Tumber is the author of “Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World.” She holds a Ph.D. and a master’s degree from the University of Rochester as well as a bachelor’s in social thought and political economy from UMass Amherst. Our conversation is about a recent report that she co-authored for the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy called “Greening America’s Smaller Cities.” She, along with Joseph Schilling and Gabi Velasco, offer a wealth of suggestions about how industrial legacy cities can be part of the climate solution. Our question to Cathy: How does the lack of reliable news and information in many of these cities contribute to the challenges of turning that vision into a reality?
In our Quick Takes, Ellen is back on the Midwestern beat with good news about a startup weekly paper called The Denison Free Press in Iowa. It’s scrappy as hell. Or heck, as they might say in Iowa. I’ve got a rave for a new effort to inject $500 million into local news over the next five years — with a caveat. The initiative, known as Press Forward, brings together 22 different foundations in an effort to provide a significant amount of funding for community journalism. But there may be less to that effort than meets the eye.
Canadian wildfire smoke in Minneapolis, May 2023. Photo (cc) 2023 by Chad Davis.
One of my favorite exercises in my media ethics classes is to ask students to identify news stories that they think have been undercovered. They always come up with thought-provoking material. Some stories got little or no attention; others were covered a great deal, but perhaps not quite as much as they should have been or with the wrong emphasis. I’ve got a big class this fall, and I can’t share everything, but I thought you’d enjoy reading a few highlights.
• Digging deeper on wildfires. How could this summer’s wildfires have been covered any more than they already were? Every day we saw smoky haze drifting in from Canada, on TV, on news sites and, needless to say, in real life. But did you know that air pollution from such fires in the past few years has been so pervasive that decades’ worth of progress on air quality was undone? And that doesn’t even count data from 2023. (Source: New York Times)
• The aftermath of the Maui fires. Again, what more is there to know? Well, quite a lot, as it turns out. The media have moved on, but Hawaiians are continuing to cope with the deadly fires, which destroyed the historic city of Lahaina. Among other things, we still don’t know what, exactly, caused the fires, and Hawaii will remain vulnerable to such events in the future because climate change has made the islands hotter and drier. (Source: New York Times)
• Money for veterans is missing. Now here’s a story that I haven’t seen anywhere else. The Massachusetts Veterans of Foreign Wars is demanding that a judge order VFW Post 144 to produce its financial records so an audit can be conducted into money that the post has collected in recent years. According to the state VFW, several hundred thousand dollars is unaccounted for, and some of it was intended to help veterans in need. (Source: Universal Hub)
• An unnoticed border closing. While the border between the U.S. and Mexico remains the focus of political wrangling, there have been relatively few reports that the Dominican Republican has closed its border with Haiti. It’s a story of great interest in Boston, as the city is home to large communities of immigrants from both countries — prompting Boston Globe columnist Marcela García to write about the situation recently. (Source: Washington Post)
• Mexico decriminalizes abortion. The Mexican Supreme Court ruled recently that laws criminalizing abortion were unconstitutional, a significant step forward for reproductive freedom in that country. And with a number of states in the U.S. outlawing abortion following the end of Roe v. Wade, we can expect that many American women will seek abortions south of the border. (Source: New York Times)
• The tip of the iceberg. The whole world watched in revulsion when now-former Spanish soccer president Luis Rubiales kissed Jenni Hermosos on the lips without her consent after the Spanish women’s soccer team won the World Cup. But that was not all the athletes had to overcome. The team was in revolt against its coach, Jorge Vilda, and star player Alexia Putellas was hampered by injuries. Still, they persisted. (Source: New York Times)
• Cheating low-paid workers. The San Francisco Unified School District failed to pay more than 800 of its lowest-paid workers this past July, telling them that a payroll screw-up meant that their compensation would be delayed for two weeks. Those affected — lunch servers, janitors and clerks — earn an average salary of between $55,000 and $64,000 a year in one of the highest-cost cities in the country. (Source: Mission Local)
• The opioid epidemic continues. According to researchers, the opioid epidemic is now in the midst of a “fourth wave” because of the rise in fentanyl-related overdoses. The fentanyl crisis receives regular coverage, but the extent of it, driven by mixing fentanyl with stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamine, is not widely understood. The crisis resulted in overdose deaths exceeding 100,000 in 2021, the first time it had passed the six-digit mark. (Source: NBC News)
• Misunderstanding sexual racism. The Boston Globe has covered several stories involving sexual assaults against Asian and Asian American women but, according to one of our students, mischaracterizes those assaults as hate crimes. They are that, of course, but our student says they should also be be understood as examples of sexual racism. To do otherwise “fundamentally misunderstands the way that Asian women experience racism in the U.S.” (Source: New York Times)
• An incomplete education.Across the country, right-wing authorities in states and communities have banned what they call critical race theory (an esoteric concept generally taught in graduate school), resulting in less education about Black history. This has been especially apparent in Florida, where the Stop Woke Act signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis has made it nearly impossible for public schools to engage in a rational discussion about the legacy of slavery. (Source: Time)
There were other stories as well, about the devastating floods in Libya, the state of the Boston Public Schools, the lack of broadband internet in rural areas, the Canadian House speaker who resigned after ignorantly hailing a Ukrainian Nazi, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the ongoing crisis between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the possible end of DACA, the depletion of groundwater, and the rise of waterborne pathogens. It was an impressive list of stories, and I feel fortunate to be able to spend time with such great students.
We also include a series of conversations drawn from our podcast with leaders, thinkers and entrepreneurs in local news.
Through a blend of on-the-ground reporting and interviews, we show how these operations found seed money and support, and how they hired staff, forged their missions, and navigated challenges from the pandemic to police intimidation to stand as the last bastion of collective truth — and keep local news in local hands.
“What Works in Community News” is already receiving praise from such important figures as Margaret Sullivan, Steven Waldman, Penelope Abernathy, Greg Moore, Victor Pickard and Anne Galloway.
It’s been quite a ride. We can’t wait to share what we learned with you.
Just two weeks after The Colorado Sun announced it was shifting from a for-profit to a nonprofit business model, Santa Cruz Local is taking the same step. The podcast-heavy Local, a much smaller project than the Sun, competes with Ken Doctor’s for-profit (the last time I checked!) Lookout Santa Cruz. Kara Meyberg Guzman, the CEO and co-founder of the Local, was a guest on our “What Works” podcast last year, as was Lookout founder Ken Doctor. Guzman is also featured in “What Works in Community News,” Ellen Clegg’s and my forthcoming book.
At Santa Cruz Local, we believe that Santa Cruz County is stronger when everyone has access to fair, accurate, high-quality local journalism. That’s why all our news is free.
Our business model depends on locals like you to donate, because many of our readers cannot. Santa Cruz Local recently changed our tax status to make it easier for you to donate. Now that Santa Cruz Local is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, your donations and membership contributions are tax-deductible.
Investigative reporter Andrea Estes, who was fired by The Boston Globe in May following a report about management problems at the MBTA that contained several significant errors, has been hired as a staff reporter by the Plymouth Independent, a new nonprofit news organization.
The press release announcing her hiring quotes Independent editor Mark Pothier, who was until recently a top editor at the Globe, praising Estes fulsomely: “Andrea’s talent for rooting out important news is unparalleled. There’s a well-worn saying about sunlight being the best disinfectant, but it holds true. And I’m confident she’ll bring a lot of sunshine to town. Having her on staff sends a strong message about the kind of serious journalism we plan to do.”
Also involved with the Independent is the legendary Globe reporter Walter Robinson, still an editor-at-large at the Globe.
Although the MBTA story that apparently led to Estes’ departure contained a number of problems, the Globe has never explained what went wrong, what Estes’ role was, and who else might have been responsible, either in whole or in part. By bringing Estes to the Independent, Pothier and Robinson have signaled their support for someone with a long track record of outstanding work.
Ibram X. Kendi. Photo (cc) 2019 by Montclair Film.
In light of the problems (free link) that have become public at Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research, Scott Van Voorhis (sub. req.) asks a pertinent question: What really happened with the split between The Boston Globe and The Emancipator, which was a signature project of the center and its founder, Ibram X. Kendi? The Emancipator continues to publish solely under the auspices of the center, but it didn’t quite make sense earlier this year when the Globe announced that the partnership was ending after two years. Van Voorhis, who produces the newsletter Contrarian Boston, writes:
In announcing the move, the Globe characterized it as the end of a two-year partnership. Hmm. Back in March 2021, when the Globe announced it was teaming up with Kendi and the BU Center for Antiracist Research to launch the digital publication, there was no mention of a two-year deal, or of any time limit to the agreement, for that matter.
Van Voorhis urges the Globe to say more about what was behind the split, but I don’t know if it’s really all that complicated. Based on recent reporting, it’s pretty clear that Kendi was difficult to work with and that the center’s spending was not fully accounted for. That said, The Emancipator continues to do good work and — full disclosure — our Northeastern journalism students have partnered with the site, as in this series on restorative justice.
Also: Overdue kudos to BU’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Free Press, whose Sept. 21 deep dive represents the definitive account (for now) of what went wrong at the center. Reporters Molly Farrar and Lydia Evans began working on the story last December, according to their account. Student journalism rocks.
Among the more venerable local news startups in the Boston area is YourArlington, which has been publishing in one form or another since 2006. Founded by veteran journalist Bob Sprague, the digital-only site in the past couple of years has gone nonprofit, added a governing board, and hired an editor, Judith Pfeffer, who succeeded Sprague when he retired during the summer. YourArlington offers fairly comprehensive coverage of the town and has paid freelancers. (Disclosure: Some of those paid freelancers have been Northeastern students, and I’ve been asked to speak at Sprague’s retirement party in November.)
So imagine my surprise when I read Boston Globe tech reporter Hiawatha Bray’s story about Inside Arlington, a new project that is mainly produced by artificial intelligence: feed in the transcript of a select board meeting and publish what comes out the other side. Mainly I was surprised that Bray let cofounder Winston Chen get away with this whopper: “The town of Arlington, for practical purposes, is a news desert.” Bray offered no pushback, and there’s no mention of YourArlington. (Gannett merged the weekly Arlington Advocate with the Winchester Star about a year and a half ago and eliminated nearly all town-based coverage in favor of regional stories. There’s also a local Patch.)
Bray is properly skeptical, noting that several experiments in AI-generated stories have come to a bad end and that there’s no substitute for having a reporter on site who can ask follow-up questions. Still, there’s no question that AI news reporting is coming. Nieman Lab recently reported on a hyperlocal news organization in California that’s been giving AI a workout, although that organization — so far — has had the good sense not to publish the results.
But it’s disheartening to see the Globe take at face value the claim that Arlington lacks a local news organization. Scanning through YourArlington right now, I see a story about affordable housing that was posted today, a restaurant review, a story and photos from Town Day and a reception for the new town manager. Such coverage is the lifeblood of community journalism, and it can’t be replicated with AI — and I don’t see any of it at Inside Arlington.
My Northeastern colleague Meredith Clark and her co-researcher, Tracie Powell, spoke with Nieman Lab about funding inequities for local news start-ups serving BIPOC communities and how that might play out following the Press Forward announcement, in which 22 philanthropic organizations have pledged to provide $500 million over the next five years.
Really well-meaning people with access to social structures and access to capital are jumping in and wanting to get involved, but they’re not addressing some of the root causes that got us here in the first place. Instead, they’re building out infrastructures that allow the money to move from one place to another — but as it goes through that movement, it gets siphoned off.
They don’t make politicians like Whip Saltmarsh anymore. Sherman W. “Whip” Saltmarsh Jr., who represented Winchester in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1974-’89, was a throwback to a time when legislators were not especially interested in ideology and instead devoted their attention to helping their communities and constituents. He died last Thursday at 94.
I got to know Whip when I was covering Winchester for The Daily Times Chronicle in the early 1980s. He was a regular presence at selectmen’s meetings (today the select board), updating local officials about what was taking place on Beacon Hill and asking what he could do to make their jobs easier. He was an old-fashioned Yankee Republican; although he was conservative about spending and taxes, it is impossible to imagine him getting caught up in the performative extremism that passes for Republican politics these days. He had a voice like a trumpet, and several of us used to do newsroom imitations of him bellowing, “I have filed legislation!”
Whip’s mantra was always “betterment of the community and giving back” and he embodied the true definition of leader, albeit a not so quiet one. Whip’s leadership ability stemmed from his ability to be an intent listener; he didn’t always agree with someone’s opinion, but he always tried to come up with the best resolution for all. Whip was the “go to” person and arguably the Town of Winchester’s patriarch. Whip had a solution for every problem, whether the issue was obtaining legislation for a revitalization project or improving the wrist shot of one of his grandchildren.
Whip’s long life was filled with accomplishments, including serving as the town’s youngest chair of the board of selectmen — and at that time the youngest in the state. He was a star hockey player at Winchester High School and Boston College, served in the Navy, was named to the Olympic hockey team (but did not play because of injury), and was a member of the auxiliary fire department. He also founded his own insurance agency, and, after he’d left the Statehouse and I’d left the Times Chronicle, he became our insurance agent, providing outstanding, caring service for what I’m guessing was 25 to 30 years. My best wishes go out to his family, his friends and his employees.
Excellent commentary in CommonWealth by Jim Aloisi on why it’s time to treat the miserable state of the MBTA like the crisis that it is. I especially recommend his criticism of the Federal Transit Administration for what he regards as an overemphasis on safety at the expense of actually getting anything done: “As a regular T rider, I care about safety as much as anyone, but we cannot sacrifice ridership on the altar of safety — a perfectly safe system would be one that simply stops moving.” Which it pretty much has.
Aloisi blames the crisis on every governor, legislative leader and transportation official “since 1991,” meaning everyone since Michael Dukakis, who really did take the T seriously — adding that he includes himself among those who made mistakes, since he served for a time as state transportation secretary. And though he believes that the MBTA’s general manager, Phil Eng, is off to a reasonably good start, it’s clear to Aloisi, and to all of us who depend on the T, that he doesn’t have much time to make real, lasting changes.