Tuesday, August 21, 2012

BAR & SF Chron
Ignore 58% Costs of AIDS Walk

The editor of the Bay Area Reporter, Cynthia Laird, when she was cutting her teeth as a reporter in the late 1990s, provided readers with excellent accountability coverage of gay and AIDS nonprofits. If Laird wrote about a nonprofit's finances or fundraising events, she always included information about executive salaries and the expenses of events. Laird set a fine example of comprehensive nonprofit reporting that didn't accept p.r. materials at face value. She used to dig deep.

Unfortunately, that was not the case in her late June story about the upcoming the San Francisco AIDS Foundation's annual AIDS Walk in Golden Gate Park, a money-making day produced by Craig Miller and his MZA Events firm. The walk was held in July.

Her long piece, "More Money From AIDS Walk", told of an increase amount of funds "will be distributed to local HIV/AIDS nonprofits from next month's AIDS Walk San Francisco, but changes in the grant process left some organizations out of the running this year."

While that was true, what Laird omitted was that the expenses of the event would also be increasing. Not one word was in the BAR about costs to produce the walk in 2010 and 2011. As I reported for the EDGE Media site, both the California Attorney General's annual report on commercial fundraisers and the SF AIDS Foundation state more than half of revenue in those years went toward expenses, not beneficiaries.

BAR readers were not informed that 52% of donations in 2010 and 58% in 2011 were spent on overhead for producing the AIDS Walk. Laird reported that SFAF picked up the $212,000 production fee and delved no further into the expenses. 

After the walk, the BAR reported, "The annual event raised nearly $2.7 million for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and 46 other Bay Area HIV/AIDS organizations."

It's not fully accurate to say the $2.7 million in revenue is going to service organizations. Both SFAF and MZA Events acknowledge that more than half of that amount will go for this year's walk expenses, and that should have been noted in the BAR.

Over at the San Francisco Chronicle, reporter Meredith May in her article about the AIDS Walk also failed to say a thing about the high cost of producing it. 

For the BAR and the SF Chronicle, their pieces can be summed up in five words: San Francisco AIDS Foundation said.

Of course, SFAF omitted data about the expenses because it's unhelpful to inform participants and donors that so much of their contributions does not make it to direct services for people with AIDS, and as I've shown, two major media outlets didn't broach the subject of expenses.

Reporting on the AIDS Walk without mentioning the costs is troubling. Yesterday, I requested comments from the BAR and SF Chronicle about their omissions regarding expenses and neither got back to me. Silence from these publications does nothing to address the serious problem of excessive walk expenses.

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