The announcement that Warren Hellman is funding a new San Francisco-based nonprofit news organization is a huge shot in the arm for journalism and for the Bay Area. At the core of this new endeavor, according to key Hellman advisor Susan Hirsch, will be collaboration with news organizations large and small.  

This could not be happening in a better place or at a better time. The Bay Area historically has been a breeding ground for innovation, risk taking and creativity. There is great opportunity here to put those qualities to work to develop new, sustainable journalism models.

As Hellman recognizes, the future of journalism will rely on collaborations, something we are championing here at the Center for Investigative Reporting, and especially with our new California Watch project. We look forward to working with the new group and its partners (and longtime CIR collaborators) KQED and the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley.

The business model for  journalism has fallen apart in the last decade, a decline heightened by the recession. There are journalists throughout the country struggling to create new models that will fill the void created by downsized legacy media. Whether blogging or deploying reporting teams focused on specific communities or regions, they all need financial help.

Hellman, a substantial donor to CIR, joins other philanthropists who believe in the essential role that journalism plays in our democracy, including Buzz Wooley with the Voice of San Diego, Herb and Marion Sandler with Pro Publica, and John Thornton with the Texas Tribune.

The last decade has been brutal for those of us who have spent our careers working in traditional newsrooms, but there is now an excitement, energy and passion in these new models that reflects the start of a great new adventure. It is clear now that the Bay Area will play a big part in this. 

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Robert J. Rosenthal is the chief executive officer at The Center for Investigative Reporting. Rosenthal was the executive director of CIR from January 2008 to spring 2017. When he joined CIR, it had a staff of seven and when he left, it had a staff of nearly 70 and was recognized as one of the leading nonprofit newsrooms in the country. He is an award-winning journalist and worked for some of the most respected newspapers in the country, including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Francisco Chronicle. Rosenthal worked for 22 years at The Inquirer, starting as a reporter and eventually becoming its executive editor in 1998. He became managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle in late 2002 and left in 2007. During this time, he led the investigation into the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey. That work became known as the award-winning Chauncey Bailey Project. Before joining The Inquirer in 1979, Rosenthal worked for six years as a reporter at The Boston Globe and three and a half years at The New York Times, where he was a news assistant on the foreign desk and an editorial assistant on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Pentagon Papers project. As a reporter, Rosenthal won numerous awards, including the Overseas Press Club Award for magazine writing, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award for distinguished foreign correspondence and the National Association of Black Journalists Award for Third World reporting. He was a Pulitzer finalist in international reporting and was a Pulitzer judge four times. He has been an adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Rosenthal is also currently advising or on the board of multiple journalism nonprofits. In 2018, Rosenthal was named a fellow of the Society of Professional Journalists for his “extraordinary contribution to the profession of journalism.”