As of December 14, the San Diego Free Press will suspend publication. There will be new stories posted right up until the last day. I’ll write a bunch more columns.
The site will remain live, at least for another year. We’re not planning on adding any content going forward after that Friday.
Yes, this is a sad announcement. We need more, not less voices. But we’ve done what we could do, for now.
I am truly moved by the overwhelming support and kind thoughts directed at SDFP and myself.
Thank you all.
As someone who’s been here from the beginning, I feel the need to share some personal thoughts beyond the formal announcement from editorial board.
People keep asking me “why?” as the news has bounced around the internet. Late yesterday, we sent a letter to contributors and supporters of the San Diego Free Press. This morning at 6am we posted a story announcing our plans for all to see.
Let me repeat three essential facts and expound on them a bit:
- We’re not broke
- Readership is good
- There is no internal split amoung the editorial board.
Money can’t buy you love… In the early days of the editorial board, there were ongoing discussions about how to pay for this project. One school of thought was to take the non-profit, member supported route, as Voice of San Diego and KPBS do. Others argued for an ad based revenue model.
Inherent in both those approaches was the creation of an administrative staff of some sort to handle the practical and legal niceties. As it turned out, nobody amongst our all-volunteer crew was willing or able to do those tasks.
Hiring an outside person or entity wasn’t an option, given the limited resources (mostly technical support from Frank & Patty at the OB Rag) at our disposal.
My perspective was that I just wanted to start writing. About six weeks before SDFP started publishing, I’d gone through surgery to remove my cancerous vocal chords. Needless to say, my health was iffy. I communicated at early meetings with a whiteboard.
I also had experience with both revenue models we considered, and did not believe they would work well enough to support a payroll. Not everybody agreed with my assessment.
We started publishing on June 4, 2012 with no resolution to the financial questions. Eventually a donation button went up on the front page, and that was it. The support coming in was enough to pay our expenses. And that’s the way it’s been ever since.
Clicks and tricks… Readership statistics were something we took seriously. Given that our financial model was not connected to the number of folks visiting our website, stats were used to measure reader interest and (for me, anyway) a form of personal gratification.
Reading the daily statistics informed us about writing headlines, the importance of strong graphics, and what kinds of stories attracted what kinds of readers. And there were other lessons, like using the words “pubic hair” in a headline bringing the wrong kind of traffic.
We also learned it’s okay to have a niche. Poetry, community/activist history history, curated videos, and travel experiences have all found a place at SDFP.
Local news and politics were/are at the core of SDFP’s identity.
Our biggest lesson has to do with the success we had meeting a demand for voter information. Voter guides, candidate profiles, and election analysis made for big bursts in readership.
In October and November of this year, SDFP set records for traffic and reader engagement. There were days we saw 25,000 people stopping by to check out our insights on candidates and ballot measures.
Although our statistics are dwarfed by by mass media sites, the realization we were a trusted source for voters in local elections was good enough for us.
SDFP become reliant on Facebook for a substantial portion of our readership and learned first hand the ups and downs of the manipulations occurring on social media. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, changes in algorithms impacted activist and progressive sites.
Facebook in particular has taken an interest in policing what gets posted. The word “depressed” in the following sentence got SDFP booted from promoting this article on Facebook:
Remember how you felt on the morning of November 9, 2016? Shocked? Depressed? Angry? Do you ever want to feel that way again?
Meanwhile, rightwing meme pages and Trumpaganda now dominate social media.
Today’s top stories on Facebook* are from:
1. Ben Shapiro
2. Ben Shapiro
3. Daily Caller
7. Franklin Graham
8. Fox News
9. The Other 98%
10. Fox News
*link posts only, last 24h, ranked by total interactions, data from @crowdtangle
— Kevin Roose (@kevinroose) November 19, 2018
It’s also true that the political news “market” has changed, mostly for the better, in recent years. Like it or not, the major daily newspaper’s coverage influences the direction of all the other media in a community.
I’m thankful the Union-Tribune survived what had to be a very depressing experience (the irrational exurberance of Papa Doug’s reign) and is now has a (mostly) positive influence in the community.
Sorry, folks, we all still like each other. Very much. Perhaps the most satisfying parts of our –and I can safely speak for everybody here– involvement with the San Diego Free Press are the strong bonds of friendship and trust we developed.
Our disagreements ended in compromise. We kept differences, when they occurred, in house. And we learned and hopefully grew better from the mistakes made; without the public flagellation some critics might have hoped for.
The point here is that suspending publication was a group decision. We’re sad about doing it, and relieved at the same time.
I’m not quitting my activism and am actively seeking new opportunities in 2019, so if you’ve got ideas, give me a holler. firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll be taking a long planned week off starting tomorrow and will return to wrap things up for a couple of weeks on November 28th.