Non-Profit Voice of San Diego Taking Some Local Heat Over Misleading Fundraising Ads*

We can’t really seem to figure out why, but San Diego’s much celebrated non-profit news site Voice of San Diego is taking some heat from local press and civic leaders for allegedly pursuing a misleading fundraising campaign. In various banner ads on its site, VoSD boasts “ How about a public service news source that receives no government support? You found it.” Below the tagline is a button soliciting donations.

But, as San Diego CityBeat’s Dave Maass dug up, the website does receive public funds–to the tune of $28,200 in ad revenue from government agencies.

Writes Maass of why this is a problem:

— VoSD repeatedly claimed advertising as a form of support, received advertising from several government agencies, then denied it in solicitations for donations likely seen by hundreds, if not thousands of readers.

— The language implies that readers are looking for an organization that does not receive government support, that Voice is somehow unique or elite in not receiving government support. It seems VoSD cast itself in a better light in order to attract donors.

— Since VoSD serves as its own fundraising agent, it is reasonable to expect it knows who its donors are.

VoSD is regularly cited in the national press and in media journals as a visionary new model for journalism because of its non-profit model and innovative funding scheme, based largely on philanthropic support.

— As a journalistic organization that is passionate about the truth—perhaps best evidenced by its Fact Check blog—it is logical to expect the organization would check its facts before posting them online.

The offending ad has since been removed from VoSD‘s site. But not before various civic leaders–many of whom have been called out for infractions of truthiness by VoSD–had the chance to chime in. Mayor Jerry Sanders spokesperson took a dig on Twitter, as did the chief counsel for the San Diego Police Department. Even a Union-Tribune editor seems to be worked up about it.

Again, we don’t see the big deal. We buy VoSD’s CEO Scott Lewis’ explanation of the discrepancy: “We didn’t consider the small amount of advertising revenue we get from some government agencies because it’s not a subsidy. It’s a service for fee. I understand how you’re interpreting it but that was not what we had in mind when making the statement.”

Methinks the folks down there might just be having some fun at the upstart’s expense.

*We got this note from SD CityBeat’s Dave Maass:

“It’s not so much a big deal as it Voice getting a taste of its own “Fact Checks.” They slam others for often minor errors and inaccurate claims. Now it’s their turn. That’s all.”

Kinda like we thought. Sassin’ the new guy. Good show.