Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bay-Watch in Effect: CIR/Bay Citizen Merger Is Official

By Rachel Swan
Tue, Mar 27, 2012 at 2:24 PM

Don't call it a merger, call it an acquisition. So wrote Dan Fost, in an article announcing the two nonprofit companies' decision to consolidate their newsrooms today. Bay Citizen and CIR began merger talks in February, shortly after the death of billionaire philanthropist and media financier Warren Hellman, who founded Bay Citizen in 2010 to supplement and/or replace the embattled San Francisco Chronicle. The loss of Hellman, coupled with the departure of interim editor-in-chief Steve Fainaru and founding chief executive Lisa Frazier, put the Bay Citizen in dire straits - dire enough for the board to court CIR chairman Phil Bronstein, who will now be executive chair of both companies. Today the boards of directors at both publications voted to approve the merge. Barring any objection from Attorney General Kamala Harris (who can veto any merger of two non-profit corporations), it's a done deal.

Although CIR's executive director Robert Rosenthal and Bay Citizen interim CEO Brian Kelley both touted the deal as solid life insurance for both struggling entities, many readers will deem it a Pyrrhic victory - if it's a victory, at all. Indeed, Fost speculated that the new company will retain no more than 70 employees on its projected $10.5 million budget, and will likely stop reporting on breaking news and culture, two things for which The Bay Citizen is currently renowned. If anything, the merger may portend a major bloodbath at an award-winning media outlet. At the very least, it's an unfortunate brand dissolution for The Bay Citizen.

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