Bay Area, NPR Argo projects: two ways to expand local journalism
Public broadcasters announced two experiments in local news reporting, both prompted by the decline of newspapers, both nonprofit and supported by philanthropy and both designed to reach most users through the Internet, wired or wireless.
San Francisco’s KQED and the UC Berkeley j-school joined a partnership to create the Bay Area News Project, backed with $5 million in seed money from philanthropist Warren Hellman. The project, announced Sept. 24, will produce a broad range of local coverage and distribute it primarily on web and mobile platforms.
The New York Times, which recently announced plans to publish a Bay Area edition, may also join the partnership.
“The idea behind this activity is to expand the quality of journalism and the integrity of the online platform with an influx of the great journalists who are sitting on the sidelines because of the decline of print journalism,” said Jeff Clarke, KQED president. The new service, announced Sept. 24, is slated to launch early next year.
A team of 24 professional journalists will staff the independent nonprofit, working in collaboration with KQED and Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism in creating and distributing editorial content.
The j-school already produces two “hyper-local” neighborhood news sites with funding from the Ford Foundation and brings in about 110 journalism graduate students as potential contributors. KQED’s radio and TV stations employ 20 journalists.
The pubcaster, which also operates KTEH-TV in San Jose and broadcasts its radio service into Sacramento, began evaluating how to restructure itself to produce more local news coverage a year ago, Clarke said.
Hellman, co-founder of the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman and a civic leader concerned about the region’s decline of news outlets, was working on a separate track with local journalists and others to flesh out business plans for a sustainable nonprofit news service. KQED joined the conversation this spring, Clarke said. Hellman, who sponsors the free annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in the city’s Golden Gate Park, is backing the nonprofit news organization through the Hellman Family Foundation.
KQED, which laid off 30 employees in February, will not put money from its present budget into the project. “We are basically bringing our brand, journalistic integrity and quality, and our expertise to this,” Clarke said. “All the money to support the project will come from outside of our organization. . . . This provides synergies and opportunities for us to grow, rather than to take away anything.”
Plans call for the project, which may be renamed, to solicit public donations.
NPR and pilot stations will launch the Argo Project with $3 million from CPB and the Knight Foundation. Argo will develop online reporting specialties at 12 or more local stations by hiring journalist/bloggers to produce in-depth coverage on topics of local interest (Current, June 10).
The project expands local reporting by developing new topical specialties instead of trying to add local coverage across the board. Argo pilot stations will hire journalists to dig deep into subject matter that’s especially relevant to their communities. Health care, immigration and the environment are among the subjects proposed by Argo stations.
CPB Chair Ernest Wilson announced the funding Oct. 2 after the release of the report by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, which pointedly criticized pubcasters’ work in local public affairs (separate story). CPB gave $2 million to the project, and the Knight Foundation contributed $1 million.
Argo’s timeline calls for contracts to be completed and funds allocated by Nov. 1. NPR planned to begin projects at 14 stations instead of 12. “We need to figure out where and how we can pare back the spending and include all the stations that we asked to invest in,” said Kinsey Wilson, NPR senior v.p. of digital media. “Until we have contracts with CPB and Knight, we can’t say who will receive funding,” he added.
Print journalists are good candidates to become Argonauts, Wilson said, though they must be comfortable working in other media and with community engagement and social networking platforms.
The PBS NewsHour will participate in Argo by sharing its embeddable video player with pilot stations, allowing them to present content from the NewsHour and local public TV stations that provide video for its website. Journalists from the pilot stations may also appear on NewsHour segments.
Web page posted Oct. 19, 2009
Copyright 2009 by Current LLC