Turnkey Nonprofit News Opportunity after En Masse Resignation

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Oakland Local folks meet at The Trappist, George Kelly

June 1, 2015;East Bay Express

Oakland Local, a small nonprofit news operation in the Bay Area “committed to covering Oakland’s neighborhoods, people, news, arts, culture and innovation” whose “mission is to create deeper ties to Oakland’s diverse perspectives by telling stories, shining light on key issues and being a catalyst for community” announced on Monday that it would suspend publication starting June 15th after its entire leadership team—editor and publisher Susan Mernit, associate publisher Margaret Lucas, and managing editor LaToya Tooles—resigned.

Mernit writes that she informed the board three months ago that it was her intention to step down: “[Running Oakland Local] is a rewarding task, one with huge value to so many people in our city, but one the current team is ready to move on from.” She is also executive director to another organization, Hack the Hood, and she could not do what was required for both.

Included in Mernit’s post was the link to an RFP that essentially seems to have put the entire operation out to bid. That Request for Proposal is Exhibit 1 in one of the more unusual executive transitions we have ever seen.

In explaining the public announcement that the publication is open to new management, Mernit said:

“The alternative to putting up an announcement like this would be to have a lot of extensive private conversations with people…but we’ve always been such a crowd-sourced community organization that it seemed more efficient to put the word out and then let people come to us.”

Nonprofit news operations are, as a field, still very much experimenting with what a sustainable business model would require in terms of a resource mix. That experimentation, as we have said previously, requires capital and enormous focused persistence. This project—Oakland Local is a project of the Center for Media Change— has among the smallest budgets we have ever seen in a nonprofit news site, and that may act as a deterrent to some, but it clearly has some significant assets: a beautiful website, a dedicated readership, and maybe even a few of its editorial staff.

“Many sites have suspended publication for a few weeks to a month without any penalty,” Mernit told KQED, a news associate of Oakland Local. “We did it last September when we redesigned the site. I don’t think this necessarily means it’s shutting down, but part of that is really contingent on the response of the community.”—Ruth McCambridge