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Mission & State Closes Down


In a letter to Santa Barbara media, Ron Gallo, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Foundation, announced that the Mission & State experiment has ended.

You are receiving this communication because you, in some meaningful way, have been involved with the Mission & State experiment: as a member of the Advisory Committee, as a funder, as a Santa Barbara Foundation trustee or staff, as a media collaborator, and/or as a careful observer of the project. Many of you attended the public meeting held last Tuesday (July 15), and so this also serves as a response to that gathering.

There has been much said and written about Mission & State in the last two months; and I suggest that some of it has been unpleasant, some of it has been inaccurate, and some of it has been very important. It is not my intention with this letter to address the first two parts of that suggestion, but rather only the last part.

There is a larger story here, and it is about doing the right thing for the community. When the Santa Barbara Foundation learned of the push-back to its decision to award the management responsibility of the project to Noozhawk, it immediately scheduled a public meeting. Fifty-five people attended.

The meeting lasted nearly two hours, and I think there would be no disagreement that everyone was given an opportunity to say their piece. The conversation was candid, passionate and civil, and it was clear to me by the end of the interchange that the current management arrangement with Noozhawk did not have sufficient support among potential media partners for it to have a reasonable chance of widespread collaboration.

Accordingly, the Santa Barbara Foundation has decided, with the understanding of the principals of Noozhawk – who have acted honorably and with good intentions throughout – that the current management arrangement must be brought to an end. It is effective immediately (although there will be two more stories; one this week and one next week that will be published under the Mission & State banner).

Unfortunately, with this decision, the Mission & State experiment must come to an end. In an amicable discussion with the Knight Foundation yesterday morning, I learned that its clear preference is that a third iteration of Mission & State not be attempted at this time. We discussed several versions of an idea – which was raised at the public meeting – of a more streamlined (and perhaps more sustainable) model that provides a pool of dollars to an impartial board that would entertain requests from individual journalists and/or media entities to do longer-format stories of importance to the community. Knight believes that would not accomplish the aims of their challenge, which focused on developing new and innovative structural models that increase media cooperation and collaboration.

Knight doesn’t believe that we, as a community, have failed. This was a bold national challenge offered by Knight precisely because of the severe stresses on the journalism industry today. With ever-changing technology and consumer habits coupled with shrinking financial margins, it was their hope to help the industry find new ways forward. If it gives us any comfort, we are in good company. Relatively few of the Knight projects created long-term sustainable projects. Out of the 100 grants given, four have been singled out for additional funding by Knight.

This is a learning opportunity, and I think, once we catch our breath, a thoughtful postmortem is in order. Knight is hungry for “lessons learned.” So too is the Santa Barbara Foundation, and so, I am sure, are many of you.

In terms of next steps, we will be working with Knight, local donors, and Noozhawk to settle existing obligations, return (on a pro-rata basis) unused monies, and most important, commission a “white paper” on our nearly-three-year experience.

With all that said, it is time, I hope you agree, to move on. There is so much of importance that we can do together with creativity, innovation, generosity, and good will … all long-time hallmarks of this wonderful county.

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