LION member spotlight: Mission Local

By Matt DeRienzo | Jul. 1, 2015

From left to right, Beza Beneberu, intern, Claudia Escobar, videographer and contributor, Dan Hirsch, editor emeritus, Laura Wenus, reporter/editor, and Lydia Chávez, founder, editor

A Q&A with Lydia Chavez, publisher of Mission Local in California.

1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?

We were founded in 2008 as part of a hyperlocal project at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, but when new dean took over in 2013, he wanted the three community sites to cut back from year-round sites to operating for only the 30 weeks a year that students are in session.  

At that point I decided to take Mission Local independent. We've been independent since June 2014, and so far we are not sustainable, but we're still trying. Our geography is the Mission District, a rectangular slice of San Francisco with about 60,000 people, highly diverse and in the midst of rapid gentrification. It is a terrific place to cover almost any citywide issue. 

2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?

I've been a professor at Berkeley's J-School since 1990, but before that I worked as a reporter for The New York Times and other places. Since becoming a professor, I've continued to report, writing magazine pieces, a book and editing a book. I never imagined owning and running a site.

3. How would you describe your operation and business model?

We have two full-time reporters and a group of very good freelancers. Until we can develop a new platform, our business model is based on reader and business memberships. We only run advertisements for local businesses and local members. If we can keep the site up and running, I think the model will eventually work, but we would also like to do a lot more experimenting with a different platform, and that will take another level of investment and expertise. We would love to team up with a technology partner.  We view the site as a lab -- for reporting, community engagement and sustainability.  

4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?  

The San Francisco Chronicle, but we have a huge advantage being in the neighborhood.  There are also some good neighborhood blogs, and we check them every day. 

5. What makes your site unique?

We try to dig deep -- looking at citywide issues from the ground up, but also covering the day to day. We only put up reported pieces. 

6. What is something you wish you had known when you were starting out or would do differently now that could perhaps serve as advice for others? 

Anyone starting a media site should partner with a technology expert, because our traditional sites are not the future.  However, they give any team a terrific platform for figuring out the future and testing possibilities. My guess is the answer - the future of local news - is going to come from a local site, but a local site with a technology partner. 

7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?

Serving up reported content and being open to anyone who walks in the door.  

8. What do you struggle with the most?

The business side.  It actually can be interesting to work on the business side, but then news will break and we are all naturally drawn to news.  Reporting is consuming, and a lot happens here. 

9. What are some of your future goals for the site?

To find a technology partner, to continue to strengthen our engagement with the community and to grow our membership group. 

10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?

One of the first pieces of advice Lance Knobel from Berkleyside gave me was to join LION Publishers. I listen to everything Lance says. He's been a terrific help and a great model.