KQED Bolts Bay Area News Project; Employees Wonder What the Hell Just Happened

Categories: Media
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KQED, for reasons unknown, has bailed out...
Earlier this month, we wrote about how the birth of the nonprofit, Warren Hellman-funded Bay Area News Project was coming along more slowly and sloppily than anticipated. Now, to stretch the gestation analogy, there have been complications -- and one of the nonprofit's "parents" has bolted from the hospital.

KQED has quit the partnership. This much we know after a flurried weekend of back-and-forth stories; first veteran journalist David Weir claimed Hellman had grown tired of the bickering and birth pangs and yanked his $5 million in seed money. Then remaining partner Neil Henry, dean of U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, claimed this is not true -- but noted that KQED was no longer a "founding partner." Whatever that means.

Our messages to Henry and Hellman and others have not been returned. But we did manage to reach several newsroom sources at KQED. They confirmed KQED is out of the deal -- but, beyond that, they said, even the station's employees are scratching their heads. After all, it was only one month ago that KQED President and CEO Jeff Clarke sent everyone in the company an announcement that KQED, after weighing its options during a 60-day window, had opted to stay in the Bay Area News Project. 

"This whole process has been very opaque," a KQED newsroom source told SF Weekly. "There have been various managers in the news department who have been closly involved in this for several months and it just has not been managed in an open way. Many of the questions you are asking are rampant in the newsroom as well, I would say."

So the No. 1 question -- what the hell happened? -- remains unclear even for many within KQED. "Sometime over the past week or so," everything apparently changed for KQED regarding the project, according to a newsroom source. "I don't know if there was a precipitating event or if something just happened."

One source felt the supposed leadership team for the Bay Area News Project -- which has been publicized but not confirmed -- led to KQED's departure. It has been reported that McKinsey partner Lisa Frazier will take the reins -- and, supposedly, $400,000 yearly -- as CEO. Frazier -- who has no journalism experience on her sparkling resume -- was originally tasked with locating a CEO for the project, and has apparently pulled a Dick Cheney. The new editor-in-chief will reputedly be former Industry Standard editor Jonathan Weber. The News Project's publicist, Chris Knight, could not be reached to confirm these appointments. An e-mail to Weber hasn't been returned yet either. 

Our KQED newsroom sources, meanwhile, spoke highly of Weber. But the notion of a non-journalist earning an astronomical salary to run the fledgling non-profit rankled -- and, we're told, could well have been a factor in KQED jumping ship.

Finally, Media Workers Guild rep Carl Hall told SF Weekly that he was intent on helping out-of-work journalists remedy this situation -- and said the Bay Area News Project was still moving ahead to do just that. For those of you with mellifluous voices and radio experience -- oh well. 

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