It’s official: Bay Citizen, Center for Investigative Reporting will merge

Center for Investigative Reporting | The Bay Citizen
The “exploration” is at an end. At a meeting today, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Bay Area News Project, which runs The Bay Citizen,  agreed to formally merge their operations. CIR says in a news release:

The merger of the two award-winning news forces will create the nation’s largest nonprofit organization focused on investigative and accountability reporting and one of the largest data and technology teams in journalism. …

The expanded Center for Investigative Reporting will be made up of three unique editorial brands: The Bay Citizen (local enterprise and investigative reporting focused on the San Francisco Bay Area), California Watch (investigative reporting on major issues and topics affecting the entire state) and CIR (targeted investigative and explanatory reporting on issues of national and international significance).

Dan Fost, reporting for The Bay Citizen, wrote that the site probably would stop covering breaking news or culture, seen as commodity news. He described the merger this way:

The Bay Citizen on Tuesday enters the second phase of its young life, surrendering its independence in exchange for a partnership with an older, more established journalistic entity …

While technically a merger, a similar deal in the corporate world would be termed an acquisition, with Berkeley-based CIR assuming a dominant role on the board and in the management of the combined organization. No one from The Bay Citizen’s current senior editorial or technology management teams will have a leadership role in the expanded organization.

In an interview, Robert Rosenthal described the differences among the three brands mostly in terms of geographical focus. He envisions the work of each of the units as being complementary; for instance, The Bay Citizen could localize a CIR or California Watch investigation.

“It’s obviously complicated,” he said. “We’re going to have to figure out this unusual situation with multiple brands, but initially we’re going to start off with three.” He noted that The Bay Citizen has a strong membership base and name recognition.

The organization will have a budget of $10.5 million, with a current payroll of 70 employees. Rosenthal said some positions could be cut – most likely in business, not editorial, and including some spots now vacant – but with some new projects on the horizon, he expects to hire more staff and end up with a staff larger than it is now.

At some point the two sides will move to a single location, but Rosenthal said the location hasn’t been determined. The Bay Citizen is in San Francisco and the Center for Investigative Reporting is in Berkeley.

Phil Bronstein will have the title of executive board chairman; Rosenthal will continue to be executive director of CIR. Each will be paid the same: $220,000 annually.

Rosenthal will continue to oversee editorial and day-to-day operations; Bronstein will manage the board and tackle longer-term sustainability.

Sustainability is “the big question” for all nonprofits, Rosenthal said. “We’ve grown astonishingly, and piece by piece.” The larger organization will be better equipped to assemble the various revenue streams necessary for long-term survival: foundation support, memberships, content sales, and product development.

The Bay Citizen’s leadership was in flux even before the death last December of its benefactor, the billionaire Warren Hellman. Bay Citizen editor Jonathan Weber resigned in September to join Reuters; and his interim replacement, Steve Fainaru, announced in late January that he was leaving as well. Not long afterward, the two nonprofit journalism outfits began talking publicly about their journey of explorationRelated: CIR’s plan for MacArthur million

Steve Myers contributed to this report.

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