April 11, 2012

Robert Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting, has confirmed a tweet from The Bay Citizen’s Jeanne Carstensen saying that it is ending its relationship with The New York Times as of April 29.

The change does not come without warning, as CIR aims to narrow the focus of the San Francisco nonprofit news site after the two agreed last month to merge. The California attorney general approved the merger this week, Rosenthal said, but this decision was made by The Bay Citizen and the Times. The final decision came over the weekend after discussions over the past several weeks.

“We want the opportunity to have multiple media partners in the Bay Area and not be in an exclusive relationship with, really, anyone,” Rosenthal said. He envisions working with many outlets in the Bay Area, on all platforms.
The second issue, he said, was “being able to manage the creative process on our own deadline cycle.” The Bay Citizen’s stories were published twice a week, Friday and Sunday, in editions of the Times distributed in the San Francisco area.

“Our focus is a unique niche,” Rosenthal said: accountability and investigative reporting. “We’re not a ‘news organization’ putting out a lot of content every day.”

Rosenthal said this doesn’t mean CIR’s sites, which include California Watch, will stop working with the Times. The Times has agreed to contribute to CIR’s new investigative news channel on YouTube, funded with an $800,000 grant from the Knight Foundation.

Jim Schachter, the Times associate managing editor in charge of partnerships like The Bay Citizen’s, said the two reasons made sense, although he noted that the conversations about the partnership “didn’t really get to the point of discussing how we might have evolved or adapted the relationship we have with The Bay Citizen.”

The Texas Tribune’s agreement with the Times provides a 24-hour period of exclusivity for the lead story on Friday and Sunday, said CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith. That hasn’t posed a problem at all, he said, noting that some of the Tribune’s partners decide to publish a story a day later even if they aren’t embargoed.

“If The Bay Citizen had had an interest in duplicating the arrangement we have with the Texas Tribune, we would have done that in the blink of an eye,” Schachter said.

He described the partnership with The Bay Citizen as a “tremendous success by any measure. … The Bay Citizen has produced a report that is the envy of any other newsroom in the Bay Area, both for its own website and for us.”

And for the Times, “the collaboration has met all its business goals.”

The Times had three partnerships with local, nonprofit news sites around the country, in Chicago, Texas and San Francisco. Its partnership with the Chicago News Cooperative ended in February, when the site suspended its operations. That leaves the Texas Tribune as the sole partner.

“Each one of these things is distinct,” Schachter said. “One doesn’t speak to the others.”

He said the Times is not interested in finding other partners in Chicago and San Francisco to continue those local reports.

“That’s not where the Times wants to apply its energy at this point,” he said. “A collaboration to produce New York Times-quality journalism with another news organization is very involved, and that’s not something we want to invest our effort in at this point.”

Judging by conversations with Schachter and Smith, there doesn’t appear to be trouble on the Texas horizon.

“The Texas Tribune just does a fabulous job for its readers and for our readers,” Schachter said. Smith described the the partnership as “fantastic” and “seamless.”

“It could not be better. It could not be easier, more productive, more fruitful,” Smith said. The partnership has extended the reach of both organizations, with people telling him they’re happy to find the Tribune’s content in the Times and others saying they’re more likely to subscribe to the Times because they can get Tribune content.

Unlike the other two sites, Smith said, the partnership has not posed any problems in terms of workload, workflow or identity. One reason: The Bay Citizen and Chicago News Cooperative were brand-new when they started producing content for the Times, whereas the Tribune had been in business for a year when it started working with the Times.

“Both of those organizations,” he said, “effectively started as outposts of the Times and backfilled the organizations.”

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Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens,…
Steve Myers

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