The reinvention of news in the Bay Area

How do you get your daily news?
Today with the explosion of digital news sites, blogs and social media tools, community storytelling and information are more accessible than ever before.

According to new research by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Project for Excellence in Journalism, most Americans (92%) use multiple platforms (online, local and national television, print newspapers, radio, mobile devices) to get their daily news. Yet Pew Research also found that 70% of news consumers feel the amount of news and information available from different sources is “overwhelming.”

How can we discern what news and information are credible? Is there enough coverage of arts, culture, education, the environment and other civic issues in your community? Which distribution models and platforms will deliver rich content while remaining financially sustainable?

What does the future hold?

Amid the staggering losses of traditional news outlets and the layoffs of journalists reporting on local culture and public affairs issues, new nonprofit journalism organizations are emerging rapidly to fill the gaps. They are leveraging new digital technologies and community support to get there.

In an article published in the relatively new Bay Area section of the New York Times (published in print on Fridays and Sundays, online and on some mobile applications), Frances Dinkelspiel calls nonprofit journalism the “Bay Area’s new growth industry.” Yet, as she points out, nonprofit news organizations are not new in the Bay Area.

Well-established Bay Area nonprofit news outlets include KQED public media (founded in the 1950s), Mother Jones magazine (founded in the 1970s), the Center for Investigative Reporting (founded in 1977) and New America Media (founded by the nonprofit Pacific News Service in 1996). The nonprofit Bay Nature magazine, based in Berkeley, debuted in 2001. One of the founders of Bay Nature was Malcom Margolin, a recognized community leader and publisher of Heyday books (founded in 1974) and News from Native California.

While some of the established organizations have covered broader geographical areas, some of the newest nonprofit news organizations emerging in the Bay Area are focusing on community and civic news.

In the Bay Area, new ventures include the San Francisco Public Press and The Bay Citizen, which is set to launch on May 26, 2010 with a celebration at the Great American Music Hall for founding members. Built on a what is called a “crowd-financing model,” Spot.us is replicating its nonprofit model in other metropolitan areas including Seattle and Los Angeles. According to the project’s Web site, Spot.us “allows an individual or group to take control of news by sharing the cost (crowdfunding) to commission freelance journalists.”

Nonprofit sustainability
All of these nonprofit news organizations, old and new, rely on foundation funding, individual donors and diverse revenue streams, the goal of most nonprofit organizations. A few are membership-based organizations, a familiar concept to viewers and listeners of public broadcasting.

You may have already noticed that collaborations for content generation and distribution are becoming ubiquitous among nonprofit and commercial media. Just the other day, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article on gray whale migration by Jane Kay, a former Chronicle staff writer. The article was produced for DailyClimate.org, a nonprofit news service that covers climate change. I also recently read a San Francisco Public Press article published in the New York Times. And California Watch lists over 50 distribution partners on its website.

Community blogs are also rising rapidly. One good resource for finding locally-focused blogs here in the Bay Area is the BayNewsNetwork run by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and its Knight Digital Media Center. The site serves as a directory and aggregator of over 244 blogs and sites focusing on specific communities in the Bay Area region (called “hyperlocal”).

If you want to find out more about new initiatives and local projects working to reinvent journalism and public-interest news, this weekend you can attend the “Journalism Innovations” conference, produced by Independent Arts and Media, The University of San Francisco, G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism and the Society for Professional Journalists. On Twitter, follow the conversations with the #JI3 hashtag.