people walking on a path around the lake
Berkeleyside will launch a news site in neighboring Oakland in spring 2020. Photo: Fragmentary Evidence/Creative Commons

Berkeleyside has been providing award-winning journalism for 10 years, built with the support of a highly engaged community.

Now the organization is branching out — and evolving. Today the founders of Berkeleyside are delighted to announce that we are launching an Oakland news site in the spring of 2020. At the same time, Berkeleyside is in the process of becoming a nonprofit with a mission to deliver civic-minded local reporting more broadly.

The new venture has already received $3.1 million in backing, with $1.56 million in funding from Google News Initiative and $1.56 million from the American Journalism Project.

Although neither the new journalism site nor the nonprofit have names yet (we are working hard on this!), the Oakland platform does have an editor: Tasneem Raja.

Raja, a trailblazer in nonprofit and community-led journalism, co-founded the East Texas news site The Tyler Loop. A 2010 graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, she reported and edited stories about race, identity and culture as a senior editor on NPR’s Code Switch team; was senior editor of data journalism at Mother Jones; and was on the founding staff of Oakland North and The Bay Citizen. She lived in Oakland and Berkeley for the better part of a decade and will be returning to the East Bay in January.

“Oakland is where I relearned what it means to be a journalist, and reexamined journalism’s responsibilities in the communities we aim to serve,” said Raja. “I am honored and humbled by this opportunity to work with and learn from people who are invested in serving information needs across Oakland, holding harmful systems accountable, and reflecting the values of Oakland’s communities.”

The Oakland news site is slated to have eight editorial staffers, making it one of the largest newsrooms in the city. In addition, it will host a reporter from Report for America, a national service program that places emerging journalists in local news organizations to report on under-covered issues.

Lance Knobel, Tasneem Raja, Frances Dinkelspiel and Tracey Taylor.
The founders of Berkeleyside with the editor-in-chief of the new Oakland site. Left to right: Lance Knobel, Tasneem Raja, Frances Dinkelspiel and Tracey Taylor. Photo: Celeste Noche

Both Berkeleyside and the as-yet-unnamed Oakland site will operate independently, with each organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that delves deeply into city institutions and amplifies the voices of community stakeholders. However, the newsrooms will collaborate on topics that are larger than their respective cities, such as the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, regional transportation and more.

Berkeleyside Nosh already covers the whole East Bay food scene and its stories will appear on both sites.

The two news sites will sit under the umbrella of Berkeleyside’s new nonprofit organization, which will provide membership, sponsorship, fundraising and technical oversight. Lance Knobel, one of the co-founders of Berkeleyside, will be the CEO of the new nonprofit. A new board of directors will also help govern the organization.

“Building on what we have learned over 10 years at Berkeleyside, we intend to deliver independent, high-quality journalism to foster civic engagement, enrich people’s lives and contribute to a healthy democracy,” said Knobel.

The Google News Initiative (GNI) is providing initial funding of $1.56 million for the Oakland journalism platform. This is the GNI’s third collaboration in its Local Experiments Project, which aims to partner on new business, operational and product practices to create sustainable local news business models. Google will not have any input or influence on editorial decisions on the Oakland site. The GNI’s two other partnerships are with McClatchy in the United States — which recently launched Mahoning Matters in Youngstown, Ohio — and Archant in the United Kingdom.

The American Journalism Project (AJP), a new, nonpartisan venture philanthropy organization dedicated to local news, is providing $1.56 million in funding for business, technology and fundraising capacity for the new nonprofit umbrella organization. The AJP team will also provide close strategic support to Berkeleyside’s new nonprofit to drive the organization’s focus on revenue and sustainability. Berkeleyside is one of the first cohort of civic news organizations to receive grants from AJP.

The conversion to a nonprofit will have a beneficial impact on Berkeleyside, which will continue to serve the community as it has for 10 years, delivering trusted local reporting.

Berkeleyside currently has three main sources of revenue: advertising, events and membership. In 2018, Berkeleyside was the first news organization in the country to make a direct public offering, raising $1 million through the DPO with 350 readers becoming investors. That capital allowed Berkeleyside to invest in a mobile-first design, fund more reporting resources and buttress its membership program.

But in the past few years, local news has been plunged into a crisis. Thousands of small regional papers have shut down, leaving behind multiple news deserts. Many others, faced with a sharp decline in revenue, have laid off reporters.

However, in the belief that a robust democracy needs a robust journalism ecosystem, a number of foundations and wealthy individuals are putting their philanthropic dollars into local news. By converting to a nonprofit, Berkeleyside will be able to tap into some of these new funds. Berkeleyside is not alone in coming to this conclusion. The 148-year-old Salt Lake Tribune recently converted to a nonprofit. It’s certain to be just the first of many metro newspapers to go the same route we’ve chosen.

Learn more about our mission and Oakland launch. Have questions? Email editors@berkeleyside.com

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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76 Comments

  1. This is very welcome as the coverage of what is going on in Oakland and its City Hall is very limited. The people have a lot of questions about the way the City is being run and we are not getting answers from City Hall so I really look forward to more light being shined on Oakland.

  2. Gotta say, the “news” side of things seems to have dwindled considerably at Berkeleyside since the publication of this announcement.I hope that trend is not an omen for the new enterprise.

    Also, in these comments I’ve asked each individual of the four people featured in the article if articles under the new masthead will feature comments sections. I’ve received no response from any one of them. I wish you all the best, but my sense is you are not interested in readers like myself. While I assume your editorial strategy is based on sound research, those of us who prefer a more robust news approach don’t seem to have much to look forward to.

    Peace.

  3. The investors were asked to nullify the stock and declare it valueless. For tax purposes, declare worthless stock and take a loss. Not a great “investment” it seems…basically like buying a stock and having the value to to zero

  4. I am not an expert on non-profits but why did Berkeleyside have to convert to that model to expand to Oakland?
    What happens to the investors in the for profit model launched a few years ago?
    The most important thing for Oaklandside is to maintain the objective point of view that questions and shed light upon the often nefarious activities that pass for governance in Oakland & Berkeley.
    I agree with the bumper sticker that reads: “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.”

  5. It’s strange that calls for a supposedly wider range of perspective so often lead to a singular political viewpoint repeated over and over again without any variation. Could it really be that previously marginalized voices all have the exact same things to say and can therefore be adequately spoken for by anyone else who looks like them?

  6. Oh no!
    Code Switch is NPRs attempt to incorporate Critical Race Theory.. Is that “ideological framework”(in which perspective is assumed or valued in accordance with biological heritage) really under represented in local media?

  7. Tasneem Raja, congratulations! All the best.
    Under the new masthead, will you include an invaluable comments section feature with articles you publish, as does Berkeleyside (thank you Berkeleyside!)?

    Peace

  8. The original Express was a thing of beauty. The most intelligently designed print document I have ever seen, the fonts and layouts were so accessible and the coverage was truthful and courageous. I would never have known about Tammy Bellah without their decision to write about her mom’s book and their gutsy take-on of the Beys should have gotten some kind of prize, if such things were given for telling things others are afraid to say. Everybody else in the Bay Area “spiked” Hugh Pearson’s “Shadow of the Panther” too. I wonder if that book was ever on a single reading list at Cal. BTW if you never heard of Mr. Pearson’s other works, check them out, especially “When Harlem Nearly Killed King” another true-life tale that the cokeheads in Hollywood could make a movie about before making another garbage sequel.

  9. The corporate dimwits at Comcast are all so worried about looking “woke” they could not get it together to provide Gig fiber to ready and willing paying customers. Their customer disservice department is like a Dali painting.

  10. Is she seeking employment? She clearly has a demonstrated understanding of the impacts of race, racism, identity and system of power, has a huge following, and has some pretty impressive bylines fighting harmful systems.

    She ticks all the boxes, and would make a great addition to a newsroom committed to these values and mindful of the limits of objectivity.

  11. Had exactly the same thought! I do understand why they’d go to Oakland, though; though it’s a hot mess (like Richmond) it’s also a dynamic city with a rising economy and tons of interesting new local businesses. I’d love to see Berkeleyside partner with Richmond Confidential, share resources, boost readership and reach, etc. Perhaps it could happen now that Berkeleyside is going nonprofit, as Richmond Confidential already is. (Berkeleyside should stay away, of course, from Chevron’s Richmond Standard and Don Gosney’s Radio Free Richmond.)

  12. We will not be seeking funding from either the city of Berkeley or Oakland. The only form of revenue we might receive from either is in the form of advertising, eg if the city’s Parks & Rec department wants to promote a community event and pays for a banner ad on the site. Does that answer your question?

  13. Agreed. And a strong argument for advertising for good journalists of all stripes, not those who have “demonstrated understanding” of the progressive catechism.

  14. The EBX, the Guardian (RIP), the free weeklies across the land follow a formula that works for them:
    1. The local utlitiy is ripping us off!
    2. The local politicians are corrupt!
    3. Pot good. Law enforcement bad!
    4. Ads for nightclubs, movies, local small businesses.
    5. Sex ads (still!)
    6. Sex columnist.
    7. Sketchy back page ads.

    I am confident the Berkeleyside/Oaklandside team is waaaaaaaay better than that and we’ll have an interesting, informative site.

    BTW, how might this new project affect https://oaklandnorth.net/?

  15. The importance of having diverse voices in the newsroom is so that we look at investigate things that might have been missed without the range of perspectives in the room. On the national level, this means we have richer stories about the immigration debate including the perspectives of families that have mixed immigration statuses: legal immigrants, illegal immigrants and natives. In Oakland this could mean looking at what happened to the families and communities that were displaced in the 90s vs ones displaced now.

    There are a lot of stories that aren’t told because those voices aren’t in the newsroom. It is time to change that.

  16. Let’s hope the new enterprise in Oakland doesn’t devolve into an East Bay Express, which is unreadable. Berkeleyside is successful in large part because it maintains its objectivity in a politically charged community.

  17. Tracey Taylor, congratulations on the expansion!

    Will you continue your invaluable comments section feature with articles published under the new masthead?

  18. Myself & many others look forward to donating once the nonprofit details are finalized. Best wishes!

  19. Congratulations! This is how to plant the seeds of democracy in the news desert that is Oakland. Great work, folks!

  20. “4 out of 5 people I know who love Berkeleyside claim to “never read the comments” as it turns their stomachs.”

    You must not speak with city staff and police officers, who tell me all the time they read the comments, particularly the remarks/corrections of the “expert” residents that you seem unable to suss out.
    e.g. Isabelle for budget and finance matters.

  21. The writers at the East Bay Express have been putting out excellent investigative journalism on Oakland issues for years now.

  22. Not a donation. A capital loss. Big difference. When Lance started this whole DPO fiasco, I predicted this outcome and suggested that they go 503(c) instead. And here we are. The DPO was never going to be worthwhile as an investment. Most people who bought in knew that.

  23. Based on the progressive credentials of the chosen editor, I suspect the East Bay Express is more at risk and the target for market share than the EBT. With the Express laying off a large part of its staff in January, that would seem to be the game.

    The new editor of the Bside venture is actually speaking at a talk tomorrow questioning the “myth” of journalistic objectivity. That bodes poorly. I’m also curious to see what “holding harmful systems accountable” means and which “harmful systems” she has in mind.

    We are at a time when journalism is dying, objectivity is under assault, and trust in the media is, in turn, near zero. If journalists are looking to hold “harmful systems” accountable, fixing journalism would be a fantastic place to start. Much of that begins and ends with objectivity.

    I wish the new venture the best of luck. I truly hope the East Bay Express’s impending demise signals the beginning of the end of the activist-rag-as-news genre that has so long plagued the East Bay and has, in a truly bipartisan way, infected the nation as a whole.

  24. This is great news. I’ve been hoping, wishing for a long time that Berkeleyside would venture to Richmond, which desperately needs….well, everything. And there is so much to cover there! A progressive govt, a recalcitrant and domineering polluting oil corporation (Chevron), diversity, poverty, crime, housing issues, a progressive nascent environmental movement, etc. They would really benefit from the influx of resource and know-how from an org like Berkeleyside. I hope you can expand there next!

  25. Best wishes for your continued success!

    Once you’ve tamed the graft of Oakland you’ll be ready to drain the swamp of Albanicide.

  26. The photo instantly recalled Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece ‘… Island of La Grande Jatte’ ..

  27. As a former citizen of Berkeley who just moved to Oakland, I welcome this ~news~ wholeheartedly! Will be tweeting all my name ideas whether you like it or not 😉

  28. A question regarding conflict of interest: Will you be receiving any funding from the City of Berkeley or the City of Oakland? One of the primary values of Berkeleyside and operations like it is to shine a light on local government and policy decisions. I worry that if you are to take funding from either of Berkeley or Oakland governments it will create a direct conflict of interest to investigative journalism. Just curious how you are thinking about that and what the plan will be.

  29. EBT’s staff is significantly larger that what Oakside’s will be, if the size of B’side’s current staff (2 full-time reporters) is any indication. (Here’s EBT’s current staff list: https://www.eastbaytimes.com/contact-us) Not only does EBT have more reporters, their reporters are more experienced. The staff won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for its coverage of the Ghost Ship fire. As I say, I love B’side, but they won’t be winning Pulitzers anytime soon. EBT’s Harry Harris has been covering the Oakland Police Department for 40 years. EBT’s Thomas Peele is one of the best investigative reporters in the Bay Area. Oakside won’t be able to match such resources any time soon, if ever.

  30. We knew going in that our investment was a reach, we could lose it and Berkeleyside would be gone. The fact that Berkeleyside is still here is great and a success for us.

  31. I respectfully disagree in regards to my own personal take on the value of Berkeleyside. This comments section is an interesting window into the thoughts of a slice of Berkeley residents, but I’m drawn to it like a rubber necker at a car crash. Hard to sort the wheat from the chaf and a great fallacy (in my opinion) to consider it a representative slice of opinion around town.

    The greatest value of Berkeleyside is the journalism itself. The shining of light and exposition onto the events and happenings around town and the machinations and details of the sausage making that is our public governance. All done with the integrity, sophistication, and professionalism of true defenders of our 4th estate. I’m not sure how you’d measure your impact without all the screams coming from down here, but my guess is you’d do just fine without it. 4 out of 5 people I know who love Berkeleyside claim to “never read the comments” as it turns their stomachs.

  32. Maybe the new budget can include funding for staff to maintain a more professionally monitored comments section, more on par with the NYT model, which sets a certain bar for commenters

  33. How much of their news was essential to the populace of a large city? Berkeleyside is proof for how essential local investigative reporting is. This is going to be huge for Oakland and there are plenty of businesses who could benefit by advertising as well as other opportunities to generate support for a non-profit.

  34. Congratulations on your expansion!

    Will you continue your invaluable comments section feature with articles published under the new masthead?

  35. So the “investment” turned into a donation when you converted to a nonprofit? Disappointing. I was hoping to see an investor-backed news model succeed on a local level.

  36. Concerned yet optimistic. It’s no small achievement to build a trusted news site while new media brands evaporated over a billion dollars of investment capital this past decade.
    Mic, which raised more than $60 million, sold for less than $5 million late last year.
    Mashable, which was valued at about $250 million in 2016, sold for less than $50 million in 2017.
    The properties formerly known as Gawker Media, plus the Onion and other sites, just sold for a price that’s likely well below $50 million; Univision, the TV conglomerate which sold them off, had paid $135 million for the Gawker sites alone in 2016.
    We don’t (yet) know the value that Comcast, which put a collective $600 million into Vox Media (which owns this site), and BuzzFeed over the past few years, now thinks those two publishers are worth. But it’s a reasonable bet that Comcast thinks they are worth less than it thought in 2015…
    Disney told investors Wednesday it had wiped out $353 million of the money it had previously put into Vice.

  37. It all sounds promising. Congratulations.
    I would only add by pointing out you just exercised one of the most valuable features of Berkeleyside. You posted in the comments section. Will the new yet unnamed enterprise continue the invaluable element of comment sections following the articles? To this reader, extending your footprint on the journalism landscape while discontinuing this feature would undermine the broader cause of journalism.

    All the best in your new enterprise!

    Peace

  38. Great news and glad to hear you are branching out into covering Oakland news. With so much going on in the city next door Oakland sorely needs this kind of journalism as well. What does this mean for the value of the DPO shares readers bought last year? Will Berkeleyside offer more shares again for new investors?

  39. I love Berkeleyside, but I really, really hope your Oakland startup doesn’t damage the Eastbay Times. The newspaper has done some fantastic reporting in the past few years, notably its brilliant coverage of the Ghost Ship disaster and its aftermath. I know your revenue comes from memberships, but will you be attempting to cannibalize print ads from the Eastbay Times? I certainly hope not.

  40. Berkeleyside’s shareholders are consenting to the conversion. Their shares will be a capital loss, unfortunately. The common shares of the three founders will also be zeroed out. You’re right that a nonprofit doesn’t have shareholders.

  41. Switching to a non-profit raises many concerns. What about the 350 “investors”? More importantly, operating as a nonprofit carries the danger of falling victim to political infighting caused by various factions seeking control, a prime example being KPFA.