The Bay Citizen (formerly the Bay Area News Project) launches today, aiming to "enhance quality civic and community news coverage" in the Bay Area, in partnership with the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. The nonprofit project was founded in September 2009 with $5million in funding from the Hellman Family Foundation and additional support from the Knight Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, and others.
The site promises "original multimedia news and information about the Bay Area" distributed using "cool technology" that allows readers to share news, have conversations, and "truly be a part of the community." Readers are invited to donate.
In addition to online, Bay Citizen news will be available on mobile devices and the New York Times is to start using Bay Citizen stories for its Friday and Sunday Bay Area print editions.
Jonathan Weber, former CEO and editor-in-chief of New West Publishing, is editor-in-chief and the Bay Citizen currently lists 14 other editorial staff, including two interns.
The non-profit will provide more competition in a market that has seen its main daily, the San Francisco Chronicle, in serious financial difficulty in recent months: the144-year-old paper was threatened with closure last year. Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal launched specific Bay Area editions in autumn last year in an attempt to gain more regular readers in the area.
As city papers throughout the US suffer from falling advertising rates and readership, many local nonprofit start-ups have appeared hoping to fill gaps in coverage. Some such as the VoiceOfSanDiego and MinnPost are now well established, other new projects include California Watch and the Texas Tribune.
Richard Tofel, general manager of ProPublica and one of the Texas Tribune's advisory board members, wrote yesterday in the Daily Beast on the importance of keeping reporters "aggressively" covering state politics. He fears that the drop in coverage will lead to increased local corruption, particularly as 31 US states have capitals outside their largest metropolitan area and these are therefore more vulnerable to cuts. Tofel points out that in California, the Los Angeles Times has 55 reporters covering LA and only six in the state's capital, Sacramento.
He suggests that new nonprofit start-ups might be able to be part of the solution to this problem. Will nonprofits become an integral part of the US news landscape?