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The site was announced in September 2009 as the Bay Area News Project and launched in May 2010 as the Bay Citizen. In March 2012, the site merged with the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting, which also ran the state news site California Watch. In 2013, CIR ceased The Bay Citizen as a brand, merging its work under the CIR banner.
The combined organization had a staff of 70 and a budget of $10.5 million in 2012. At the time of the merger, the Bay Citizen itself had a full-time staff of about 30.
Its partnership with the University of California, Berkeley, drew concern that it would exploit college students for free labor, though that arrangement was later clarified to consist of paid internships as well as a joint “test kitchen” for journalism innovation.
The Bay Citizen produced original content for The New York Times’ twice-weekly Bay Area section from 2010 to 2012, when it ended its relationship with the Times shortly after it merged with CIR. Public radio station KQED had also initially been a founding partner, though it left the project before the site launched.
The Bay Citizen received $5 million in startup funding from investment banker Warren Hellman and had raised $3.7 million more by the time of its launch. Its primary revenue source initially is intended to be large donations (including $250,000 from the Knight Foundation), though it is planned to move toward a model based on memberships, advertising and syndication to other news organizations.
The Bay Citizen offered other local sites the opportunity to post their full stories on its site for $25 each, along with occasional reporting assistance. The proposal was met largely with skepticism, though about 15 local news sites have become the Bay Citizen’s “community partners.”
In 2011, it was awarded a joint grant with the Texas Tribune to build a open-source news CMS that would be designed to support both editorial flow and to take advantage of emerging revenue opportunities.
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