The Bay Citizen makes a strong debut

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The Bay Citizen, a well-funded newsroom that is the most anticipated of several new media experiments in San Francisco, officially launched today with some solid, interesting stories that include an investigation of toxic pesticides being illegally applied to local marijuana crops and a look at how Prop. 13 has obscenely benefited the wealthiest San Francisco residents.

The organization also announced today that it has raised an additional $3.5 million in donations to supplement the $5 million in seed money that local investment banker Warren Hellman provided to the start-up. Meanwhile, another new media start-up that we profiled this week, SF Streetsblog – one of The Bay Citizen's many local partners -- has issued a fundraising plea for $50,000 that it needs by July 1 to continue its award-winning coverage of local transportation issues.

But today is a day for The Bay Citizen to bask in its initial success, which it will do tonight starting at 7:30 with a launch party at the Great American Music Hall. And then tomorrow, once the hoopla is over and the stories that have been in development for weeks or months are replaced by fresh content, San Franciscans will begin to learn whether The Bay Citizen represents a new journalistic powerhouse or just a well-funded website with some powerful friends.

I've heard some detractors in the local media grumble that their presentation seems “banal” and unworthy of their big budget, but I don't agree. Personally, I think The Bay Citizen strikes the right tone and balance, emphasizing solid journalism rather than flashy gimmicks, while also drawing on multimedia tools such as the video of yesterday's protests against President Obama's visit to SF.

San Francisco needs relevant, well-presented, serious journalism more than the snarky, juvenile stories we see in design-heavy local start-ups such as The Bold Italic, where The Bay Citizen's culture writer came from, or the often out-of-touch, sneering, or self-important stories that we see in corporate-run papers like SF Weekly, San Francisco Chronicle, and San Francisco Examiner.

Instead, our first peek at The Bay Citizen seems to show that it might just be up to the important task of providing relevant content for the New York Times' twice-weekly Bay Area section – which has also demonstrated a tin ear for San Francisco values since it launched last year – providing an important new forum for those who believe in speaking truth to power.