The Voice's coverage tends to be earnest and serious, focusing on growth, housing, and politics, over the traditional newspaper fare of parades, house fires, and high school football games. It emphasizes "what people need to know the most, instead of the headlines and photos that will get the most hits," says Mr. Donohue.
Its readership is still fledgling. The website attracts 17,000 visitors daily, compared with the San Diego Union-Tribune, which has a paid weekday circulation of 278,379 and had 1.2 million online visitors in December, according to industry statistics.
Despite the still small numbers, donors to the Voice – which include a local steakhouse and a credit union – continue to support it to the tune of about $600,000 a year.
Funding journalism to help democracy
Nonprofit newspapers are not new – long-standing ones include The Christian Science Monitor and the St. Petersburg Times in Florida. But the Internet, by doing away with massive printing costs, may make it easier for them.
Voice of San Diego has influenced newspaper projects in towns such as St. Louis; New Haven, Conn.; and Minneapolis. In Minneapolis, the nonprofit MinnPost launched print and online editions last November. It's staffed by longtime journalists and has a large stable of freelancers who used to work for major local dailies.
There's freedom in not having to worry about making every possible reader happy, says managing editor Roger Buoen, formerly with the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. In his previous job, his bosses were preoccupied with attracting "readers who don't read the paper," he says. "If you had complicated stories, there were a few strikes against them off the bat."