Santa Cruz Local is seeing its fastest growth since its launch in August. Co-founders Kara Meyberg Guzman and Stephen Baxter take you behind the scenes. We share where we’re heading with the company. One of the biggest things that sets Santa Cruz Local apart is our commitment to community listening. We discuss our business goal for April  reaching 600 active members  and how that sets us up to better listen.

Kara Meyberg Guzman interviews Santa Cruz Local’s Natalya Dreszer on community engagement while keeping a 6-foot distance Wednesday April 8, 2020 at Bethany Curve in Santa Cruz. (Timothy Dreszer — Santa Cruz Local)

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TRANSCRIPT

KARA MEYBERG GUZMAN: Hi Santa Cruz locals. Kara Meyberg Guzman here.

STEPHEN BAXTER: And Stephen Baxter.

KMG: We wanted to pause from the news cycle today, to say thank you to all our new members. 

SB: Santa Cruz Local is seeing its fastest growth since our launch in August. We’re so excited about our momentum. That tells us that you, our listeners and readers, value our journalism. We’re grateful.

KMG: We’re also proud. While other local media companies are struggling to make up for lost advertising, our business is building.

Just in the past six weeks:

We added more than 100 new members.

We hired our first staff position, a business development coordinator. We brought on a new science reporting intern, through a partnership with UC Santa Cruz.

And we’re catching national attention. We have two new grants. One from the Facebook Journalism Project, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Local Media Association. The other from the Solutions Journalism Network and Hearken.

Santa Cruz Local, our 15-month old little startup, has reached a new point in our growth.  

So today, we want to take you behind the scenes of Santa Cruz Local. We want to share with you where we’re heading and what sets us apart.

SB:  We started with podcasts on Santa Cruz City Council. 

Then we started reporting on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. When we weren’t telling you what happened in the meetings, we produced the deepest reporting on housing and homelessness in our county. 

This winter, we created a six-part elections series on the March 3 primary. To kick that off, we held a listening tour around the county. We interviewed the local candidates and pressed them on your concerns. It was, by far, the most thorough coverage of Santa Cruz City Council and county board of supervisors races.

So, where are we headed next? Within the next two years, we want to apply that same level of depth and rigor throughout our county.

We want to cover all four city councils: Watsonville, Scotts Valley, Capitola and Santa Cruz. 

We want to tell stories from San Lorenzo Valley, Live Oak, Corralitos, La Selva Beach, Davenport. We want to share voices that you may not have heard. We want to share what’s happening in our schools, our environment and our neighborhoods.

You already know our county has a strong sense of community. People here are engaged. They care about our local government. We want to be the news organization that our community deserves. 

We want to get even more people engaged because we think it makes our community stronger.

KMG: Right now, it’s Stephen and me covering local government. I work full-time, Stephen part-time. To get to where we want to be, we need six full-time reporters.

That means an annual operating budget of about $1 million. We think it’ll take us about two more years to get there, if we can keep gaining grants, major gifts, business sponsorships and new memberships.

For the next three weeks, our focus on the business side is gaining new members. Membership dollars are the foundation of our business. About 80% of our revenue last year came from memberships from people like you.

We have a community of 325 members. We need to grow that number, if we want to grow our staff and our coverage. We’re trying to reach 600 members by the end of April. 

SB: Let’s talk about the short-term vision too, and what you can expect. 

First, we’ll continue to cover the local response to COVID-19 over the next several weeks. We’ve asked you what you want to know. And your questions have guided our reporting. 

This Friday, April 17, we have something special planned. At 12:30 p.m. we’re hosting our first town hall meeting. Our guests are deputy county health officer Dr. David Ghilarducci, and Dr. Larry DeGhetaldi. He’s the Sutter Health Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz division president. Your invite is in our show notes and in our newsletter.

Beyond that, we’ve got other big plans. The November election is coming up, and we have several big local races.  We plan to ask you again, in interviews and surveys, what you want the local candidates to talk about. We’ll press the candidates on your priorities. 

We received a $4,000 grant to expand our elections coverage, so we can listen to more of you. We can hire more Spanish translators and host more office hours. We’ll also dig deeper into solutions. For example, when a local candidate tells us they want to replicate a homeless camp model in Texas, we’ll chase that, and see how that model works and where it falls short. 

KMG: Stephen why do we do this work?

SB:  I think we’re doing this because we feel it’s a community service. I like the work. And I think our community deserves it. And I think we’re in a time when we have less media resources devoted to our county and we want to fill the gap.

And this is even better, because it’s community-supported and community-funded.

KMG: Right. We do this work because parts of it can be really fun and rewarding. But also because we love our community. We really see Santa Cruz Local as a public service.

[SHORT MUSICAL TRANSITION]

KMG: Maybe the biggest difference about Santa Cruz Local is our commitment to serving the community. We ask you for your questions, and we want to be responsive to you. 

We start all our reporting by listening.

To understand how this works, you need to hear from Natalya Dreszer, our community engagement intern.

Natalya Dreszer and Stephen Baxter host a Santa Cruz Local Open Newsroom Office Hours at the Santa Cruz Downtown Farmer’s Market in January. (Kara Meyberg Guzman — Santa Cruz Local file)

[AMBI OF NATALYA GREETING]

I interviewed Natalya at Bethany Curve last week. We sat in the park, six feet apart. I asked Natalya why Santa Cruz Local does community engagement.

NATALYA DRESZER: Well, we do community engagement so that we can provide the reporting that people want. We aren’t trying to be a mouthpiece for our politicians. We aren’t trying to be a mouthpiece for, yeah, the officials. We’re trying to be a mouthpiece for the people that live here, in order to then press the officials on the questions that we’re hearing from people.

So, kind of, changing that balance of who has the power in the news.

KMG: How have we applied that attitude towards our coronavirus reporting now?

ND: It’s changed a little bit because we can’t talk to people in person, so we’re not holding these open office hours the same as we were before. We’re not going to coffee shops. We’re not sitting on East Cliff, although that was really nice and I miss that.

Instead, we are doing it through, all from home. All on surveys and phone calls. And the questions that we ask on there are things like: What questions did they have? What does their life look like in this time? Who do they want to hear from? And how can we help them?

KMG: What kind of responses are you hearing?

ND: We have a lot of questions about testing. Just classic questions about how is the county preparing, how prepared are we? What do we need to do to get prepared? And what, when are we going to be done with this whole thing?

And all of those questions we have our reporters, Kara, you, Stephen, and our new reporter Jerimiah, have touched on all those questions.

And then, also, we have more specific local questions of someone wanting to know how they can get grocery delivery. Or someone wanting to know if bike shops are still open, if that’s an essential business. 

KMG: And how are we responding to them, besides in our podcast?

ND: Sometimes, if it’s a more personal question, I’ll email someone directly and try and get them, if it’s urgent, try and get them in touch with the exact resource that they need. 

And then also, all of the questions that we can simply answer with a link to a resource, a link to a food bank, delivery hours from the grocery store, those are all going on our website. We have a COVID-19 resources page with FAQs, with help for local business, help for children that are now in home schooling de facto, yeah. That’s our hub of the local information that we can get our hands on, and we are updating it all the time. And if you send us a resource that’s a local resource, we’re going to put it on that page to try to get more people to know about it, and more people having access to that kind of help.

[MUSIC]

SB: That brings us to our last point: how you can help.

We need to get to 600 members by the end of April. We’re at 325 right now.

Members, we know you are invested in our success. 

What If each of you could call one friend who you think would love Santa Cruz Local, and ask them to join? We’d get there in no time. 

KMG: Members, if you don’t have the time, but would like to support, you can also help by upgrading your membership tier. We’ll put a link for how to do that in our show notes.

SB: And of course, if you’ve been listening to us already and you appreciate our work, we invite you to become a member. Memberships start at $9 a month or $99 a year.

KMG: Here’s why it’s urgent that we meet 600 members by the end of April.

First off, to really listen to our community, and to stay committed to that, we need to hire another staffer. Right now, the community arm of Santa Cruz Local is operated by Natalya Dreszer. Her role is paid for by a donation by Pat and Rowland Rebele to the Cabrillo College Journalism internship program. 

That funding ends in August. And that’s actually at the start of election season. Santa Cruz Local will need to step up its funding to continue our community listening.

SB: The other reason why we have an April 30 deadline is our vision to expand our work.

We’re not going to get to six journalists and a million-dollar operating budget overnight. 

If we want to get there in two years, then we need to reach six hundred members by the end of April. 

KMG: So please, we invite you to become a member, if you haven’t already. Membership signup is at santacruzlocal.org/membership.

Thank you to all our members. Thank you especially to our guardian level members: Chris Neklason, Patrick Reilly, Elizabeth and David Doolin, and the Kelley Family.

Thanks to Trimpot for the music.

I’m Kara Meyberg Guzman.

SB: And I’m Stephen Baxter.

KMG: Thank you for listening to Santa Cruz Local.

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Kara Meyberg Guzman is the CEO and co-founder of Santa Cruz Local. ​Prior to Santa Cruz Local, she served as the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s managing editor. She has a biology degree from Stanford University and lives in Santa Cruz.

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Stephen Baxter is a co-founder and editor of Santa Cruz Local. He covers Santa Cruz County government.