Since its launch in 2004, Voice of San Diego has been heralded as one of the great success stories in online, non-profit journalism. But this past December, the unexpected layoffs of popular reporters Emily Alpert and Adrian Florido and photographer Sam Hodgson due to financial problems at VoSD gave media watchers a shock. And it seems to have led to the realization at VoSD that the site’s model of fundraising is no longer working.
“I’ll be frank,” Lewis says, “we’ve survived and thrived based on spontaneous acts of heroism in the past, and now we’re turning that into a more professional business model of prosperity and actual metrics and goals.”
He leans forward and relaxes visibly as the conversation moves on from the layoffs to the future of the organization. Though he’s still tight-lipped about details, he tells me that the future they’re trying to build “isn’t about readership, it’s about membership.”
Lewis goes onto to imply VoSD will try to replicate the NPR model of membership. But he isn’t saying quite yet how that will work.
The Voice of San Diego will communicate “a whole new message” about its future plans and strategies sometime this spring, Lewis says. Though he feels optimistic about the organization’s future, he also admits, “It’s scary. It’s hard to build something new, and especially when everybody’s criticizing.”
Here’s hoping they figure it out. With the Union-Tribune in scary hands and SD CityBeat struggling financially, VoSD’s reporting is absolutely crucial to keeping tabs on California’s second-biggest city.