San Francisco Bay Area News Sources Disappear in Merger

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Financier and philanthropist Warren Hellman started the Bay Citizen in 2009 in response to the steady decline of daily journalism in the San Francisco Bay area. But his nonprofit journalism enterprise, successful as it was, barely outlived him.

Hellman, co-founder of the multi-billion dollar private equity firm Hellman & Friedman and godfather of the Hardly Strickly Bluegrass Festival, died in 2011. While the former Lehman Brothers investment banker reportedly endowed the festival to last 15 years beyond his death, no such provision was made for the Bay Citizen, which was founded with $5 million from the Hellman Family Foundation.

San Francisco Bay Guardian reporter Steven T. Jones said Hellman told him that he intended for the publication to “focus on local news events, including politics and the arts, the kind of thing that is just dying at the Chronicle.”

The publication initially produced material for the New York Times, which it published in a two-page Bay Area Report that was delivered to 60,000 local Times subscribers on Fridays and Saturdays. The much-honored Bay Citizen broke stories on radioactive waste at Treasure Island, mistreatment of local Iraq War veterans and poor oversight of secondary schools, among others.   

The publication’s board of directors agreed in March 2012 to merge with the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), whose board is chaired by former San Francisco Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein. At the time of the purchase, CIR Executive Director Robert Rosenthal was quoted by the Bay Guardian as responding to concerns about the Bay Citizen’s future by saying, “It’s exciting for us to be able to address what has been a vacuum in San Francisco for a long time.”

They addressed the vacuum for a year.

On Monday, CIR announced in a press release that as of May 29 it was absorbing the Bay Citizen and its own California Watch into “one powerful newsroom” where “you can expect the same unique, in-depth reporting but without the confusion of three names.” The merger, the release said, will save time and money as it consolidates three websites and 12 social media accounts. 

But it won’t just be the confusing three names that disappear.

The "one powerful newsroom" will not be covering the Bay Area much. CIR stories will now “transcend geography” and cover national and international issues that “actually make a difference in people’s lives,” so “it doesn’t matter if they are about San Francisco or Sacramento or Washington, D.C.”

CIR Editorial Director Mark Katches also said the newly-created organization will publish a lot fewer stories. Instead of the 1,000 stories covered last year, they are aiming to publish 200 this year. The focus will be “on high-impact investigative reporting—stories that matter.”

“We’ve largely stopped covering routine stories and breaking news, which got in the way of this core mission,” Katches said.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

CIR Rebrands California Watch, Bay Citizen (by Andrew Beaujon, Poynter Institute for Media Studies)

“One Powerful Newsroom” Pulls Back from its San Francisco Roots (by Steven T. Jones, San Francisco Bay Guardian)

Center for Investigative Reporting to Kill Bay Citizen, California Watch Brand Names (by Chris Rauber, San Francisco Business Times)

Leave a comment