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San Francisco Public Press Rolls Out Its First Edition as an Official Non-Profit

Instead of the usual 12 months, it took the IRS more than two and a half years to grant 501(c)3 non-profit status to the San Francisco Public Press.

Last week’s big announcement was a cause for celebration not just at the four-year-old Bay Area outlet but also for Harvard’s Digital Media Law Project and the Investigative News Network, which supported executive editor Michael Stoll and publisher Lila LaHood in these efforts. The long-awaited IRS decision was finalized just ahead of yesterday’s release of the Web outlet’s eighth quarterly print edition.

“We actually got the IRS news in the mail the week before last, but we were distracted with putting out our latest print edition,” Stoll tells FishbowlLA. “So it took us a while to announce it.”

The Fall 2012 print edition is 16 pages and retails for a dollar. The “ultra broadsheet” features full color throughout and measures 14 ½ by 20 inches. There are no vending boxes on the street in San Francisco, yet, but Stoll confirms they are looking into adding that component.

“We can be found in close to 50 retail locations and we’re also in about 40 senior community and public health centers, where we distribute for free,” he explains. “So it’s a paid-free model, along with mailed subscriptions.”

Stoll says he and his small band of colleagues have not had a chance to officially celebrate the IRS news. That will come next week at a scheduled fundraiser. There is also a bottle of champagne still waiting to be consumed, sent to them by the gang at New Orlean’s The Lens, next in line for IRS non-profit newspaper approval at 23 months and waiting.

“One of the biggest problems with the non-profit news industry is that it’s too new,” Stoll notes. “The whole group of us are fighting for legitimacy and having enough resources to be taken seriously. Non-profit status is a really important part of that, for a segment that can help counteract the decline of the newspaper industry.”

“We have volunteers contributing to all aspects of the organization,” he continues. “We have editors, a large college intern contingent… We have people stuffing envelopes, designing websites, doing fundraising and marketing… Some of our writers, we offer to pay and they turn it down. It’s kind of their donation.”

The Press core group is small (three-four individuals), with another six to ten people coming in one to two days a week to help with the daily Web deadlines and, in the case of print editions, two weeks of intensive work. All in all, Stoll says, the Press offices have a feel “not unlike a political campaign.”

Stoll says the IRS non-profit status is something that the Press definitely needed to be able to grow over the long-term. Partly because a number of foundations and key potential partners will only deal with entities that are 501(c)3. Congrats to all involved, and hopefully Stoll and co. will be soon have the opportunity to ship an in-kind memento to The Lens.

[Photo of design director Tom Guffey courtesy SFPublicPress.org]

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