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Andrew Donohue
Co-Executive Editor
voice of san diego
San Diego, CA

2508 Historic Decatur Rd, Ste 120
San Diego, CA 92106
Work: 619-325-0525
Fax: 619-325-0530

I think what a lot of people are realizing is that journalism, at its core, is a public service institution. It is not necessarily---and perhaps just through a fluke of history was---a money making enterprise.
Andrew Donohue in a MGP Skype interview, June 5, 2008.

Photo Linked From: http://www.bucks.edu/~rogerst/andrewdonohue.jpg

Online site for investigative journalism in San Diego

Download/play MP3 audio

By Sara Majka, MGP researcher, November 24, 2008.

Co-Editor Andrew Donohue of the Voice of San Diego spoke by Skype connection on June 5, 2008 with fellow local news bloggers at the "The New Pamphleteers" conference, an event co-hosted by the Media Giraffe Project and taking place in Minneapolis, Minn. Donohue is a native of Wisconsin who earned a journalism degree at the University of Minnesota.

Click on the audio link above to listen to the 20-minute discussion. It covers a lot of nuts and bolts stuff, and is helpful for people working at an online paper, or those thinking of starting one. He breaks down the budget, the staff, coverage, the use of stringers, editorial philosophy, and the funding model.

Here are some highlights:

He says that this year's budget is $760,000. They finance that through a hybrid funding model: a few large individual donors in San Diego, grants from foundations, a quarterly membership drive, and 20% comes from online advertising (they expect that to grow, but currently don't actively pursue it).

At 7:00 in, Bill Densmore of the MGP asks that if individual donors or companies give money, to what extent is there the risk that they will expect something---"sacred cows that you can't cover, or issues that you're pushed to cover"---in return? (See a Slate article that asks a similar question about ProPublica, another online news site.)

Donohue answers: "That is a great question and to be honest I was incredibly skeptical. I was a part of the founding staff, and I thought this was a great idea, but I had a huge...in front of me thinking that 'who the hell is going to want to put up this much money and this much time and not want to get some sort of influence out of it,' and thankfully, the gentleman who put up a lot of money to start us, Buzz Woolley, his son is a reporter, he knew all the rules of journalism from the start, he didn't have to be taught. I think a lot of times people outside of journalism don't understand the boundaries. So, he set the tone from the start, and we've been very clear with everyone who's given us money that this doesn't come with any strings attached. And I think the most important thing is to make it clear---be strong from the start---and people will live under your rules that you put down. And if they don't like them, they can take---you know, we say, it hasn't come up, but the rules are that if you want to have it with strings attached, we just wouldn't accept that money."

Later in the discussion, he says that of the $760,000 budget:

"72 percent of that money goes just towards reporters and journalists' salaries, and I think that is one of the huge lessons I like to impart on people is how much more efficient this model is. The production of a newspaper---I think most newspapers spend between 70 and 80 percent of their actual expenses on the production of the paper: the gas, the print, the paper, the distribution and all that sort of stuff. We are able to flip that on its head. Almost three quarters of our budget is going towards actual journalists producing content."

At 15:00, he discusses the choice to have nearly all their content come from paid staff reporters as opposed to citizen journalists or stringers:

"To be frank, I'm not as excited of the community journalism model as a lot of people are. I think, in our experience, you tend to pay for what you get. When you go for free---when you get free coverage from people, the people interested in these local community issues can also be very partisan about them, so it's a harder time trying to ferret that out."

When asked how the local paper (the Union-Tribune) is responding to them, he says that some on the Union-Tribune staff are excited and understand the work that the Voice is doing, while others are protective of the old model. While saying the newspaper's scale is much larger, he says, "We do compete with them, and I think we do beat them on a regular basis on all of the things we chose to cover."


Barbara Bry was the original CEO of Voice of San Diego. Her profile is no longer in the Giraffe database, but you can read the old profile here, on our wiki.


January 28, 2009. Editorsweblog.org reports on the Voice of San Diego as part of a series covering the news industry's struggle to survive. It breaks down the ways the Voice is innovating not just on the web, but in their daily operations, creating a more flexible, efficient newsroom: "Donohue explained that as long as reporters are "producing the quality of journalism that we require," they are free to work from the office or at home, and can choose their hours. They have also tried to "eliminate the idea of deadlines altogether," explained Donohue: stories go up on the site when they are ready. Reporters are always free to propose their own stories, they are not necessarily assigned by editors."

Dec. 17, 2008. The Voice of San Diego is one of four community news sites to win a Knight Foundation Grant to help increase local coverage. The combined amount given to the four sites was $390,000. By awarding money to innovative local sites, the Knight Foundation is trying to help fill in the gaps created by the faltering newspapers.

From a Dec. 17, 2008 Voice of San Diego post by Scott Lewis: Knight is working very hard to shine a light at the end of this tunnel of trouble the news media is going through. The foundation seems to have embraced wholeheartedly the concept that providing information is, quite simply, a public service. And that if that service is to survive the tumult right now, we will have to treat it as a service that the community can be (and is) supporting.

From the Knight Foundation announcement: The grants aim to help the non-profit sites draw a larger audience by providing more local news, a key to their long-term viability... The grants are part of Knight Foundation's efforts to help find new, sustainable models for delivering news and information in the digital age. Knight has invested $100 million in media innovative initiatives.

CLICK TO WATCH a Dec. 2008 video of Scott Lewis (co-exec. editor with Donohue) being interviewed by the Knight Foundation on Knight Pulse.

The Nov. 17, 2008 New York Times article, "Web Sites That Dig for News Rise as Watchdogs", discusses the rise of local online-only newspapers. The article focuses on the success of the Voice of San Diego in exposing local scandals. It also quotes Andrew Donohue in cautioning against overstating their importance: "No one here welcomes the decline of newspapers.....We can't be the main news source for this city, not for the foreseeable future. We only have 11 people."

In an October 27, 2008 article for the Knight Digital Media Center, David Westphal discusses the funding model (or lack of) of the Voice of San Diego.

Still, while saying that a large part of the site is funded by Buzz Woolley, one of the site's founders, the article goes on to say that Woolley, "makes a case for foundation funding, which he expects to provide 80 percent of his site's future revenue. One hopeful sign: The local San Diego Foundation has approved two grants for the site – one to assist with fund raising and the other to sponsor reporting on citizens who overcame challenges in contributing to the community."

The coverage includes an interview with the executive editors Andrew Donohue and Scott Lewis, along with a list of other community news websites.

From voiceofsandiego.org:
Who We Are
voiceofsandiego.org is a nonprofit, independent and insightful online newspaper focused on issues impacting the San Diego region.

Our Mission Statement
To consistently deliver ground-breaking investigative journalism for the San Diego region. To increase civic participation by giving citizens the knowledge and in-depth analysis necessary to become advocates for good government and social progress.

Our Funding
voiceofsandiego.org is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We are the only professionally staffed, nonprofit online news site in the state focused on local news and issues. We will continue to operate with the support of individuals, foundations and businesses which, like you, recognize the importance of local news from an independent perspective.

From the "Get to Know the Writer" section of Voice of San Diego, includes a list of Donohue's recent stories, and a bio:
Andrew Donohue is co-executive editor of voiceofsandiego.org, where he oversees the publications' news coverage and works on long-term investigative projects. Most recently, his reporting on a dysfunctional affordable housing program won the national Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta chi award for investigative reporting online.