KQED, UC Berkeley J-School Prepares to Launch “Bay Area News Project”

guest post by Violet Blue

The New York Times

photo by Scott Beale

In a completely non-ironic and potentially exciting move, KQED and the University of California, Berkeley School of Journalism have snatched $5 million in kindling to start the Bay Area News Project. The money is being fronted by the Hellman Family Foundation to create online (and sideline print) media outlets as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan publicly supported news organization.” The first post on their fledgling Twitter account (@bayareanewsproject) announces that they’ve joined forces with the New York Times and the rumor is that it’ll be basically a New York Times West. The veritable Grey Lady herself said — one day after the NYT’s involvement was announced — opines that it’ll be “the largest and most ambitious of dozens of similar local news operations that have cropped up around the country.”

The venture is set to launch next year, which is really just around the corner in old media time, and to get a good sense of what the various people involved have to say about the scope and intention of the next possible Chron/Gate/Examiner killer, there’s a lot to be gleaned in KQED’s roundtable audio interview from Friday. Forum’s recent episode with host Dave Iverson The Future of News? is worth a listen. The topic of local news coverage here in the heart of technology (and the Hollywood of tech) is nothing if not a morbid topic, and there have been many contenders for the title they’re going to be more than a few rounds in the ring for. They’re hiring for freelancers right now (email: jobs at bayareanewsproject dot org). Although on Iverson’s show, when directly asked by a caller self-identified as a journalist, they said there would be compensation but were not transparent about any pay scale. I guess we’ll have to wait until they choose a name for more details (BANP is a temporary title). But they do tell us that distribution will be through a website, mobile applications, KQED will funnel them through radio and television dissemination, and they’re “exploring” print options with the NYT.

On the show, guests (and members of BANP) include Carl Hall, former representative of the SF Chronicle’s newsroom and commercial departments; Jeff Clarke, president and CEO of KQED; Neil Henry, professor and dean of the UC Berkeley’s J-school and author of 2007’s “American Carnival: Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media”; Noelle Leca, chair of the board of directors of KQED; and Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. In all it looks to be a very exciting venture, and we’ve been waiting for that local news wake-up call for decades — after all, we really should be leading the world in a revolution for combining democratized reportage and cutting edge technology. But instead most of us just gnash our teeth, watch the lag, read SFist, SF Appeal and SFBG while going elsewhere for… everything else.

Bay Area News Project is nothing if not ambitious. Will they really be the shock troops for journalism’s revolution as they hope? I’m reminded of when GETV was invited as citizen journalists to the 2006 San Francisco International Film Festival in a groundbreaking step to incorporate indie media with mainstream media. Only to discover in our on-the-spot interview with Graham Leggat that while courting us — no: in fact, bloggers and web TV reporters like us were not going to be granted equal access. Bait and switch, or perhaps yet another case of misunderstanding the medium. In the KQED Forum show, they tell us that BANP wants to “engage, listen, communicate with one another… with professional heart for news gathering and dissemination.” While also bantering that unlike citizen journalism, “truth” is at the heart of professional journalism, hence their preference for pro over citizen reportage — a sentiment many of us might find dismaying, at odds with our experience, and simply old fashioned.

Well, we can take heart that KQED’s Noelle Leca can be quoted as saying (at 37:35, in case we need it later) that Bay Area News Project “is a risk taking venture.” We certainly hope so. And Lillian Hellman was a very interesting and cool woman. BANP, whatever it will be called, could be just the kick in the [body part] that is needed, not just locally but nationally or even internationally. And that would be something to finally be proud of, indeed.

Violet Blue
Violet Blue