Come next week, there will be a new voice in Santa Barbara’s journalism market.
Mission and State, a nonprofit news website that’s been in the works for more than a year, will consist mostly of in-depth, long-form stories about the Santa Barbara area and its residents.
Joe Donnelly, Mission and State’s executive editor, told the Business Times the site will be up and running by the first week of June. “Here’s a very intelligent community, a very active community, one that cares about events and politics,” Donnelly said of Santa Barbara. “It feels like a good place to experiment with how to do Web-based journalism.”
The project was originally called the Santa Barbara Journalism Initiative, and it was conceived as a complement to local daily news — the idea was, and still is, that there’s room for investigative narrative journalism that delves deeper into goings on about town. In an article from October 2012, the Columbia Journalism Review called the initiative “a sort of locally-based ProPublica”.
The project is the brainchild of a group of reporters, journalism professors and other community members who recognized a dearth of narrative reporting in the region. That group applied for a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and received $500,000 late last year as part of the Knight Community Information Challenge, which encourages community foundations to support news projects that involve residents of the region. The half-million dollars is a matching grant; the other half was provided by The Santa Barbara Foundation, the Fund for Santa Barbara, the James S. Bower Foundation, and the McCune Foundation.
Mission and State is operating under the umbrella of the Miller McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy, another nonprofit in Santa Barbara.
McCune Foundation Executive Director Claudia Armann told the Business Times her nonprofit supports the ideals of Mission and State (the McCune Foundation is a separate entity from the Miller McCune Center; the foundation is involved in Mission and State to the extent that it made a grant to the project). “In our community, some of the critical issues often take a lot of research and analysis to get hands around the root causes,” Armann said. “Nowadays, journalists at some of the mainstream papers maybe don’t have time to do that. At Mission and State, they’ll examine some of the critical issues and shine a light on them.”
Once the initiative received funding, it tapped Donnelly as its editor. He was a senior editor at LA Weekly before he co-founded a journalism website called Slake Los Angeles, which he describes as an experiment in longform storytelling. “There were a lot of things that were attractive to me [about leading Mission and State],” Donnelly said. “I’ve worked in communities like this before, destination towns, where there’s kind of a duality between the actual destination and how it runs and who keeps the wheels turning. I find that there are a lot of interesting stories.”
Another aspect that’s unique about to the journalism project is that the funding is already in place, something that allows its staff to concentrate on journalism, Donnelly said. “The expectation is that so long as we’re successful in the first two years of the Knight Grant that we’ll be able to perpetuate it with community support beyond that,” Steven Ainsley, a former Santa Barbara News-Press publisher who chaired the initiative’s advisory committee and led the search for an executive editor, told the Columbia Journalism Review last year.
Mission and State operates out of an office in Goleta, with Donnelly leading a team of four staffers. The team includes Yvette Cabrera, a Santa Barbara native and former columnist and investigative reporter for the Orange County Register; Sam Slovick, a Pulitzer-nominated journalist and documentary filmmaker; Phuong-Cac Nguyen, a journalist and filmmaker who’s spent the last decade working for a branding agency in Brazil; and Alex Kacik, who has written for Santa Barbara daily news website Noozhawk and the Pacific Coast Business Times.
Donnelly said Mission and State isn’t competing with other journalism entities in Santa Barbara, as it isn’t focused on daily or breaking news.
“What we have to offer are richer, longer, textured things,” Donnelly said, adding that pieces on the website will range from sophisticated, in-depth stories to fun and lighthearted content. “We have to find our niche in the landscape. We’re going to go for something entirely different.”