Bad News: Our Take on the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Merger

Center for Investigative Reporting Executive Director Robert Rosenthal last week announced that the CIR will improve the quality of its journalism by doing way less of it.

Instead of running three organizations (the CIR, California Watch, and The Bay Citizen), Rosenthal said, the organization will save staff time and money by merging California Watch and The Bay Citizen into the CIR, changing three organizations that covered local, state, and national news into a single organization that uses the same resources to cover less local, state, and national news.

Providing less local and state coverage will reduce the total amount of local and state coverage, Rosenthal acknowledged. But, he said, by “reorganizing our internal creative decision-making and production process, and doing less journalism, we can position ourselves to be the highest-impact, most innovative reporting organization we can be. So it's a win-win, only less so.”

“I'm a big believer in quality local coverage for the Bay Area,” Rosenthal added, “but only so much of it. It's like that old journalism school aphorism: 'Sunlight is the best disinfectant — in moderation.'”

The decision came after a top-to-bottom performance review of the organization managed by the chair of its board, Phil Bronstein, who has more than 20 years experience managing newspapers into decline.

“After reviewing our work for the last year,” Bronstein said, “it was clear we were holding the powerful way, way, too accountable. It was kind of embarrassing to be seen as some kind of a 'watchdog.' That's the lowest kind of dog, and it wasn't in line with our strategic goals.”

Holding politicians in the Bay Area less accountable, Bronstein said, allows the CIR to refocus its attention to the national scene, where there are thousands of other politicians it can hold less accountable.

“We are also rethinking and redesigning our entire Web presence so you can more easily engage with less of our content,” Rosenthal said. “Our social media and reader engagement strategies will set the standard for organizations that want to report less news. That's a clear trend in this industry, and we're proud to be ahead of the curve.”

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