This was a memo written by Dean Ed Wasserman and distributed today to the Berkeley Journalism School’s community. I have been getting calls about it and decided that it would be best to post the full memo for our readers.
For our part, we look forward to continue serving the Mission. More soon, – Lydia Chávez
Feb. 24, 2014
The Mission Local hyperlocal site has been a vibrant and valuable part of the School of Journalism since it was created five years years ago. It has developed well beyond its initial scope as an incubator for J200 students, and under Prof. Lydia Chavez’s imaginative, impeccably professional and tireless leadership has become the premier place for the community it serves to learn about itself and talk about its future.
It’s now time for Mission Local to take the next step and re-launch itself as an independent, stand-alone media operation. That means ending its role in the J-School’s curriculum. While Prof Chavez would have liked to see the school keep the site, she is ready to assume responsibility for the site, and we expect that it will continue under her ownership.
My reasons for spinning off ML are several.
First, it’s an expensive undertaking, which obliges us to operate a remote site on a year-round basis, even when the curricular value to our students is limited or even, at times, non-existent (as when we pay non-students to keep the site from going dark.)
Second, it draws students away far from North Gate at the very moment we’re bulking up and enriching the curricular and co-curricular offerings here—new required courses, more speakers, town hall meetings, reinvigorated career services, generally pumped-up intellectual life. From the perspective of Mission Local’s needs, renewed activity in North Gate is a distraction, and I think that unintentionally does our students a disservice.
Third, the natural evolution of the site itself is toward being an integrated media operation, and that requires sustained attention to marketing, audience-building, ad sales, miscellaneous revenue-generation, community outreach, special events, partnerships, and 1,001 other publishing activities that are essential to any site’s commercial success.
That’s not really what we do. Those are specialized areas, and the J-School doesn’t have the instructional capacity to teach them to a Berkeley standard of excellence. What’s more, our students wouldn’t have the curricular bandwidth to learn them—not unless we pared back other areas, and redefined our core mission as something other than journalism education.
(Let me add that as part of our larger curricular rethinking, I’m hopeful we will be introducing, and requiring, more business-side instruction than we currently offer, but ML’s needs are still of a different order of magnitude.)
Whether other changes are in the works for J200 is up in the air at the moment. The curriculum committee is in the process of considering alternative approaches to J200, and the roles of Oakland North and Richmond Confidential as teaching labs are among the matters the faculty will discuss.
Mission Local has produced dozens of loyal alums, many of them strong enthusiasts who recall their experience there with affection and gratitude. Let me assure them—and you—that as we weigh the future of J200 it’s with the intention of improving on what we’ve done in the past, and making sure the future offers opportunities here at least as rewarding and memorable as theirs have been.
Let me conclude with a word of profound thanks to Prof. Chavez. While I respect and admire her loyalty to the Mission, I very much look forward to her getting more deeply involved in the exciting work that’s going on in North Gate.