Bay Area News Project Editor, CEO Introduce Themselves

Categories: Business, Media
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Out-of-work Bay Area journalists, start your resume engines.

The Warren Hellman-bankrolled Bay Area News Project moments ago announced it has inked a CEO and Editor-In-Chief and is looking to hire "about 15 full-time journalists by the end of the year." According to newly installed EIC Jonathan Weber, "The hiring process sort of starts today." Both Weber and CEO Lisa Frazier were on the phone with SF Weekly minutes after the announcement of their hiring for an interview whose preset timing now seems hardly coincidental.

While KQED days ago left the partnership, the Project still has founding partners The New York Times and U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. The current arrangement is for the Project's future hires and grad school workers to provide content for the Times' Bay Area section.

SF Weekly has written before about how the birth of Hellman's $5 million journalistic nonprofit was not coming along as swimmingly as everyone would like. In recent days reports surfaced claiming -- erroneously, it turned out -- that delays had led to Hellman revoking his seed money. While that was inaccurate, articles naming Weber and Frazier as the nonprofit's future leaders turned out to be on the money.

Newsroom sources at KQED, meanwhile, told SF Weekly that unease over Frazier taking the CEO spot may have led to the station quitting the Bay Area News Project. Frazier had been initially tasked with searching for the person to fill the position she has now assumed; the former McKinsey partner does not have any journalistic experience and confirmed she will earn a salary of $400,000 yearly.

Frazier said she "brings something different to the table. Jonathan brings a lot of journalistic experience. My experience is business and media. We're trying to create an institution here, create jobs, and allow journalists to practice their craft. ... My focus is building budgets. Five years out we expect to have an $8 million to $12 million budget supporting a much larger newsroom."

In addition to Hellman's $5 million, Frazier said she's lined up "initial seed funding" of $250,000 from the Knight Foundation.

Weber declined to answer questions about his compensation -- though, as he acknowledged, since he is now working for a nonprofit it will become a matter of public record soon enough. And, in fairness, it should be noted that heads of other journalistic nonprofits earn salaries gaudy enough to buy an old-fashioned reporter enough shoe-leather to walk on footwear taller than the Transamerica building.  

When asked how many more seasoned reporters could be hired if she earned a salary more in line with newsroom reality, Frazier steered the conversation back toward "creating an institution." Weber -- a longtime newspaper writer and editor who helmed The Industry Standard and worked eight years for the Los Angeles Times -- claimed colleagues in similar positions at for-profit institutions earned more still.

When queried what he would do that isn't already being done, Weber noted that he plans on having a full "enterprise reporting team doing investigative and other types of journalism -- big stories, the civic affairs of the Bay Area. I know there are other people doing that but more is good in that realm." Actually, fewer and fewer organizations are doing that -- the Chronicle, for example, last year liquidated its own I-team.

He also plans on forming collaborations with a wide team of news organizations, academics, and bloggers -- and using more and more "platforms" to reach readers. That includes mobile devices, Facebook, and Twitter. As for specific areas of reportage, that's a conversation Weber prefers to have a little bit down the road.

The Bay Area News Project has its eyes on four different downtown San Francisco offices. It hopes to sign the dotted line in the next week or two.

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