At the end of September a new non-profit news site emerged. With a US$ 5 million initial grant from investor F. Warren Hellman, the Bay Area News Project is slated to combine the expertise and labor of a 28-person news staff from KQED-FM, and the 120 students of the University of California, Berkeley’s graduate school of journalism.
While the project will begin operations early next year, neither a name for the website nor a chief executive or a top editor has been assigned. The Bay Area News Project is focused on its goals, as vague as they may be. Its mission is to create an “open dialogue about civic and community news in the Bay Area through best-in-class, original journalism”.
Despite the fact that many newspapers today feel like they are turning into non-profits, the News Project is intentionally non-profit. Following the belief that professional, civic journalism is a public good, the News Project is hoping that bountiful professional news coverage can bring multiple societal benefits.
Now, we might think that’s just the northern California granola talking, but they make some valid points, including:
- News as a watchdog for government and other initiatives paid for by tax dollars: Citing a 2003 study published in The Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, a correlation between a decline of approximately 50 percent in the number of state employees convicted for corruption crimes and where there is a high circulation of newspapers was shown.
- News as community builder: Citing research by Princeton University, newspapers that closed negatively affected voter turnout in areas with high readership. As well, the News Project believes that news also serves a vital function of informing residents about what is happening in their local neighborhoods.
- News as unbiased fact base: According to Pew's The State of the News Media 2009, professional journalists provide 1.5 to 2.5 times more news and less opinion than citizen journalists and bloggers.
The News Project aims to generate “original, in-depth Bay Area coverage” of topics of great interest to the community in a manner that covers all distribution platforms, from websites to mobile sites, radio and television (read: KQED and The New York Times).
A Sustainable Business Model
Now goals are great, and all newspapers have the best intentions, but executing this endeavor will take more than just ambition and a US$ 5 million dollars. However, the News Project has thought about sustainability and its business model mirrors that of many successful nonprofits, including public broadcasting.
Open to a wide variety of revenue streams -- from both nonprofit sources and earned revenue sources, the non-profit news site wants to protect itself from influence by any funding source, a noble initiative that will put them at the mercy of community fundraising.
CMSWire will continue to follow the Bay Area News Project as it begins to clearly map out its goals and hire key personnel. We look forward to seeing its evolution through the coming months. Stay tuned.