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Wednesday, July 30, 2008 | It’s an exciting time at voiceofsandiego.org.

The nonprofit online daily’s stories are having huge impacts across the region, its readership is expanding rapidly, and it’s in the midst of what’s shaping up to be its most successful fundraising drive yet.

It’s hard to believe the organization has come so far so quickly. Three years ago, it was a small outfit with a couple of reporters. It had good stories, and it worked hard every day to get the word out and let it be known there was a new player on the scene.

Now, three years later, it’s safe to say it’s arrived. Through careful and efficient management and a growing group of dedicated financial supporters, the nonprofit organization has expanded to a staff of 12, including a group of nine professional journalists who are putting together the best journalism San Diego’s seen in quite a long time.

There is no greater example of that than the last three weeks. An exclusive voiceofsandiego.org investigation, the culmination of more than two years of tough reporting, uncovered a clandestine system of bonuses collected by public employees at the Southeastern Economic Development Corp. The fallout from the story was immediate and immense. The SEDC president was swiftly fired and a number of investigations are now ongoing into the agency and its development projects.

And perhaps the most telling of its impacts: The story jolted a slumbering media machine and political establishment in San Diego awake. The daily newspaper threw a whole team of reporters on the story in hopes of trying to catch up. Television and radio realized, finally, that this important agency needed oversight and it needed to be held accountable. The mayor and City Council members scrambled to quickly deal with the problem that had been under their noses for years.

At the same time, a separate voiceofsandiego.org investigation into SEDC’s sister agency, the Centre City Development Corp., has raised questions about the actions of CCDC’s president and spurred an internal investigation there following the president’s surprise resignation.

Over the course of just days, two important public agencies accustomed to soft treatment from the news media were subject to the type of scrutiny that democracy needs in order to function.

Now imagine if voiceofsandiego.org didn’t exist. No one would’ve been there for the San Diego community to tell these stories.

But now imagine what voiceofsandiego.org could be if it kept growing in size, strength in reach over the next three years as it has in the first three. Right now, it covers politics, education, housing, environment, crime and science and technology. Imagine if it could bring its style of lively and investigative storytelling to so many more corners of San Diego life.

It can, with your help.

Right now, it’s in the middle of an exciting fundraising drive, Double Your Voice. Thanks to the generous support of two local philanthropists, all new or increased membership contributions will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $5,000 for each individual or organization.

The goal: raise $200,000.

It’s assembled an impressive Campaign Circle to help. The co-chairs of the committee are

Gail Stoorza-Gill, The Right Question, LLC, and Ian Gill, Highland Partnership.

And the Campaign Circle includes: Rudy Castruita; Marlee J Ehrenfeld, MJE Marketing Services Inc.; Danah Fayman; Tom Gable, Gable PR; Daniel and Cindy Hardman; Pat JaCoby; Sarah Kruer Jager, Monarch Group; Cheryl D. Kendrick; Pamela Maes, Security Business Bank; Dave Rowlands; and Bob Watkins, R.J. Watkins & Associates.

The campaign goal of $200,000 might not seem like all that much when you consider all the millions of dollars takes to operate some of the region’s biggest news organizations. But voiceofsandiego.org is a different beast. It’s lean, it’s efficient and it’s all online.

It’s part of the new media in every sense, from its refreshing outlook on news to the incredibly streamlined way in which it’s run.

Right now, with a budget of just more than $700,000 it brings you news, analysis and commentary on the region’s most important issues throughout the day and hard-hitting, powerful investigative stories that hold the powerful accountable.

The unique way in which voiceofsandiego.org is funded is being held up nationwide as a “ray of hope” for the troubled journalism world. As newspapers continue to shrink, voiceofsandiego.org is growing through a funding mix that includes individual donors (who give anywhere from $35 to tens of thousands of dollars), foundation grants, corporate sponsorship and advertising.

As a result of your contribution, voiceofsandiego.org will be able to continue its success and spread it. That means even more hard-hitting investigations that cause instant change. That means more compelling stories that help us all understand our neighbors, expose problems and enlighten the community on the major issues of the day.

We’re a nonprofit and we’re free to read for everyone. We don’t charge for access and nobody’s getting rich. We rely on donations from readers like you to keep delivering some of San Diego’s best journalism.

And our readers are recognizing the quality of the product they’re receiving. Just read what voiceofsandiego.org readers had to say one day alone in July in their letters to the editor:

“(I) wanted to let you know that I feel San Diego is so lucky to have you and the rest of the fine writers at voiceofsandiego.org practicing journalism in our fair city. I’ve been reading the Voice since it began and am proud to have been an early contributor, but never so proud as I am today. You all give us our money’s worth each day and much more. You’ve brought back trust,” Victoria McIntyre, San Diego.

“I was beginning to think that the only real journalists worked for the Washington Post. I wanted to thank you for providing me with excellent quality journalistic reading,” Susan Boles, El Cajon.

Some people can give $10. Others can give tens of thousands of dollars. Whatever you can muster would be great. Together, voiceofsandiego.org‘s staff, readers and donors are coming together to create a media movement that is being followed and mimicked nationwide. Thank you for being a part of it.

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