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Bay Citizen, a nonprofit news project, launches

With $5 million from Wells Fargo heir F. Warren Hellman and $3.7 million from other donors, The Bay Citizen launched its website today. It carried stories about the region’s worst global warmers, the battle in Oakland over restraining orders aimed at gangs, the low property tax bills of some of San Francisco’s richest residents, and the Chinese exodus from San Francisco.

In sports, the Citizen reports that the Warriors got eight bids, some topping $400 million, but not Larry Ellison’s. The Citizen also has sections on the arts and opinion. The environment appears to be a major focus.

CEO Lisa Frazier said in an introductory blog post:

The Citizen has 24 paid staffers including a newsroom of 16 led by Jonathan Weber, co-founder of The Industry Standard and a former LA Times staff writer.

The nonprofit plans to go beyond a website and eventually offer news through podcasts, radio and TV.

The New York Times used some of the Citizen’s stories on its website today, and more are expected to be published in the Times’ Bay Area Section. A partnership with the Times has given the Citizen “instant credibility,” the Chicago Reader remarked in a story about the Citizen’s launch. But the Reader quotes David Greising, head a similar nonprofit news cooperative in Chicago, as saying:

Greising predicts that the Bay Citizen staff is in for “considerable discussion with their clients in New York.”

Steven T. Jones, writing in the Bay Guardian, said he’s heard some detractors in the local media grumble that the Citizen’s presentation seemed “banal” and unworthy of their big budget.

“I don’t agree,” Jones writes, “Personally, I think The Bay Citizen strikes the right tone and balance, emphasizing solid journalism rather than flashy gimmicks, while also drawing on multimedia tools such as the video of yesterday’s protests against President Obama’s visit to SF.”

On the eve of its launch, the Citizen announced that it had obtained $3.7 million in donations to supplement the $5 million in seed money from Hellman. The new money (actually some of it dates back to February, but wasn’t revealed until now, according to the Business Times) came from the Don Fisher family, the Knight Foundation, Jeff and Laurie Ubben, Diane Wilsey, the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, Arthur Rock, Lynn Feintech and Anthony Bernhardt, and the San Francisco Foundation.

The Citizen said it has also raised $65,000 from more than 750 people who paid $50 or more to become founding members.

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