budget of $5 million a year. Without going into the details, it didn’t last. And even though it sucked attention and funding away from the SFPP, the nonprofit kept going. They kept doing hard hitting work and…. the organization, which has an operating budget that wouldn’t even support the salary of the Editor in Chief of the Bay Citizen, outlasted the Bay Citizen itself. (CIR absorbed the Citizen).

During that time I wrote about the SFPP (and others like it) as the most efficient means (dollar for dollar) of informing the public.

I see the strength of these players as efficiency. The SF Public Press (disclosure, I’m on the advisory board and Spot.Us has raised money for them on several occasions) is operating on roughly $70,000 this year. That is up from roughly 30k last year.

(NOTE: All of these are 2010 numbers – but the point still stands)

That gives it a burn rate of about $5,800 a month. Average unique visitors is around 12,000 a month. Divide one by the other and and we can crudely say they spend about .48 cents to acquire each reader.

Compare this to The Bay Citizen which has an operating budget of over $5,000,000 a year.

That makes for a burn rate of $400,000 a month. At a booksmith event Lisa Frasier said their traffic was about 175,000 (note: This is probably growing since they are a young organization. This also doesn’t count NY Times traffic).

This means The Bay Citizen spends $2.2 to acquire a reader. Even if we double their traffic numbers, assuming the NY Times brings in another 175,000 unique readers, their cost is $1.1 per reader – still twice that of the SF Public Press.

With this latest project the San Francisco Public Press has a chance to grow. The journalism they do speaks for itself. If there is ever to be a Voice of San Diego, a MinnPost, or a Texas Tribune in the Bay Area – it will be because the San Francisco Public Press scaled up. And this is their chance to do it. And all it will take is $1 from you and 2minutes. Don’t wait – there’s only 6 days left in the campaign.