November 9, 2007

local.newsdesk.org — The Bureau Project

Newsdesk.org‘s San Francisco operations are intended to demonstrate our editorial values, and make a case for developing similar bureaus around the country and the world. With that in mind, check out this project proposal, which outlines what that would generally look like, on a small scale.

As you read it over, note that merely creating a new news bureau, or even a network of news bureaus, is unambitious — as is any effort that considers media technology a magic bullet that will by itself “solve” the crisis of democracy we are in the grips of.

Rather, we seek to innovate in the social arena in which news is produced (by creating a co-op/peer-run newsroom) and in the values that drive the production of news itself (by using the Internet to extend ad-free, nonpoliticized journalism beyond its current nonprofit-dinosaur doldrums).

Within that context, a news bureau and a network of the same becomes a radically different sort of structure, one in which technology is a subordinate means to a more grand end — a true paradigm shift in the economic and social conditions under which news is produced and disseminated.

  • Because Newsdesk.org is broadly proposed as a means of empowering journalists to better serve their communities, Independent Arts & Media welcomes inquiries from anyone interested in opening an autonomous Newsdesk bureau where they live.

  • We also welcome your support in general, and we thrive thanks to your tax-deductible donations!



Title: Newsdesk.org: The Bureau Project (local.newsdesk.org/)

An Election 2008 Journalism Initiative

Total Cost:

$763,000 for three operational bureaus per year + fellowships and “hub” services for each

Describe:

Newsdesk.org’s Bureau Project will establish low-cost, nonprofit, online news bureaus and fellowships in underserved areas, to develop enterprise and investigative coverage of important but overlooked local/regional issues during the 2008 election season … and beyond.

This project innovates by using the Internet to extend and strengthen the value and impact of nonpoliticized, commercial-free journalism. Bureaus will derive revenue from syndication, individual donors and philanthropy, and fill significant gaps in local information needs.

Bureaus:

  • detroit.newsdesk.org

  • nola.newsdesk.org
  • sfo.newsdesk.org

Fellowships:

  • Great Lakes

  • Gulf Coast
  • Desert Southwest
  • Pacific Northwest & Alaska

Goals:

  • Cover important issues that get lost amid election-year horse race and polls, such as public health & environment, economy & labor, and civic life.

  • Strengthen the local news ecology by syndicating content to commercial outlets that lack funding for enterprise and investigative work.
  • Develop advisory boards with local SPJ chapters, professional groups, news councils and j-schools, to provide independent evaluation and ombudsmanship.
  • Connect bureaus in a peer network for cross promotions and resource-sharing. Resources include a scalable, adaptable Web template, common editorial standards and best practices, and shared financial and promotional resources/staff (in San Francisco).
  • Develop staff-run newsrooms (two reporter/editors and one digital news producer) to spur collaboration and innovation. Our inspiration is the Dutch broadsheet De Volkskrant (www.volkskrant.nl), which operates a newsroom without editors. Instead, the agenda is set by reporter-peers who are mutually responsible for quality control.
  • Develop a collaborative online platform that deepens context, builds communities of conversation and facilitates independent inquiry.
  • Extend editorial capacity through a $100,000 endowment fund for professional journalism fellowships. Grants would support time-limited coverage of a specific topic or region by small teams of journalists.

Who would want to use it, and why?

News audiences locally, regionally and nationally are underserved by the Wall Street-driven media economy. They are the eroding marketshare of mainstream news media, and the consensus is that they are migrating online, drawn by a myriad choices and newfound interactivity.

But dissatisfaction persists. According to a July 2007 Pew survey, more than half say news media are politically biased, inaccurate and don’t care about the people they report on. That criticism was more pronounced among Internet news audiences.

Newsdesk appeals to these readers and communities by covering topics that are deprioritized in commercial media — such as labor, third parties, and environment and health — and using a “longtail” strategy to develop ongoing/evergreen coverage that serves persistent, specific information needs.

Why are you the best person or organization to develop this project?

We are journalism professionals with the talent, experience, vision and social capital required to make Newsdesk.org’s Bureau Project a success.

  • Talent & experience: Newsdesk staff and advisers include veterans of major urban and regional newspapers, Web sites and academic institutions, including SFGate.com, Wired Magazine, Salon.com, the San Jose Mercury News and many more.

  • Vision: We are “net natives” who seek to reinvent the nonprofit newsroom as an efficient, entrepreneurial and open-source hybrid that leverages the strengths of the Internet on behalf of working journalists and the communities they serve.
  • Institutional support: Newsdesk.org’s nonprofit sponsor, Independent Arts & Media, is an established Bay Area nonprofit with a mission to “expand civic dialogue by increasing access to independent voices.” Indy Arts has a diverse support structure, including longtime allegiances with Bay Area funders, an active board of directors, and a growing body of individual donors. This is the institutional back-end Newsdesk.org needs to fulfill its editorial goals.
  • Record of achievement: Newsdesk.org has broken ground with original coverage and analysis that later became front-page news, including the FCC and net neutrality, Iraq veteran’s health care, the energy industry and more. Our News You Might Have Missed newsletter has been published each Wednesday since February 2002, giving readers access to “important but overlooked” local and regional news with national and global relevance.
  • Social capital: Our work has earned us the support of a growing body of individual donors, with Web traffic and email subscriptions also on the rise. Subscribers and fans of our work also promote it to their friends, family and community. Our network is further strengthened by our advisory board and other allies in the journalism industry and academic world. Collectively, this social capital can be leveraged for fundraising, promotions and community-building.

Expenses Budget

  • Please note that staff salaries are predicated on a 36-hour work week, and despite that are pretty damn frugal

ONE BUREAU, ONE YEAR:

Staff (two reporter/editors and one multimedia/Web producer):
$135,000 ($45,000 x 3)

Benefits:
$46,800 ($15,600 x 3)

Operations:
$15,200

Total per bureau:
$197,000

Total for three bureaus (SF, NoLa, Detroit) per year:
$591,000

BACK-END STRUCTURE, ONE YEAR (San Francisco-based):

Web development (contractor):
$12,000

Development Director:
$45,000

Benefits:
$15,000

Fellowships (split three ways between bureaus):
$100,000

Total back-end:
$172,000

GRAND TOTAL:

  • One year: $763,000

  • Three years: $2,298,000

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