Cityside Journalism Initiative, the nonprofit home to Berkeleyside, Oaklandside and soon-to-come Richmondside, is delighted to announce several key hires that will contribute to our nonprofit news organization’s growth and sustainability.
Erica Kesel, who joined the team as senior director of development this month, will be responsible for fundraising from individual donors and grantmaking foundations. Kesel was most recently National Campaign Director at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, where she deepened donors’ connection to The Hotline’s mission and opened important new revenue opportunities for the organization.
“We’re thrilled to have Erica join the leadership team at Cityside,” said Cityside CEO Lance Knobel. “We’ve had some wonderful support over the years from both local donors and foundations, and we believe with Erica’s help we’ll be able to expand that and do more to deliver on our mission of providing vital local journalism to our communities.”
“When you love a place and also want to help move the needle on addressing the very real challenges it faces, it can be hard to know how to get involved in a meaningful way,” said Kesel, who lives with her family in the East Bay. “I think local journalism provides a uniquely effective opportunity. Every dollar invested in Cityside’s mission impacts the cities we serve in powerful ways by building ties between residents and their broader community.”
Investing in people and operations
In October, Cityside welcomed Sarah Lee on board as its first Director of People Operations. Lee, who lives in Oakland, was most recently Director of Human Resources at Aloha United Way in Hawaii, where she hired a team of more than 60 staff to manage the state rental program at the height of the pandemic, and created new systems for employee development and equitable practices.
Tasneem Raja, Cityside’s Chief Strategy Officer, said adding Lee to the team was critical to Cityside’s success. “To be successful in the long run, we have to produce journalism that matters to people and makes their communities healthier. We have to convince lots of people and organizations to support that journalism. And — crucially — we have to build an organization where journalists and other professionals can do their best work. That means we have to invest in our people and operations, and hiring Sarah is a big step toward that goal.”
“I’m excited to work for an organization that aligns with my values and prioritizes the wellbeing of its people,” said Lee. “The team at Cityside is incredibly talented and thoughtful, and I look forward to supporting the work that it does for our communities.”
Cityside is grateful to the American Journalism Project for recognizing how important this role is to the sustainability of an organization and for providing funding for this position.
Bolstering Cityside’s sponsorship team
In August, Cityside’s two-person strong sponsorship team was bolstered with the addition of Lori Lieneke, who joined Cityside as Director of Advertising Sales. Before joining Cityside, Lieneke worked as Advertising Director and held senior account roles for Oakland Magazine, East Bay magazine and East Bay Express.
“Local sponsorship and advertising make up about 25% of Cityside’s revenue, and, as the organization is continuing to grow, it was clearly time to add to our small but mighty sponsorship team,” said Cityside’s VP of Client Partnerships, Colleen Leary. “The business communities in Berkeley, Oakland and the surrounding areas are incredible, and we’re excited to have been able to bring Lori and her expertise on board to work with those great partners.”
Said Lieneke: “I’m thrilled to be part of the Cityside team and to be able to connect businesses with the readers of Berkeleyside, Oaklandside and Richmondside to support credible, local independent journalism in the East Bay.”
Prioritizing community-led journalism
Last but not least, Jacob Simas, who joined Cityside in April 2020 as Managing Editor of The Oaklandside, which launched two months later, has been promoted to Cityside’s Community Journalism Director.
Once Simas takes up the role full-time in January 2024, he will lead on partnering with diverse people and organizations in Cityside’s coverage areas to learn about gaps in local information needs; produce and facilitate journalism projects that directly respond to those needs; and identify new funding sources aligned to that work. Meanwhile, he has already been working on the launch of Cityside’s third nonprofit local newsroom, Richmondside, which will launch in spring 2024 to serve the community of Richmond.
“I can’t think of anyone better to step into this important and exciting new role at Cityside,” said Tracey Taylor, Cityside’s Chief Content Officer. “We created the position because Cityside is committed to ensuring that our growth strategy is equitable, creative and driven by community information needs. You only need to look at the journalism being produced every day at Oaklandside to see how Jacob has demonstrated the power of partnerships and community listening. I’m really looking forward to seeing his expertise applied to the whole organization.”
“As an Oakland resident, having a hand in building a local newsroom for the city over these past few years has been a tremendous privilege,” said Simas. “It’s also been a daily exercise in collective thinking about how to best provide local journalism that’s both truly helpful and reflective of the lived experiences of the many communities we cover and report for. Listening to people’s needs and partnering with community groups and organizations outside of our own have been key to this work. I could not be more excited to help bring similar opportunities now to all of Cityside’s newsrooms, starting with our newest in Richmond.”
As the landscape for local news nationally continues to be precarious, Cityside, now heading into its fourth year, remains optimistic about the future. Cityside is a leader in a growing cohort of nonprofit news outlets nationwide that are defying the trend of decline in local news. Cityside’s investment in sustainability roles plays a significant role in enabling that growth. As does the tremendous support Cityside receives from within the communities it serves, including from local sponsors, foundations and institutions that believe in the power of local news. And Cityside has ambitions to do even more for its communities, as well as for new ones in the future, enabling those funders to have an even greater impact.
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