Local nonprofit media on the rise

Oakland Local arts and education
Oakland Local was among the many nonprofit news organizations that received awards from the SPJ Northern California.

By Jon Funabiki

The most recent announcement of Bay Area journalism award winners offers evidence of how nonprofit news outlets are growing in influence and maturity as traditional, commercial news organizations struggle to maintain profitability. Of course, some of the mainstays of Bay Area journalism claimed big awards in the annual competition sponsored by the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. For example, the San Francisco Chronicle and KCBS radio were honored for their coverage of the PG&E gas pipeline explosion in 2010, and the Chronicle’s Jaxon Van Derbeken was named journalist of the year for his dogged investigation into the causes of the disaster that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in San Bruno.

But take note: Nonprofit news organizations and their contributors captured fully half of the 40 awards. Some went to legendary members of the Bay Area journalism family: The radio and television divisions of KQED Public Media claimed five awards for explanatory journalism and feature storytelling; the Center for Investigative Reporting, the oldest nonprofit investigative unit in the nation, claimed two awards, both for the foundation-supported California Watch project; and Mother Jonesmagazine, also a longtime muckraiser, picked up three awards.

Some newer or less well-known players also were winners. Two of my favorites: The tiny newspaper, Central City Extra, which has been reporting on the SRO and homeless community in downtown San Francisco for more than a decade, was named winner of the community journalism award. And a homegrown web-only start-up,Oakland Local, received an award for its multimedia coverage of arts and culture. Both of these are examples of what I call the “little media” phenomenon–news outlets that may not be large, but play close to the home and heart.

In the era of Craigslist and Amazon.com, the business model for for-profit journalism continues to be dicey. The owners of the San Francisco Chronicle have turned toreal estate development to make money. Meanwhile, the nonprofits are turning out great journalism and getting a lot of love.

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