Why I Like the Bay Area News Project (but Won’t Contribute My Money)

Another not-for-profit news organization is launching soon — the Bay Area News Project. It’s a worthy and important development in a metropolitan area that’s been watching (assuming that folks are actually paying attention) the slow-motion disintegration of newspaper journalism, and I’m a big fan of the founding editor, Jonathan Weber, who’s coming back to town from his five-year sojourn in Montana.

cash.jpgBut I’m disheartened by the news that the CEO — Lisa Frazier, who as far as I can tell has had little or no experience actually managing a news operation (she’s been a consultant to some big media orgs) — is being paid $400,000. Maybe she’s worth that much in the corporate world.

But this is an exorbitant salary for a fledgling nonprofit that will never be all very big compared to the kinds of nonprofits (universities, hospitals, major NGOs, etc.) that pay salaries of this kind. (And some of them go way over the top.)

Frazier’s pay isn’t nearly as much as Paul Steiger’s princely score at another nonprofit, ProPublica, but it’s just as over-the-top in its own way.

Please understand: I support the goals of these organizations. ProPublica’s journalism to date has been praiseworthy, sometimes superb, and I have no doubt that Jonathan Weber will lead the Bay Area project to do fine work as well.

But it’s clear that the principal funders and boards of directors of both projects have tin ears about how the public correctly sees not-for-profit enterprises — as organizations that people join not to make a pile of money but because they want to make the world better in some way. I’m not saying these CEOs should work for a pittance. I am saying that their pay scales send a message they may someday regret.

My bottom line with the Bay Area project, as with ProPublica, is this: I offer my best wishes and moral support for their journalistic activities, but I won’t donate any money — because the message I get from the CEO pay is that they don’t need my money. I’ll reserve my financial support for the ones that do.

(Photo from Pennsylvania attorney general’s website)

2 thoughts on “Why I Like the Bay Area News Project (but Won’t Contribute My Money)”

  1. I think your criticism is right on the mark.

    Considering Frazier’s stated dedication to innovation, and the fact that this is a new media venture seeking to make a big impact quickly, it would be far more sensible for the Bay Area News Project to divert most of this money to hiring a few extra software developers to work on new tools that will help readers, or beef up the editorial staff in areas that are especially important to the publication’s mission of civic engagement.

  2. Dan,

    If you’re looking for a slightly more bootstrapped operation to steer your social investments toward, TucsonSentinel.com can always use a helping hand ; )

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