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Bay Citizen CEO: Finances Remain Strong After Founder's Death

Before he died, Warren Hellman helped the news organization raise $17.5 million

The Bay Citizen remains strong financially and will continue to produce innovative journalism for its website and the Bay Area pages of The New York Times following the death Sunday of the organization’s founder, Warren Hellman, according to President and CEO Lisa Frazier.

Hellman contributed $6 million out of $17.5 million The Bay Citizen raised in its first two years and was the catalyst behind several major donations.

“Like Warren’s other civic ventures, The Bay Citizen was founded to solve an important community problem: the need for an informed democracy,” Frazier said in a statement. “For almost three years, he dedicated himself to building the local journalism model of the future. As a result, The Bay Citizen is in strong financial position to pursue his vision and serve the Bay Area for years to come.”

The extent of the Hellman family's financial commitment to The Bay Citizen after Hellman's death remains unclear. Hellman had conversations about providing additional financial assistance as recently as two weeks ago, according to Susan Hirsch, an adviser to the Hellman Family Foundation and a member of The Bay Citizen's Board of Directors. 

His deteriorating condition made it impossible to complete those plans, Hirsch said. Hellman's family shares his desire to continue supporting The Bay Citizen, but it is too early to say what form that support will take, she said. In lieu of flowers, Hellman's children requested that donations go to the San Francisco Free Clinic (sffc.org), The Bay Citizen (baycitizen.org) and the San Francisco School Alliance (sfschoolalliance.org).

"There is interest among the family that The Bay Citizen continues and continues to be successful," Hirsch said.

Frazier said Hellman considered The Bay Citizen part of his legacy. In 2009, Hellman contributed $5 million to start The Bay Citizen as an independent, non-profit news organization because he was concerned about the quality of Bay Area journalism following widespread job losses in the newspaper industry.

Hellman’s death is the latest major development at the top of The Bay Citizen in recent months. The organization's first editor-in-chief, Jonathan Weber, left in September to take a job as the West Coast bureau chief for Reuters, a news agency. Frazier, the first CEO, announced in October that she would be stepping down early next year.

Hellman co-chaired The Bay Citizen’s Board of Directors with Jeff Ubben, the founder and CEO of San Francisco-based ValueAct Capital, an investment firm. Company by-laws stipulate that the Hellman Family Foundation retains the permanent right to appoint one seat on The Bay Citizen board. That seat is currently occupied by Hellman and will likely be filled by his replacement as head of the foundation, Frazier said.  

Ubben is leading the search for Frazier’s replacement and is expected to continue as Bay Citizen chairman.

"From the first meeting in my office with Warren and Lisa, I have been excited to be part of The Bay Citizen and the future of journalism," Ubben said in a statement. "My fellow board members and I are committed to supporting The Bay Citizen and ensuring that the success the organization has achieved under Warren's leadership continues in the future. We will miss Warren. Our thoughts are with the Hellman family at this time."

With about two dozen full- and part-time editorial employees, The Bay Citizen produces local news and cultural coverage that appears on baycitizen.org and in the twice-weekly Bay Area pages of The New York Times.

The organization is one of the most well funded of several new nonprofit news organizations in the country. Earlier this month, the board approved a $6.2 million budget for next year that includes several new hires in the editorial, technology and business departments, bringing the number of employees to about 40. 

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