Bay Area news nonprofits consider merging

Two high-profile news nonprofits in the San Francisco area, The Bay Citizen and the Center for Investigative Reporting, will make a final decision early next month about whether they’ll merge. If they do, job losses appear certain.

The two announced Feb. 7 they had signed a formal letter of intent to merge and have given their respective boards 30 days to approve or reject the merger. If the boards consent, management of The Bay Citizen will be turned over to the Berkeley-based CIR, whose board chairman, Phil Bronstein, would become executive chair of the combination, The Bay Citizen reported.

Bronstein is the former editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and the former boss of CIR executive director Robert Rosenthal, who was managing editor of the Chronicle until he joined CIR in 2008.

The Bay Citizen and CIR have a combined staff of 70. Before they signed the letter of intent, Bronstein gave a presentation to the Bay Citizen’s board in which he said he identified “economies of at least $1 million in operational expenses and $900,000 in duplicative personnel.”

The Bay Citizen was founded in 2009 with $5 million in seed money from San Francisco philanthropist Warren Hellman and a mission to provide community news. The nonprofit distributes its stories on its own website and also has a contract to provide stories for a twice-weekly Bay Area section of the New York Times.

Despite its nonprofit status and mission, The Bay Citizen was criticized for the size of salaries it handed top executives. According to a 2010 federal tax form for nonprofits, the organization paid its top four execs a combined total of more than $1 million a year, with nearly half of that — $456,918 — going to c.e.o. Lisa Frazier. The former McKinsey consultant announced late year that she would leave the company for personal reasons. She resigned this month when the merger talks were announced.

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