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UC Berkeley Cuts Mission Local Adrift

Will the hyper-local news site be able to survive as an independent operation?

UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism announced that it would be ceasing to support hyper-local news site Mission Local. The community journalism site, which since 2008 has covered the ongoing gentrification debate, local arts and culture, and business, had been a project of Berkeley professor Lydia Chavez, and staffed with students from the J school. It will soon be re-launching as a stand-alone news site.

In a memo, recently-appointed Graduate School Dean Ed Wasserman laid out his reasons for cutting the university's support. He cited the high expense of maintaining the site, which had included paying "non-students to keep the site from going dark," the "distraction" of drawing students away from the Berkeley campus to work on stories across the Bay, and the need for the site to develop a stronger business model, an area in which the J School did not have the "instructional capacity." The J School also supports two East Bay hyperlocal sites, Oakland North and Richmond Confidential. Their relationship with the university still remains under review.

In response, Chavez said that, though the site would be spinning off, that she would remain as a professor at Cal, and that Mission Local, "will now be in a better position to experiment and develop new tools to create the community journalism for the 21st century." Though she conceded that Mission Local was only run with the direct input of J School students during the 15 week fall semester, Chavez went on to tell Nieman Lab that, "you have to have someone who is really strongly behind [hyper-local sites], and the new dean is not. He has other ideas that I’m sure will be exciting, so we’ll see what his ideas are." 
 

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