KPBS recruits Julia Dixon Evans from Voice of San Diego

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The battle to determine who will rule San Diego’s establishment news roost is on between KPBS, owned and operated by San Diego State University, and the non-profit Voice of San Diego news and opinion website.

Based on signs from both sides, SDSU’s broadcasting powerhouse, backed by California taxpayers, has grabbed a huge lead over the Voice, run by a non-profit whose latest fundraising pitches suggest more cash is essential for survival.

Voice editor Lewis was paid $135,435

As the Union-Tribune continues to lose clout with advertisers and subscribers, the question of succession has drawn growing attention from would-be rivals to become the city’s top newsroom.

“We recently met with Julia Dixon Evans, our longtime writer of the weekly Culture Report. We thought we were going to discuss with her the implications of the new law,” wrote Voice editor and CEO Scott Lewis in a Christmas Eve fundraising pitch.

“Instead, she informed us she was taking a full-time job at KPBS,” the message continued. “We will have to bring someone on, at least part-time, to continue to do it at a high standard you have come to expect.”

Voice chief operating officer Julianne Markow got $116, 047.

Lewis used the opportunity to plead for increased contributions. “We don’t have any secret funder who has set that money aside for us. Please join us to raise the money to make sure we can keep going and expand it over time.”

But the slogging has been tough going.

Voice’s 990 disclosure report to the Internal Revenue Service for calendar 2017 shows that the non-profit posted total revenue of $1,969,929 and spent $1,838,165, resulting in a margin of $131,764.

But in 2018, according to a 990 dated May 14 of this year, total revenue dropped to $1,769,481, with expenses marginally lower at $1,775,247, yielding a negative balance of $5,766.

Total Voice assets at the end of 2018 slipped from $892,187 in 2017 to $886,421 in 2018, according to the 2019 filing. Lewis was paid $135,4356, with chief operating officer Julianne Markow getting $116, 047.

Meanwhile, over at SDSU-owned KPBS, which runs a public television station along with FM radio operations in both San Diego and Calexico, the funding picture was significantly brighter.

Total assets jumped from an already sizable $27,659,443 in 2018 to a whopping $52,840,121 at the close of the 2019 fiscal year, per a November 26, 2019, financial statement prepared for KPBS by the accounting firm of Grant Thornton.

The increase, the report says, was “primarily related to the ongoing Capital Campaign, which raised $26,225,000 in realized gifts and pledges during the fiscal year.”

The report goers on to add that the FY19 boost resulted “primarily from year-over-year increases in Capital Campaign contributions of $24,510,000, Grants $238,000, Major Gifts $120,000, Membership & Producers’ Club of $42,000 and other revenue categories of $22,000.”

The 2019 take was “partially offset by decreases in Underwriting $132,000, Planned Giving $174,000 and Vehicle Donations $118,000.”

California taxpayers kicked in through SDSU. Total “university transfers” to the stations reached $7,215,541 in fiscal year 2019, compared to $7,144,080 in the previous twelve months.

“The direct financial support received from the University decreased $9,000 in FY18 and $23,000 in FY19,” the report says. “Direct support consists primarily of salaries, space rental and utilities. The decrease in direct support in both FY18 and FY19 resulted primarily from a decrease in utility costs.”

But, the report adds, “Indirect support received from the university increased $48,000 in FY18 and $94,000 in FY19. Indirect support relates to a calculated allocation of campus and Chancellor’s office overhead and physical plant costs that benefit the programs of the Stations.”

Despite their impressive performance in 2019, the SDSU stations say they can always use more money, further squeezing local non-profits, including the Voice of San Diego, that may be harboring ambitions to help fill the local news and opinion gap opened by the Union-Tribune.

“Support KPBS before the year ends,” says the stations’ website. “Your donation helps bring independent news, educational documentaries, and irresistible dramas for another year.”



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