Since Mission Local launched five years ago, it’s been chiefly funded by UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and served as platform for students to hone their reporting chops. But that’s no more.
In a memo sent out by
The Mission Local hyperlocal site has been a vibrant and valuable part of the School of Journalism since it was created five years ago. It has developed well beyond its initial scope as an incubator for J200 students, and under [Prof. and Mission Local Editor Lydia Chavez]’s imaginative, impeccably professional and tireless leadership has become the premier place for the community it serves to learn about itself and talk about its future.
It’s now time for Mission Local to take the next step and re-launch itself as an independent, stand-alone media operation. That means ending its role in the J-School’s curriculum. While Prof Chavez would have liked to see the school keep the site, she is ready to assume responsibility for the site, and we expect that it will continue under her ownership.
To paraphrase: “She wanted us to keep the site, and we were like, nah.” Ouch.
My reasons for spinning off ML are several.
First, it’s an expensive undertaking, which obliges us to operate a remote site on a year-round basis, even when the curricular value to our students is limited or even, at times, non-existent (as when we pay non-students to keep the site from going dark.)
This alone will provide a challenge for the site. While it’s unknown how much UC Berkeley was spending on the site, Mission Local has disclosed in fundraising pitches that site extras, including “money for rent, a translator [for the Spanish edition], extra reporters over the summer and holiday breaks, and the print edition,” cost the site between $50,000 and $75,000 annually. Removing the steady stream of low-wage student contributions while school is in session will prove costly (unless Mission Local decides to go down the shady unpaid intern route), and likely means the site will have to cut back features and coverage.
Third, the natural evolution of the site itself is toward being an integrated media operation, and that requires sustained attention to marketing, audience-building, ad sales, miscellaneous revenue-generation, community outreach, special events, partnerships, and 1,001 other publishing activities that are essential to any site’s commercial success.
That’s not really what we do. Those are specialized areas, and the J-School doesn’t have the instructional capacity to teach them to a Berkeley standard of excellence. What’s more, our students wouldn’t have the curricular bandwidth to learn them—not unless we pared back other areas, and redefined our core mission as something other than journalism education.
It’s worth noting that UC Berkeley is continuing their support of Oakland North and Richmond Confidential, the school’s other two ‘news lab’ websites. All this suggests that Mission Local has grown too big for its own good, with stunts like a misguided Tech Shuttle bedazzling contest and paying to win a Webby Award throughout the years. It departed from its original mission of providing a platform for meandering, over-reported stories on neighborhood minutae, and now its parents are kicking them out of the house.