Berkeleyside to launch news site in Oakland, will convert to nonprofit

people walking on a path around the lake
Berkeleyside will launch a news site in neighboring Oakland in spring 2020. Photo: Fragmentary Evidence/Creative Commons

Berkeleyside has been providing award-winning journalism for 10 years, built with the support of a highly engaged community.

Now the organization is branching out — and evolving. Today the founders of Berkeleyside are delighted to announce that we are launching an Oakland news site in the spring of 2020. At the same time, Berkeleyside is in the process of becoming a nonprofit with a mission to deliver civic-minded local reporting more broadly.

The new venture has already received $3.1 million in backing, with $1.56 million in funding from Google News Initiative and $1.56 million from the American Journalism Project.

Although neither the new journalism site nor the nonprofit have names yet (we are working hard on this!), the Oakland platform does have an editor: Tasneem Raja.

Raja, a trailblazer in nonprofit and community-led journalism, co-founded the East Texas news site The Tyler Loop. A 2010 graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, she reported and edited stories about race, identity and culture as a senior editor on NPR’s Code Switch team; was senior editor of data journalism at Mother Jones; and was on the founding staff of Oakland North and The Bay Citizen. She lived in Oakland and Berkeley for the better part of a decade and will be returning to the East Bay in January.

“Oakland is where I relearned what it means to be a journalist, and reexamined journalism’s responsibilities in the communities we aim to serve,” said Raja. “I am honored and humbled by this opportunity to work with and learn from people who are invested in serving information needs across Oakland, holding harmful systems accountable, and reflecting the values of Oakland’s communities.”

The Oakland news site is slated to have eight editorial staffers, making it one of the largest newsrooms in the city. In addition, it will host a reporter from Report for America, a national service program that places emerging journalists in local news organizations to report on under-covered issues.

Lance Knobel, Tasneem Raja, Frances Dinkelspiel and Tracey Taylor.
The founders of Berkeleyside with the editor-in-chief of the new Oakland site. Left to right: Lance Knobel, Tasneem Raja, Frances Dinkelspiel and Tracey Taylor. Photo: Celeste Noche

Both Berkeleyside and the as-yet-unnamed Oakland site will operate independently, with each organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that delves deeply into city institutions and amplifies the voices of community stakeholders. However, the newsrooms will collaborate on topics that are larger than their respective cities, such as the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, regional transportation and more.

Berkeleyside Nosh already covers the whole East Bay food scene and its stories will appear on both sites.

The two news sites will sit under the umbrella of Berkeleyside’s new nonprofit organization, which will provide membership, sponsorship, fundraising and technical oversight. Lance Knobel, one of the co-founders of Berkeleyside, will be the CEO of the new nonprofit. A new board of directors will also help govern the organization.

“Building on what we have learned over 10 years at Berkeleyside, we intend to deliver independent, high-quality journalism to foster civic engagement, enrich people’s lives and contribute to a healthy democracy,” said Knobel.

The Google News Initiative (GNI) is providing initial funding of $1.56 million for the Oakland journalism platform. This is the GNI’s third collaboration in its Local Experiments Project, which aims to partner on new business, operational and product practices to create sustainable local news business models. Google will not have any input or influence on editorial decisions on the Oakland site. The GNI’s two other partnerships are with McClatchy in the United States — which recently launched Mahoning Matters in Youngstown, Ohio — and Archant in the United Kingdom.

The American Journalism Project (AJP), a new, nonpartisan venture philanthropy organization dedicated to local news, is providing $1.56 million in funding for business, technology and fundraising capacity for the new nonprofit umbrella organization. The AJP team will also provide close strategic support to Berkeleyside’s new nonprofit to drive the organization’s focus on revenue and sustainability. Berkeleyside is one of the first cohort of civic news organizations to receive grants from AJP.

The conversion to a nonprofit will have a beneficial impact on Berkeleyside, which will continue to serve the community as it has for 10 years, delivering trusted local reporting.

Berkeleyside currently has three main sources of revenue: advertising, events and membership. In 2018, Berkeleyside was the first news organization in the country to make a direct public offering, raising $1 million through the DPO with 350 readers becoming investors. That capital allowed Berkeleyside to invest in a mobile-first design, fund more reporting resources and buttress its membership program.

But in the past few years, local news has been plunged into a crisis. Thousands of small regional papers have shut down, leaving behind multiple news deserts. Many others, faced with a sharp decline in revenue, have laid off reporters.

However, in the belief that a robust democracy needs a robust journalism ecosystem, a number of foundations and wealthy individuals are putting their philanthropic dollars into local news. By converting to a nonprofit, Berkeleyside will be able to tap into some of these new funds. Berkeleyside is not alone in coming to this conclusion. The 148-year-old Salt Lake Tribune recently converted to a nonprofit. It’s certain to be just the first of many metro newspapers to go the same route we’ve chosen.

Learn more about our mission and Oakland launch. Have questions? Email editors@berkeleyside.com

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