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Bay Citizen’s disarray; Bronstein key merger player

Friday, February 3, 2012

imageThe plot thickens in merger talks between The Bay Citizen and Berkeley’s Center for Investigative Reporting, home to California Watch. A TBC piece reports that former Chronicle editor-at-large and CIR board president Phil Bronstein is the lead candidate to become CEO should the two non-profits merge. And it says that in the weeks before he died, philanthropist and TBC founder Warren Hellman (pictured above) asked Bronstein (below) to take over as The Bay Citizen’s chief executive when current CEO Lisa Frazier stepped down. Her last day is Monday, and she’s declining comment, even to her own publication.

Add: TBC reports that Bronstein said he would imageaccept The Bay Citizen job only if it were merged with CIR and California Watch. But there may be trouble ahead. His presentation to the board last week implied job cuts at a combined operation, and TBC journalists are grousing that they’ve been left out of the process. There are other issues, as well. Here’s an excerpt (brackets are mine):

Conspicuously absent from his presentation was the Bay Citizen’s contractual agreement to provide The New York Times with Bay Area news each week. Bronstein said the agreement could possibly conflict with partnerships that CIR has with dozens of other print partners.

What the possible merger means for The Bay Citizen, CIR and California Watch, three of California’s most ambitious public-interest reporting ventures, is a topic of intense speculation in their respective newsrooms.

“Journalists have been left out of the process,” said Aaron Glantz, a Bay Citizen staff reporter and chairman of the newsroom’s Newspaper Guild unit. “Neither the organization’s board of directors nor the outgoing CEO have ever consulted with staff on the possible merger.”

[Outgoing editor Steve] Fainaru attended several board meetings where the merger was discussed, but declined to talk about specifics. As for his departure, he said the opportunity to work on a book with his brother, the investigative journalist Mark Fainaru-Wada, “has always been a dream of ours.”

With the board unable to define its strategy, “I felt the decision was pretty much made for me,” Fainaru said. He told colleagues that he would also take an investigative journalism job with ESPN. His last day is Thursday.

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