ML Joins UA in the No Money Club

UC Berkeley Cuts Off Support for Mission Local

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 Edward Wasserman, Dean of the Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, (and published on Mission Local), he announced that the department would be pulling funding, faculty support and student participation from the site.  Excerpted below:

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.

Comments (12)

deathwatch for sure.  

That is a bummer.  It is a valuable resource.

Mission Local was pretty decent until they partnered up with SFGate.  If you want to pander to morons in Texas that’s a good way to go, otherwise not so much.

When I used to be a journalist (many years ago now), in one of my last-ditch efforts to do something I could feel good about before changing careers, I signed on as a producer/head writer for an hour-long, local news program that aimed to do for SF what New York One was doing at the time: Present in-depth, meaningful, issue-oriented local news coverage. We did a ton of local political coverage and issue analysis (especially around local elections). Packages were 3-5 minutes long and aimed to be substantive and present a holistic view of complex issues. Everyone involved had an amazing pedigree from the world of Bay Area news, we were well-funded, and won many awards.

The problem? People ultimately just didn’t care that much. They wanted their 30 seconds on what Lindsay Lohan did this time, or what hilarious thing some crackpot Arizona senator said, or what to do if they found out their teens were SEXTING (or whatever sexting was in the late 90s). They didn’t really want to invest the time in becoming part of an informed populace. The show was eventually phased out. Maybe that’s an overly cynical take, but I got pretty cynical about being a journalist, and that’s why I do something else now. 

Mission Local presents an in-depth, multi-faceted, local look at the issues that actual affect us every day. Unfortunately, in my experience, that means it’s destined to disappear. I hope I’m wrong, because I think they do a great job – and shame on UC Berkeley (my alma mater, twice over!) for not continuing their support. 

Your old gig sounds a lot like season 1 of The Newsroom.

I’d suggest BeyondChron for those looking for local, usually well-put-together pieces (with the obvious preface of it being a fairly progressive site)

“Fairly progressive site.”  Read: regressive, bitter, left wing kook rag. 

I think they really lost it with the Bus Sponsorship. How was that even remotely related to journalism?  Kind of hard for a university to back that.

I hope it survives, in something like its current form.

The comments of every story about gentrification, eviction, and google buses have become landlord circle jerks, venting bile at renters, latinos, and non-techies, so you know the site’s hit a nerve.

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