James O’Shea calls early reporting on Chicago News Coop’s demise “sloppy” and “inaccurate”

Chicago News Cooperative is planning to suspend operations next Sunday, editor and CEO James O’Shea announced in a letter to readers today. Word of the Coop’s fate spread on Friday, beginning with a story in the Chicago Reader and leading to much speculation about the cause of the organization’s financial troubles. “Early stories and Twitter posts on our problems were inaccurate,” O’Shea writes. “The reporting was sloppy and simply reinforced in my mind the need for solidly reported, well-edited journalism, the kind that professional CNC journalists have been doing on our website and in the New York Times since November, 2009.” O’Shea takes “full responsibility for this situation,” which was a result of unresolved issues related to their tax status (which affected their MacArthur Foundation funding) and relationship with The New York Times. Read O’Shea’s letter to readers below. || Related: Robert Feder writes, “No matter how noble the effort nor how worthy the product, journalism can’t succeed as a charity case.” | Dan Sinker: “Treating the Internet as an afterthought was not a way to run a successful news organization in 2009 when the CNC launched, let alone today in 2012.” | Josh Stearns Storified early reaction.

February 20, 2012

To our readers:

As you might have heard or read by now, the Chicago News Cooperative is suspending its contributions to the Midwest pages of the New York Times and its website effective February 26 so we can reassess our operations and determine if there is a more sustainable path to the future.

Effective next Sunday, the Times pages produced by the CNC will no longer appear in the Friday and Sunday editions of the newspaper and its website. Obviously I’ve taken this step with much pride and regret – pride in the excellent journalism produced by the CNC staff over the past two and one-half years and regret that I could not raise the resources we needed to continue our current level of operations. As the CNC’s editor and CEO, I take full responsibility for this situation.

Unlike similar start-up efforts like the Texas Tribune in Austin, the Bay Citizen in San Francisco and ProPublica in New York, we never recruited the kind of seven figure donations from people of means concerned about the declining quality of news coverage around the country. As a result, CNC never raised the resources to make investments in the business side of our operation that would have generated the revenue we needed to achieve our original goal – a self-sustaining news operation within 5 years.

CNC always has been an experiment in trying to figure out a way to finance accountability journalism, the kind of reporting that many news organizations are abandoning as they struggle with a deteriorating business model and financial problems. This is a very difficult problem especially in major cities and carries ominous implications for a democracy. An organization dedicated to public service journalism is an indispensible civic asset, and we remain committed to finding some possible answers.

In the coming days and weeks, we will be examining our potential to see if we can identify an alternative path and preserve some of the journalistic assets we have developed. Continued support is welcome and would help us figure out the best path for CNC.

The decision to suspend operations was motivated by some complex factors and unresolved questions regarding our tax status and a change in circumstances that triggered questions about the economic wisdom of commitments between the CNC and the New York Times. Frankly, the situation is too complex to discuss in any detail in a note like this. Unfortunately, reports riddled with errors still get wide circulation on the Internet, and the reporting on our problems was no exception.

Early stories and Twitter posts on our problems were inaccurate. The reporting was sloppy and simply reinforced in my mind the need for solidly reported, well-edited journalism, the kind that professional CNC journalists have been doing on our website and in the New York Times since November, 2009. I can assure you that most of the people involved worked incredibly hard and in good faith to come up with some solutions to the cash shortage that threatens our future

I promise to keep you posted on our plans as we wrestle with these issues in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, I would like to deeply thank all of you who have supported us over the past two and one-half years, particularly the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, our largest donor; The New York Times, our second largest supporter; the CNC board, especially its chairman, John Canning; everyone who has donated individually both large and small and the staff of the CNC, whose work is simply heroic.

Thanks and regards,

James O’Shea
Editor and CEO
Chicago News Cooperative.

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