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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Nonprofit Newspaper Behind 'Panorama' Cover Story Now on Government Dole

Posted By on Thu, Mar 18, 2010 at 5:45 PM

click to enlarge First, you get the money...
  • First, you get the money...
Today's new-media ethical quandary: Should a nonprofit news outlet dedicated to public-interest investigative journalism extract substantial amounts of funding from the government it's covering?

That's the question being confronted by the award-winning San Francisco Public Press, which, according to director Michael Stoll, is now paying the salary of one of its editorial employees with money from a San Francisco jobs-stimulus program.

Stoll would not disclose how much money multimedia producer Monica Jensen is receiving through JOBS NOW!, saying the the information is a private personnel issue. However, he said that the city is currently paying her entire salary, which he described as "competitive." An official at the city's Human Services Agency, which oversees JOBS NOW! -- administered through the city, the program's money comes from federal stimulus funds -- did not disclose the grant amount by press time.

What are we to make of this? The Public Press, a nonprofit news-gathering group that produces stories online and in various print publications -- including an award-winning story on cost overruns associated with the new Bay Bridge that was featured prominently on the front page of the McSweeney's Panorama -- does plenty of coverage of local civic issues. Will sucking at City Hall's teat affect the integrity of that reporting?

Not at all, said Stoll. "I think in the industry we're all trying to grapple with how to sustainably do journalism," he said. "You get into the subject of public funding, and people automatically have an allergic reaction to that. But it's not that simple." He noted that NPR and PBS, to name two esteemed news sources, both receive ample funding from the federally backed Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Jensen now face potential conflicts of interest in her coverage of local government? Stoll said the Public Press would evaluate the question on a case-by-case basis. He acknowledged that she would probably not, for instance, be assigned to cover the JOBS NOW! program.

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