The San Francisco Chronicle building. (AP photo)
The San Francisco Chronicle building. (AP photo)

The San Francisco Chronicle

Just days after Beacon announced a $3 million crowdfunding campaign, the Oakland-based startup has already lured a major customer: The San Francisco Chronicle.

Earlier today, the Chronicle announced it is seeking $15,000 from readers to fund a multimedia project examining the interplay between immigration regulations and the Bay Area tech industry. Audrey Cooper, the Chronicle's top editor, explained the idea in a call for reader support.

From here in the Bay Area, we can tell part of the story of how the region’s tech boom has come into conflict with U.S. immigration policy. We have done this again and again. This innovative crowdfunding approach will allow us to employ freelance journalists with expertise in international reporting while keeping our own reporters dedicated to uncovering wrongdoing in San Francisco and beyond and telling the stories that surface here, near our homes.

With its announcement, the Chronicle becomes the first major newspaper to crowdfund a reporting project through Beacon, a milestone that does not seem surprising in light of the startup's recent collaborators. Within the last year, Beacon has joined forces with several news organizations, including The Huffington Post, Tech Dirt and The Texas Tribune, for increasingly ambitious projects.

But the Chronicle's announcement may be an indicator that other print stalwarts will be lured into the realm of crowdfunding by Beacon's promise to match dollar-for-dollar the funds raised by individual readers. The Nation magazine also debuted a project with Beacon earlier this month, and the Los Angeles Times was listed as a future partner in an earlier announcement from the startup.

Since the Chronicle announced its project this morning, the paper has already raised 19 percent of its total goal with 29 days to go before the campaign expires. The paper also sent an email to subscribers that has elicited "a flood" of smaller pledges in the $5 to $25 range, said Keren Goldshlager, the head of communications at Beacon.

Like any newspaper, the Chronicle relies on some reader revenue to help fund its journalism. The paper recently augmented its subscriptions with a membership program intended to sweeten the deal with incentives like wine tasting and movie tickets.

The San Francisco Chronicle, which is among the largest newspapers owned by Hearst, has not been immune to the decline in print advertising revenue that has hit regional newspapers the hardest. In 2009, the Chronicle laid off 30 newsroom employees as part of an effort to stem a reported $50 million in annual losses, according to San Francisco Business Times.

Despite the Chronicle's early success raising funds for its immigration project, it's hard to imagine that crowdfunding will become a major staple of the paper's overall revenue picture. But the move fits in with the Chronicle's overall push to establish different revenue steams; in recent years, the company has offered native advertising and created its own in-house ad agency to buttress the bottom line.