Will Warren Hellman, KQED & UCB crush local journalism–or help it?

The SF Guardian is running a story saying that entrepreneur Warren Hellman is partnering with KQED, UCBerkeley, others to launch $5MM Bay area nonprofit newsroom that will have 24 journalists.The operating budget for this small, scrappy enterprise will be roughly $5 a year (!!). The service will ask for money from foundations, government and anyone else willing to pony up.

I like the idea of not letting there be a news monopoly in the Bay area, but I hate the idea that big entities can suck the air–and perhaps the funding–from smaller more grassroots efforts.
The SFAppeal should not suffer a loss in support because of Hellman’s largess; and neither should the soon to be launched Oakland Local or other less well-funded non corporate efforts.

On the other hand, Hellman’s big, expensive effort may just be another proof point that there isn’t enough money in advertising to float $5MM annual budgets for news online beyond the year or two that a benefactor shells out, and that well-funded newsrooms don’t equal community or civic engagement.

And yet, I have to believe that this is a good thing for Bay area news, not a bad one. As much as I worry that Hellman’s project will suck $$ from my own little project and other wonderful smaller sites I see emerging, the Hellman project feels ,more like a replacement for something we’ve lost–the big (bloated?) newsrooms of the corporate papers–not the local sites that are close to their community.  But truth, we don’t really yet know.

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  1. Chris O'Brien says:

    I don’t see this as a threat to Oakland Local, or any of the other exciting news start-ups. First, because while $5 million sounds like a lot, in reality, it’s a tiny amount if they’re talking about hiring high-end professional journalists. They’re saying about two dozen, which again, is nothing in a relative sense. Over the past 8 years, the SF Chron and Merc have probably cut over 600 journalists from their newsrooms.
    In theory, all those folks will be spread over the Bay Area. Even if they just covered Oakland, I think there would be plenty of oxygen left. The exciting about this era should be the ability to expand the ecosystem of news, and deepen it down to a true hyper local level. The big, metro news can’t do that alone. Hopefully they’ll find ways to collaborate with projects like Oakland Local and vice versa.

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