We are less than a week away from the last day of voting in an incredibly interesting and increasingly heated election season in Oakland.
Like countless nonprofits in Oakland and far beyond, we’re also on the home stretch of year-end fundraising to make our work possible.
You might be wondering how a nonprofit newsroom like ours navigates the two realities. This is the perfect time to explain how we maintain what is known as the “editorial firewall” in our business, keeping the newsgathering and revenue generation sides of our business separate while being perfectly aligned with the same mission: to produce high-quality local journalism that you can trust. .
We do all of this because as members of the Institute for Nonprofit News, we are required to operate this way. INN is the first organization in our industry to set standards for editorial independence and ethics among newsrooms that depend on philanthropic and institutional support, like ours. Its membership requirements are strict and widely adhered to, and some major national funders who support journalism will not fund news outlets that are not INN-approved. We are proud that Cityside and its newsrooms have been members of INN since day one.
But we would do it whether or not we were part of INN or even if INN didn’t exist. As journalists, public confidence in our reporting is our daily bread.
You may not always agree with our decision to dig deeper into one or another aspect of a burning issue in Oakland. At election time, you may not always like our reporting on a certain candidate or ballot measure. But you don’t have to wonder if we take orders from politicians, lobbyists, advocacy groups or people who donate to support our journalism. We don’t.
Here’s how it works in practice. Please contact our editors if you have any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oaklandside is funded by the Cityside Journalism Initiative, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that creates and strengthens local news, beginning with two newsrooms in the East Bay. (Berkeleyside is second.) Anyone who donates more than $1,000 to support our work is publicly listed on the Cityside website. We chose this amount in accordance with INN guidelines and after consultation with nonprofit peer media outlets with similar or significantly larger budgets than ours. More than 2,600 people support The Oaklanside in smaller amounts as sustaining members.
On the Oaklandside policies page, we further explain that our donors do not influence our reporting. “We accept gifts, grants and sponsorships from individuals and organizations for the general support of our activities, but our news judgments are made independently and not on the basis of donor support. Editorial decisions are taken by journalists and editors alone. We do not give supporters the right to attribute, review or edit content.”
No donor has ever participated in Oaklandside’s editorial decisions, and they never will. No Oaklandside reporter or editor has ever written a story, or written a story, or reported a certain way because a donor wanted it that way, and they never will.
This is the third election Oaklandside has reported on since its launch in June 2020. Then and now, we receive requests from readers, politicians, and advocacy groups to endorse certain candidates or ballot measures. We don’t, because we don’t want to and because we can’t.
As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the IRS (which grants us this designation) prohibits us from making political endorsements. We are also prohibited from favoring any candidate for public office in our coverage or any other action.
If you haven’t already, I invite you to read our interviews with 9 of Oakland’s 10 mayoral candidates this year. (We didn’t interview one because it would be irresponsible of us to amplify their violent and dangerous rhetoric.)
Almost every member of our newsroom attended almost every one of these interviews. We wanted these interviews – which were a colossal effort to produce, involving dozens of hours of recording, transcription, editing, fact-checking, etc. – serve as the “main course” of our municipal coverage this year.
Beforehand, we came up with more than a dozen questions to ask each candidate and a small number of candidate-specific questions. We also invited our readers to submit questions, and a few made it into our final set.
We’ve also reported on the burning issues of this election cycle, from big spending by outside groups to accusations of misconduct in the mayoral race to an analysis of how local and national debates about public safety could influence countrisides. These stories stirred strong emotions among supporters of several different political candidates, as election-related stories often do.
As journalists, we are ethically bound to separate the deeply personal decisions we make in the voting booth from how we operate in the newsroom. This means that most of us keep our personal positions private, especially when it comes to how we vote.
(As far as I’m concerned, I don’t yet know how I vote in nearly every local race or vote metric. Like many of you, I’ll be turning to The Oaklandside’s Guide to Voting Guides this weekend. when I finally have time to fill out my ballot.)
As a non-profit newsroom, we rely on multiple revenue streams to keep the lights on and journalism alive. Local ads are part of that equation, and we’re excited that businesses, advocacy groups, campaigns and others see Oaklandside as a place they want to spend money to get their message across.
In our business, people who report and people who sell ads and sponsorships rarely interact. We rigorously maintain separate channels on all of our internal communication tools, like Slack, email, etc.
No advertiser told an Oaklandside editor or reporter what to report, how to report, or influenced a story. No publisher has ever assigned or overwritten a story to make an advertiser happy.
I can’t tell you if an advertiser has ever been unhappy with a story reported by Oaklandside, because our local ad manager never told me. And she can’t tell our advertisers if we’re about to flag something they might not like, because she has no idea what we’re working on day-to-day. This is not by accident; this is how we have organized things at Cityside, following the standards of our industry.
And in case you were wondering, neither our editors nor our revenue team decide which ads go with which stories. Ads run randomly and automatically on our sites. If you see an ad for a certain candidate in a story that focuses on one of his opponents, you may view the same story in an hour and see a different ad.
The bottom line
We’ve learned a lot over the past 2.5 years about what it means to be a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom in Oakland, and part of a larger network of local news sites. The Institute for Nonprofit News’ guidelines and membership requirements continue to evolve with our civic and political realities, and so do we.
Your feedback is a big part of our growth; it makes us better journalists. We all have blind spots and unconscious biases and rely on readers to help us see them. Please contact our editors if you have any questions at email@example.com.
If we have earned your trust and support, I hope you will help us maintain and grow The Oaklandside. You can become a supporting member or discover many other ways to donate. If you want to know more about our reporting, you can subscribe to our daily or weekly newsletters. Thank you for your interest in our work and high-quality journalism for Oakland.