Media future

Santa Barbara news startup Mission & State to shut down*

Mission & State coverage of a Santa Barbara protest in January.

* Edited post

Mission & State, the two-year-old investigative reporting startup, is being closed down by the Santa Barbara Foundation with the support of major funder the Knight Foundation. It sounds as if the closure comes after a period of local acrimony about management of the news outlet. This note from Ronald V. Gallo, the CEO of the Santa Barbara Foundation, was published late last night on the Santa Barbara news website Noozhawk, whch had recently taken over management of Mission & State.

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

There has been much said and written about Mission & State in the last two months; and I suggest that some of it has been unpleasant, some of it has been inaccurate, and some of it has been very important. It is not my intention with this letter to address the first two parts of that suggestion, but rather only the last part.

There is a larger story here, and it is about doing the right thing for the community. When the Santa Barbara Foundation learned of the push-back to its decision to award the management responsibility of the project to Noozhawk, it immediately scheduled a public meeting. Fifty-five people attended.

The July 15 meeting lasted nearly two hours, and I think there would be no disagreement that everyone was given an opportunity to say their piece. The conversation was candid, passionate and civil, and it was clear to me by the end of the interchange that the current management arrangement with Noozhawk did not have sufficient support among potential media partners for it to have a reasonable chance of widespread collaboration.

Accordingly, the Santa Barbara Foundation has decided, with the understanding of the principals of Noozhawk — who have acted honorably and with good intentions throughout — that the current management arrangement must be brought to an end. It is effective immediately (although there will be two more stories; one this week and one next week that will be published under the Mission & State banner).

Unfortunately, with this decision, the Mission & State experiment must come to an end. In an amicable discussion with the Knight Foundation on July 21, I learned that its clear preference is that a third iteration of Mission & State not be attempted at this time. We discussed several versions of an idea — which was raised at the public meeting — of a more streamlined (and perhaps more sustainable) model that provides a pool of dollars to an impartial board that would entertain requests from individual journalists and/or media entities to do longer-format stories of importance to the community. The Knight Foundation believes that would not accomplish the aims of its challenge, which focused on developing new and innovative structural models that increase media cooperation and collaboration.

There is more -- go read the letter. It's also published at the Santa Barbara Independent. A competing outlet, Pacific Coast Business Times, wrote last week that the arrangement with Noozhawk was controversial among other news outlets in the Santa Barbara area. Excerpt:

The meeting was held at the offices of the Santa Barbara Foundation, which awarded a one-year contract to Noozhawk, an online publication, to manage Mission & State. News organizations including the Santa Barbara Independent, the Santa Maria Times and its affiliated publications, Casa Magazine, Edhat and the Pacific Coast Business Times have written to the foundation objecting to the arrangement.

During the meeting, Santa Barbara Foundation President Ron Gallo said he decided to select a “radical option” because Mission and State “didn’t work as the vision we had put together.” The initial management and news operations funding to Noozhawk was $67,000, Gallo said.

However, he said he was surprised by the negative response to the Noozhawk deal from competing organizations. “It never occurred to us that this would be the reaction,” Gallo said.

In that story, former Santa Barbara News-Press editor Jerry Roberts said he thought the Noozhawk contract was a risk worth taking. A year ago, Roberts pledged to donate $50,000 to Mission & State from his settlement over the trashing of his reputation by News-Press tyrant Wendy McCaw. Roberts is on the advisory board of Mission & State.

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