UC Berkeley drops hyperlocal news website Mission Local


A memo released today revealed a striking split that could affect media coverage in the Mission district: hyperlocal news site Mission Local is being dropped by its main fiscal sponsor, the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

“It’s now time for Mission Local to take the next step and re-launch itself as an independent, stand-alone media operation,” J-School Dean Edward Wasserman wrote in a department-wide memo. “That means ending its role in the J-School’s curriculum.”

The website is one of a trio of hyperlocal news websites run by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, including Oakland North and Richmond Confidential. It is still unclear if the other websites will be affected as well, though the memo says they will be the center of future discussion among faculty. 

Mission Local is a journalism lab for the UC Berkeley graduate students, covering everything in the Mission District from the Tamale Lady to the eye-rolling of Google public relations employees. They’re popular in the neighborhood, and even present the website in a Spanish-language format. 

The UC Berkeley graduate students serve as the site’s reporters and a little bit of everything else, from advertising and sales to audience-building. That was a problem, Wasserman wrote.

“That’s not really what we do,” he wrote. “Those are specialized areas, and the J-School doesn’t have the instructional capacity to teach them to a Berkeley standard of excellence.”

But the main issue seems to be cost. “It’s an expensive undertaking,” he wrote. The sites were initially funded with grants from the Ford Foundation, but UC Berkeley started picking up the tab when they ran out, among other fundraising avenues. Wasserman was also concerned that working for a hyperlocal newspaper away from campus pulls students away from campus activities. 

The PDF above is the memo sent to students and faculty of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism department concerning Mission Local.

Lydia Chavez, a professor at the J-School and the head of Mission Local told the Guardian she disagreed with Wasserman’s decision. 

“To be clear, I would have preferred to have Mission Local and the other hyper locals at the core of the school’s curriculum,” she said. 

But tales of Mission Local’s demise would be exaggerated.  

Chavez, a reporter who’s written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, op-ed pieces in the San Francisco Examiner and more, isn’t willing to walk away from Mission Local despite the challenges. 

The journalism bug, it seems, bit her hard.

“The Mission is now ground zero for so much that is happening in the city and the country that if I walked away from it now, it would be like walking away from a terrific story,” she wrote to the Guardian in an email.

“Mission Local will remain alive and innovative,” she wrote.

We’ll follow up with this story as it develops, and are planning a look into the state of hyperlocal journalism in San Francisco. Look for it in next week’s print edition of the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

The memo in full: 

J-School Community:

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. 

Edward Wasserman, Dean 


as well as reporting on it from the secluded privileged vantage point of an academic haven.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2014 @ 6:46 pm

Now can ML flourish, given that it is freed from it's ideological umbilical cord?

I think so.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 8:19 am

Good! Finally! I was wondering why MissionLocal was connected with UC Berkeley in the first place! That made no sense to me.

I lost all respect for that publication a few weeks ago during that Clarion Alley Artists/Tech Shuttle Art Contest disaster. What a major mess! At that time, Ms Chávez claimed ignorance of copyright laws. How could anyone running a website---especially from UC-Berkeley---not know about basic copyright laws? Ignorance is not an excuse.

MissionLocal under corporatist and pro-tech Lydia Chávez shouldn't have any trouble becoming "independent." All she'll have to do is to contact her techie friends and get some big funding from the tech companies. Then she can continue to serve as a shill and hack for the tech companies and her preferred continued gentrification of the Mission by tech, since that's essentially what she does (although she tries to hide it to a degree).

And I guess her obnoxious, conservative resident troll, John, will remain there rushing to her defense at every opportunity. I think John is also on this site as one of the right-wing trolls who use the "Guest" handle.

A very wise move on the part of Edward Wasserman, Dean. Muchas Gracias.

I have to wonder, did that Tech Shuttle Art Contest disaster possibly cause this?

Posted by Miguel on Feb. 25, 2014 @ 8:11 pm

Asserting copyright on photos of street scenes is problematic.

I almost want to do a coffee table book documenting all public art that asserts copyright.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 25, 2014 @ 9:18 pm

about this article. Notice its similarity to his Mission Local comment:

February 25, 2014 at 5:58 pm

We all at some point in our maturation have to evolve from the sheltered world of academia to a harsher, competitive reality where we must survive and flourish by our wits and our ability to add value.

I think this an exciting and positive migration, and I wish you well with it. Welcome to the real world.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2014 @ 10:36 pm

And you sound like that asshole, "landline", that's always whining about "John".

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2014 @ 11:16 pm

populated by a handful of obsessive conservative trolls posting under multiple names in an attempt to misrepresent their puny numbers and upset ordinary folks.
Epic fail.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2014 @ 11:34 pm

post endlessly here, you mean?

Someone confident in his views welcomes criticism. He doesn't dismiss it as trolling, nor gets bitter every time he loses a debate.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 9:13 am

The majority of comments I see here are from conservatrolls using sock-puppetry in a blatant effort to skew online discussion on this site and throttle any sort of sensible debate. And every time their viewpoints get criticized they resort to lame trolling and personal attacks. Typical right-wing hypocrisy.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 10:12 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 10:20 am

and their comments which begin "So..." and pretend to describe the thoughts of their targets are always gross misrepresentations: that is one of the tricks of trolls. The trolls also refuse to acknowledge when the falsity of their rhetoric has been revealed; and when their arguments have been answered; and when their lies have been exposed.

Repeat... repeat... repeat... it never ends. But one thing I'd disagree with the above Guest relates to the likliehood that this behavior is of a small number of trolls who use multiple identities. This might or might not be true.

From my recent experiences on a winger website playing the part of a "troll"* I have come to realize that the programming offered there is quite capable of generating hordes of the sort of pattern-thinkers that infect SFBG.com.

*I am not a troll because employ none of the tactics mentioned above, nor any of the other troll ploys which are common here. The winger trolls have in the past claimed that they are called trolls simply for disagreeing, but that is just more projection. The reverse is true.

*lillipublicans: real or imposter? The troll knows.

Posted by lillipublicans* on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 11:11 am

I suppose you could argue that means you know it when you see it, but calling anyone who disagrees with you a "troll" just makes it look like you have no cogent argument to refute a detractor and so quickly resort to calling them names.

You tried that tactic with your dumb troll barrier armada and SFBG shut that down as well. Do you ever learn? You're the biggest troll around.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 11:21 am

trolls exploited the comment flagging system. These types of systems favor those who have the lowest morals and zero intellectual integrity because of the way they function.

Multiple "flags"--reports that a comment is in some violation of the terms of service--in the presence of URLs or certain keywords such as which might be used by a racist or ad hominem attacker, would result in comments being removed.

In my case the keywords and such had completely decent and justifiable uses and my links were not spam but resources which backed-up my statements; but such facts don't affect the function of the automated censorship system.

Too many removed comments over time resulted in my account being blocked--incidentally in the most ridiculously insulting manner possible, wherein my comments were visible only to me when I was logged in but were shown to anyone else as a generic message which went something like "this comment has been left by someone who has been banned from SFGate."

Did SFGate mean to insult me by the manner in which my account was blocked? My comments were generally thoughtful and informed and they always got responses and votes (one way or another), so the absence of such made the change immediately obvious.

My assessement remains fixed that such comment systems are engineered to promote right wing rhetoric and tamp-down on opposing viewpoints of the sort which might contradict the Chronicle's corporatist editorial stance.

Posted by lillipublicans on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 11:55 am

demonstrated the same intolerance and extremism there that you do here. You admit to trolling elsewhere and you seem obsessed with trolling here.

The real problem is that you are not a very skilled debater and so you have to generate noise around "trolling" and other diversions to try and deflect attention away from the weakness of your arguments.

Anyone who obsesses as much as you do, and who demands full free speech at SFGate while tolerating none here, deserves all the ridicule that they get, and then some.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 12:14 pm

Holy shit are you full of yourself Lilli. SFGate blocks everyone the same way. Once a person's account is blocked, all their comments are removed for everyone to see. That message pops up for everyone, not just you. You really think that you're so important that the editors at SFGate made up a whole new way of closing accounts just for you??? Psst. You're not that important. To even think that they did shows how much of a self-important ass you are.

And I remember your account. You consistently insulted people who disagreed with you. THAT'S why you got banned. Not because people were manipulating the flag system. People were flagging you because you were being a pompous horse's ass. Just like you are on here.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 4:00 pm
Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 4:47 pm

"Canadian researchers have confirmed what most people suspected all along: that internet trolls are archetypal Machiavellian sadists.

In a survey conducted by the group of psychologists, people who partake in so-called trolling online showed signs of sadism, psychopathy, and were Machiavellian in their manipulation of others and their disregard for morality.

The researchers defined online trolling as “the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet” for no purpose other than their pleasure."


Research would also show that most people who become landlords are generally psychopaths as well, or at least craven sociopaths.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 11:11 am

likely to attract the very best minds and resources.


Hey, if you're losing a debate, accept it and move on. Endlessly whining "troll" just makes it even more obvious that you are defeated.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 11:22 am

You're an expert on research that doesn't exist?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 11:30 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 8:05 am

innovation. While you were engaged in a kneejerk whining and railing against success, ML was seeking to bridge the gap through art and communication.

Oh, and the copyright issue was a total red herring - there is no reasonable expectaion of privacy when you display your "art" in a public place.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 8:07 am

why would ML produce so many articles on gentrification, housing and the tech shuttles at all? The fact that they do recognizes such things as a newsworthy problem, whereas a conservative media would brush them all under the rug.

Miguel is the one coming across as extremist and biased here, and not ML.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 9:15 am

"why would ML produce so many articles on gentrification, housing and the tech shuttles at all?"

What a stupid question. Because, as Miguel wrote, ML supports tech gentrification in the Mission so of course they would write about it. Duh. Are you really that damn dense? I've noticed that from them too, Stupid One. They write about and cheer-lead for tech. They like what's happening. And you, troll John, serve as a cheerleader for it too in the smug, willfully-ignorant and arrogant reams of useless posts that you diarrhea all over ML on a daily basis.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 9:57 pm

They report things for and against, as of course any balanced media should/

You only think ML is biased pro-tech because you are so irrationally against tech that anything not hateful and envious strikes you as pro-tech.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 27, 2014 @ 7:43 am

"Oh, and the copyright issue was a total red herring - there is no reasonable expectaion [sic] of privacy when you display your "art" in a public place."

Not true.

Real artists paint on buildings and yes those artists own the copyright in the art.
April 19, 2013

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 9:47 pm

The images were of an entire streetscape which included elements of some "art" that an artist left there.

If only that art were represented and passed off as origonal, you might have a point. not otherwise.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 27, 2014 @ 7:45 am

I understand why UC dropped them. Now maybe Mission Local can actually focus more on real investigative journalism. This type of critical thinking reporting seemed to be sparse in Mission Local though Lydia knows and states that "The Mission is now ground zero for so much that is happening in the city and the country". Maybe she will encourage her reporters to look into those issues that are having deep impacts on the community instead of holding a contest to help market those negative changes, as with the 'Google Bus' decoration contest. Going after the lowest hanging fruit and the easiest stories does not demonstrate a strong graduate journalism program. In depth reporting does. I hope that this will be the new direction of the publication. There is no shortage of stories about the decimation of the Mission community. Maybe instead of short few paragraphs, Mission Local could honor the intelligence of their readers and more write pieces that explore the complexities of the issues we are facing as a community and a city.

Posted by Johnny on the Spot on Feb. 27, 2014 @ 8:56 am

it to further your own personal political ideology?

How enlightened of you. Not.

ML should strive for journalistic excellence and dispassionate objectivity, presenting both sides of the debate. Balance, not bias.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 27, 2014 @ 9:13 am

And "journalistic excellence" does not mean blankly giving both sides of a story when one side is habitually making up facts. That is the sort of debased journalism that is hurting America.

Posted by lillipublicans on Feb. 28, 2014 @ 11:03 am

Do you ever read what you write before you hit enter?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 28, 2014 @ 11:16 am

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