The Business of Nonprofit News
(Originally published in the San Diego Reader April 4, 2012.)
Don’t ask Scott Lewis about the layoffs at Voice of San Diego. It’s not something the chief executive cares to discuss. Back in early December, the nonprofit news organization let go reporters Emily Alpert and Adrian Florido and photographer Sam Hodgson. The decision was not popular.
A December 14 editorial in CityBeat read, “CityBeat writer Dave Maass put it this way: ‘Voice of San Diego essentially cut its heart out. Adrian, Emily and Sam were Voice’s strongest journalists in terms of compassion, understanding and character.’”
In comments on the Voice website, some readers called the decision “shocking” and “appalling,” saying it “weakens” the news outlet. Others rebuked the organization for not appealing to members and donors before the decision was made.
“Who wants to contribute $$ to some vague, fuzzy ‘goal’ when they have no idea where the $$ is going?” wrote one commenter. “It’s just psychologically easier to pony up the $$ for a person or specific cause rather than yet another general fundraiser.”
In early March, three months after the fact, it’s still a delicate issue.
“It was an incredibly difficult decision,” Lewis says now for the third time in ten minutes. “We grew and then had to settle into a smaller budget. It sucks. I’m a little sensitive about why we have to keep talking about it.”
We’re in his glass-walled office in Point Loma. Lewis has moved his chair out from behind the desk. He leans back in it with his legs crossed.