SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA — San Francisco is home to one of the largest urban beaches in the country, Ocean Beach. The surrounding neighborhoods, the Sunset and the Richmond District, resemble suburban sprawl more than a city, and are comprised mostly of families, surfers, and those seeking a quieter, less urban-intensive lifestyle. The Ocean Beach Bulletin provides hyperlocal coverage for this part of town, a section of San Francisco that often falls below the radar of larger, city-wide outlets.
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The Bulletin was founded by Tom Prete in April of 2010, following a twelve-year career in Bay Area newspaper journalism. This stint included working as a reporter for the Redwood City Tribune, as the neighborhoods and then managing editor of the San Francisco Independent, as well as the editorial page editor at the San Francisco Examiner after the Independent acquired the Examiner in 2000.
The Bulletin’s roots trace back to a Twitter account (@OBBulletin) that Prete started in 2010 in order to “see what Twitter could do as a news-publishing platform.” To get the word out, Prete would literally hand out leaflets on the street corner. He soon found the format limiting, however, and launched the Bulletin website in September of 2010.
By Prete’s account, the neighborhoods surrounding Ocean Beach have been historically underserved by the San Francisco’s larger media outlets. Before the Ocean Beach Bulletin, the neighborhoods lacked a hyperlocal news source as well. “It was an unfilled niche,” Prete explains, “There wasn’t anybody that had a good foothold in the area.”
Prete continues to work as a freelance journalist, but considers the Bulletin his full-time gig. He acts as the site’s publisher, editor, and main contributor. Second in command is volunteer associate editor Mark Lukach, of whom Prete speaks glowingly: “I am really fortunate to have a prolific, enthusiastic, and intelligent associate editor… I really can’t say enough about how’s he’s been instrumental in making the Bulletin what it is now.” The two command a small group of volunteer writers and photographers, most of whom reside in the area.
From covering a freak mass-beaching of jellyfish, to the cracking down on dogs without leashes, to an upcoming surf contest, much of the site’s content centers around the beach itself. As is the case with many coastlines, erosion is a chief concern, especially given the coast’s close proximity to urban development. “We are experiencing a lot of coastal erosion,” Prete notes. “There’s a lot of controversy about how to address this erosion and how to address rising sea levels.”
Ocean Beach is also the home of the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant, a wastewater facility sitting on the beach. It is the only facility in California to process both human waste and road runoff, and the Bulletin published an extensive profile of the plant, aptly titled “The Poop Parade”. The site has also extensively covered what has been dubbed “The Ocean Beach Master Plan” by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, an initiative that considers the next fifty years of the beach’s future management and maintenance.
The Bulletin is unincorporated, but much of the site’s revenues come from reader donations despite its lack of nonprofit status. “The fact that [people] are willing to donate without being to deduct the donation is really gratifying,” Prete says. He has no immediate plans to incorporate as a nonprofit.
Prete sells ads to local businesses, and hopes to increase this practice as time goes on.
“Like many news guys, I was trained as a journalist. I don’t know how to sell advertising, I don’t how to do fundraising, that’s not where my expertise lies, but I’m having to learn this stuff,” he says. Prete also plans to make a major fundraising push this fall. “We’re not ready to talk about specific plans right now,” he says, “but I think it’s fair to say that just like our reporting, it will involve a lot of old-fashioned shoe leather in addition to new technologies.”
The Bulletin will soon turn one-year old, and is admittedly still a work in progress. The site’s “About” section states, “We won’t change our focus on life on San Francisco’s far-western edge, but expect us to try new things and refine the way we work - regularly.”
Prete himself is in transition. “I decided if I’m not going to be in newspapers anymore, I need to dive straight into the digital world,” he says. “I’m a fully digital journalist, and when I look towards the future, that’s the future I’m looking forward to.”
Ocean Beach Bulletin Data
Name: Ocean Beach Bulletin
City: San Francisco
Principal Staff: Tom Prete, publisher and editor-in-chief; Mark Lukach, associate editor.
Affiliations: Content partnership with San Francisco public radio station KQED through J-Lab’s Networked Journalism project.
CMS: WordPress - OpenSource (.org)