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Not a week goes by when someone doesn’t ask us what our “agenda” is or allege that we only did something — or won’t do something — because of whom we are supposedly tied to, however tangentially.
It comes with the territory for all journalists. I’m not boo-hooing.
But if you want to know who we’re trying to serve, squint a little bit and try to see your reflection right now in the glossy screen of whatever device you’re using to read this: It’s you.
Our operation is only going to survive and thrive if we persuade as many people like you that it’s valuable enough to support it financially as possible. Our major foundation grants and large donations from individuals are investments in our capacity. From there, we have to make the case to you, residents, that you should support us. We believe that this is a service you should feel compelled to fund. But we leave it up to you to decide whether it’s worth it.
If you think about it, it’s almost the perfect kind of market: The price of what we provide is what you think it’s worth.
This operation, voiceofsandiego.org, has 1,295 members. These are people who have donated money. Period. Whether it was $5 or much more, or whether it was in 2006 or 2011, we have counted them all. Since we started this organization, we’ve called you all members and regularly asked you to “renew.”
But if you didn’t renew, we didn’t erase your name from the rolls. We just kept moving along because, frankly, we hadn’t come up with a definition for “member.” And without valuable member benefits, it wasn’t a pressing matter.
That’s changing. We’re developing more and more member benefits: invitations to special events and coffees every month; a new, beautiful book for members at the $250 level and we have even more things in the works. We’ve begun surveying members on controversial issues. What do VOSD members think about the expansion of I-5? Or what’s their view on expanding the Convention Center?
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Over the next year, you’ll see us roll out more and more cost-effective but special offers for the people who make this possible.
Why? VOSD needs your support. To reach our goals, we’re eventually going to need 10,000 members. This may take years, but we’re willing to go one by one, day by day. And luckily we are reaching a larger community than ever. These are readers and peers who are telling their friends and family about this service.
Who is our community right now? How big is it? Here’s what we know about how many people we reach through our own efforts:
- 176,000 unique visitors to the website (Google Analytics, May 2011; 191,000 uniques for the last 30 days)
- 6,014 Morning Report e-mail subscribers
- 72,000 Morning Report reads (May 13 through June 12)
- 4,805 Twitter followers
- 4,404 Facebook fans
- 4,225 registered users, commenters (full names required)
- 1,295 members (donors)
That’s not even the whole story. Through our partnerships with NBC San Diego, San Diego Magazine, AM 600 KOGO and KPBS, we’ve been able to spread this service much farther without incurring unbearable costs.
The news media is in a state of crisis — still. It’s not that people aren’t reading the news. They are. It’s not that they’re not engaged with it; never have so many conversations been possible.
It’s that advertisers now have infinitely more ways and places to get their messages out. That means traditional sources of news have had to face a difficult reality. This is happening but their costs have not gone down. A newspaper is still very expensive to print and send out every day. A TV station isn’t any easier to run than it was a decade ago, but the commercial activity that paid for these costs has been brutalized.
It’s hardly certain that investigative journalism, fact-checking, accountability reporting, analysis and just plain good, fun, authoritative writing will thrive well into the future.
We have to turn to the community and ask you to pay for it.
I get frustrated with newspapers and industry experts who complain that the public isn’t willing to pay for information gathering and professional journalism when it’s delivered online. Every time I read something like that, I think, “Do you really know if the public isn’t willing to pay? Have you asked?”
We have asked, and we’re asking right now. Please donate to support this service. If you do, we’re going to make you part of this club. Our members are like family — sometimes they call me to fight, but often they send notes about how proud they are to be a part of this.
Every month, we host member coffees. You can grill us, berate us or muse about the future of the city with us. These gatherings have turned into focus groups, supporters leaving feedback and us leaving with ideas and a determination, always, to do better.
We are going to start formalizing our community of members. If you have donated $35 or more over the last year, you’re a member. Thank you.
If you donated years ago, but haven’t renewed, thank you. But we need your support again. What is VOSD worth to you? Is it worth what you would pay for a newspaper for a year? Is it worth half that? Are you able to help us more, to invest in education coverage, arts events and convenings, investigative journalism and the Morning Report?
We’re going to be making a push for the next three months to convince lapsed donors to renew and new members to sign up. Thank you for putting up with it.
Join us, support this service and become part of this community. If it is to thrive, it will be because you all thought it should. With enough of you, and all your different feedback and interests, our agenda and our attention will be about making sure we do what everyone can appreciate: Make sense of the mind-bogglingly complex quality-of-life decisions and the leaders trying to make them every day in San Diego.
Thank you to all our supporters, all our Morning Report subscribers and all the people who appreciate that a good community starts with good information. Help us deliver and be part of a community built to hold us accountable to that mission.
Or send mail to:
2508 Historic Decatur RD. STE 120
San Diego, CA 92106