Monthly Archives: March 2010

Not my style of journalism experiment


Since the Bay Area News Project was announced last year, I’ve followed its development with some interest. First, I want vigorous media in the Bay Area (the major local paper, The San Francisco Chronicle, is better than many people think, but its resources are pretty stretched). Second, I’m a small media entrepreneur in the Bay Area myself. Third, I’m convinced that securing a healthy future for journalism is important for society, and we need many different experiments to see what models will be sustainable over the long term.

But now that BANP has found a name (The Bay Citizen), a URL and announced a launch date (May 26), I’m stunned by their first effort. People on the mailing list received today an email encouraging them to become a “founder” by donating money in a number of tiers with various privileges.  Ponying up $50 gets you a couple of tickets to the launch party, $1,000 gets you a lunch with Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Weber and CEO Lisa Frazier, $100,000 and up gets you “customized recognition opportunities”.

What’s wrong with that? If The Bay Citizen were really a grassroots effort it would make a lot of sense. But it’s not. I find it bordering on deceptive that The Bay Citizen is seeking individual donations without noting clearly that the Hellman Family Foundation gave $5 million in “seed” funding (that information can be found on the site’s FAQ). Warren Hellman, one of the richer people in the Bay Area, is chairman of the board. Frazier left a highly remunerative job at McKinsey & Co to lead The Bay Citizen for lower rewards, but a reported salary of $400,000 plus is absurd in a start-up of this scale. Weber, a very talented editor who created and led New West, can also be presumed to be earning significant six figures.

I know, however, that a fundraising email that said, “We have $5 million from a local financier and philanthropist and we’re paying ourselves very high salaries. Help us get this project off the ground”, would be unsuccessful, even if truthful.

I’ll admit to some sour grapes. I started Berkeleyside with my two partners on a shoestring (or perhaps half a shoestring). We just did it (just as Dave Winer and I just did InBerkeley before that). We’ve recently started taking advertising, which might be one way to become a sustainable business. We certainly didn’t bang the drum and make great noise about being “a source of ambitious, balanced journalism for the Bay Area” (from Bay Citizen’s dunning email) before we’d actually done anything.

One of the things I’m discovering as we develop Berkeleyside is that there are a host of wonderful local and hyperlocal sites around the country that are fueled by energetic entrepreneurs who have just gone out and done it. Like us, they are bootstrapping their businesses, and some have even managed to develop decent businesses, without much hoopla.

I still want The Bay Citizen to be wonderful and to succeed. But there’s a very sour taste in my mouth. I still think our modest, bootstrap approach, building readers and community organically and then finding our way to sustainability once we have something to show is the right way to do things.

I have a little list


I’m in Washington, DC, on business, but I had a little less than an hour for escape. Since my hotel is around the corner from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, I popped in largely because I’ve loved its collection of folk art in the past. Those works are still wonderful, but I also came across a wonderful, tiny exhibition that seems to have attracted no attention.

Lists, To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts and Other Artists’ Enumerations is curated by Liza Kirwin, who looks after manuscripts in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. It’s small, with perhaps 40 objects. Many of them are of little or no artistic distinction. But it’s absolutely engrossing.

Kirwin had the wonderful idea of bringing together artists’ lists on all sorts of matters — Elaine de Kooning’s 1954 notes for a joint tax return (from sale of pictures $9,632), Harry Bertoia’s self-rating chart from 1932 (“fair” for quickness of thought and courage, “excellent” on neatness, accuracy and health), Joseph Cornell’s 1957 list of items purchased at an antiques show (“Red Riding Hoodish painted red, green, blue its charm the paint much worn”). Shown above is Paul Bransom’s alphabetical list of animals.

I’m not sure there’s a lot to be gained by analyzing just why lists are so interesting (at least to me). If you happen to be in Washington, however, I urge you to go to this one-room exhibition. A good second best is the excellent book of the exhibition, which includes about 30 items not on show.

Give me your tired, your poor

Not that we need to find more things to be ashamed about from the George W. Bush years, but one statistic from Terry Gross’ interview with Deb Amos about her book, Eclipse of the Sunnis, struck me.

There are about 2 million Iraqis who have left the country since the start of the war. After years of inaction, the late senator Ted Kennedy succeeded in passing a law that allowed for a better flow of Iraqis to the US. So there are now about 32,000 Iraqis in the US, and Amos expects that number to double. So in a country of over 300 million people, that was responsible for the war that displaced and endangered many of these refugees, we’ve opened our doors to a group that will make up 0.02 per cent of our population. Sweden, with the population of New York City, has over 100,000 Iraqi refugees (1.1 per cent of its population).