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Nonprofit journalism on the rise

At a time of layoffs and budget cuts at traditional newspapers, foundations and donors are funding new journalism ventures.

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The police chief's rosy crime statistics were a lie, it turned out. The councilman who urged water conservation was discovered to use 80,000 gallons a month at his home, more than five of his colleagues put together. And the school board president, according to an investigation, spent a full third of his time out of town and out of touch.

The Voice of San Diego, a nonprofit online media outlet, doesn't have enough journalists to field a softball team. Yet it has managed to take on the powerful with the panache of a scrappy big-city paper.

It provides "the best coverage of city politics that we've had in years," raves Dean Nelson, a journalism professor at San Diego's Point Loma Nazarene University.

The success of the tightly focused Voice, which relies on donors, offers a ray of hope for a troubled industry. Plagued by shrinking circulations and advertising, newspapers are shedding staff and downsizing their offerings. Even the pages have gotten smaller.

By contrast, several nonprofit newspapers – though rare and often tiny – have sprung up in recent years both online and in print, funded largely by foundations and individual donors.

The strategy of nonprofits like the Voice "may be one of the ways to preserve the integrity of journalism," says Mr. Nelson.

Young, eager, and serious

"We were created to fill a gap" in news coverage, says Scott Lewis, executive editor of the three-year-old Voice of San Diego. "I don't think that we realized how quickly that gap would grow."

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