Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Bay Citizen launches non-profit news organization and website for community journalism for the Bay Area

As a former Bay Area resident and newspaper manager, I probably should say a word about the launch of The Bay Citizen, the non-profit news site created with the assistance of a $5 million investment by F. Warren Hellman, the former head of the Investment Banking Division at Lehman Brothers. The local news site launched yesterday (see screenshot) with a series of investigative articles.
Photobucket, describes itself as a non-profit, nonpartisan news organization. →

Since TNM is all about moving media towards a profitable future, a site dedicated to the idea of non-profit journalism is definitely a bit out of bounds. (I suppose there are two schools of thought: great journalism will save media, and great media will save journalism. While I respect those who want to pursue a non-profit path, I think I'll leave discussions of the merit of that path to its proponents.)

Jonathan Weber is serving as editor-in-chief. Weber was co-founder and editor of The Industry Standard. When I mention the Standard to acquaintances I am always amazed that almost all had never heard of the magazine. I would say "The Industry Standard, you know, the Internet magazine, the magazine that for a while was the largest magazine in America?" All I get is a shrug. For a short time it was my favorite magazine (other than Roads & Bridges, my book). Then the dot com boom busted and the magazine started running chicken recipes. That's what I would call really losing one's way.

In an interview for the blog of the National Association of Black Journalists, Weber states that the new venture has a business plan that call for "four revenue streams: large foundation gifts, memberships, sponsorships/underwriting and syndication." One of those syndications, most likely, will be the previously announced deal with the New York Times where The Bay Citizen will produce a two-page Bay Area report for the Times print edition delivered in the San Francisco zone.

While I don't think much about the business model (other than getting good seed money), I do love the editorial model: lots of partnerships, community input for all corners, and a strong, seasoned staff. Because of that seed money, the operation should be able to survive while it gets its fund-raising machine in gear. Lisa Frazier, formerly a partner at McKinsey & Company will serve as President & CEO.

As a website, the design seems really minimal -- surprisingly so considering that I think the site, one that Weber has been involved with, is very attractive. It's early, of course, so many there will be some redesigns coming -- though my experience with web launches are that they often never look as good as on that first day when you make sure everything is just right.