Northeastern journalism faculty supports creation of a state news commission

Photo (cc) 2017 by Ted McGrath.

We’re down to the wire with a legislative proposal to create a special commission that would study the condition of local news in Massachusetts. You can learn more about it here. Currently a conference committee is hashing out the details of an economic bond bill; the commission has been included as an amendment to the House version.

My colleagues in Northeastern University’s School of Journalism have signed a letter to the six members of the conference committee urging them to support the amendment creating the news commission. If you are so inclined, I hope you’ll add your voice. Some disclosures: I was involved in proposing the commission; I testified in favor of it last year; and I would be a member if the measure is adopted as written.

There’s never been a more crucial time for local news. Gannett, a national corporate chain that owns dozens of daily and weekly papers and websites in Greater Boston and environs, is staggering under debt and continues to cut, as Don Seiffert reports in the Boston Business Journal. This is also the time of year when you can donate to a local nonprofit news organization through NewsMatch and have your contribution doubled. And don’t forget that today is #GivingTuesday.

Our letter to the conference committee follows:

***

November 30, 2020

To the members of the conference committee:

  • Senator Eric Lesser, Co-Chair
  • Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante, Co-Chair
  • Senator Michael Rodrigues
  • Senator Patrick O’Connor
  • Representative Aaron Michlewitz
  • Representative Donald Wong

Community life and civic engagement are not possible without reliable, verified news and information. Unfortunately, local journalism is in the midst of a crisis. According to one widely cited study, more than 2,100 American newspapers have closed their doors over the past 15 years as Craigslist, Google, and Facebook have scooped up most of the advertising revenues that once paid for journalism. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation worse. And newspaper chains owned by Wall Street speculators and hedge funds have robbed local news executives of the revenues they need to invest in the future.

Which is why we faculty members at Northeastern University’s School of Journalism urge you to approve an amendment sponsored by Representative Lori Ehrlich — part of the House version of the Economic Bond Bill — that would create a special commission to study local news in Massachusetts and recommend some possible courses of action. The commission would comprise legislators, academics, journalists, and news-industry experts.

Massachusetts remains well-served by regional sources of news, including a robust daily newspaper, public media companies, and multiple television newscasts. At the local level, though, the picture is grim. Corporate ownership has resulted in the hollowing-out of dozens of newspapers across the Commonwealth. In all too many cases, these news outlets are failing to meet the information needs of the communities they ostensibly serve.

A commission could, among other things, shine a light on a number of independent news projects that are doing well in the hopes that they might inspire residents of other communities to undertake similar projects. A commission could also identify best practices and recommend legislation and policies to encourage local ownership or make it easier to start a nonprofit news organization.

Such efforts are urgently needed. Please approve the amendment and allow the commission to be formed and to begin its important work.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Kaufman, Director
Belle Adler, Emeritus
Mike Beaudet
Rahul Bhargava
Matt Carroll
Myojung Chung
Joanne Ciccarello
Nicholas Daniloff, Emeritus
Charles Fountain
Michelle Hagopian
Meg Heckman
Carlene Hempel
Jeff Howe
Dan Kennedy
William Kirtz, Emeritus
Laurel Leff
Dan Lothian
Peter Mancusi
Meredith O’Brien
Walter V. Robinson, Emeritus
Jim Ross
Jody Santos
Alan Schroeder, Emeritus
Jeb Sharp
John Wihbey
Dan Zedek

Comments are open. Please include your full name, first and last, and speak with a civil tongue.

2 thoughts on “Northeastern journalism faculty supports creation of a state news commission

  1. Michael Gagne

    I was three years removed from college (I had a dual degree in journalism and political science) when on a whim I decided to send in a resume and some clips to the Herald News in Fall River. This was in 2012. At that point, I was living in Providence, Rhode Island, working in an entirely separate industry altogether, I had given up hope that I would ever actually work full-time in journalism. But that all changed when a week after sending in my resume, the HN’s then editor-in-chief Lisa Stratton contacted me, offering an assignment. That first assignment: writing features, interviewing local restaurant owners and chefs. That would lead to continued freelance work covering government and schools in nearby Tiverton, Rhode Island, and eventually a full-time gig covering the Fall River Public Schools. Thankfully, I’ve been working full-time in journalism ever since. And I’m endlessly grateful I received that opportunity. If nothing else, I would like to see my former colleagues maintain their employment without the stress of speculating they will be among the next round of layoffs, and see future journalists able to find internships and employment in a bustling and thriving news industry.

    I am no longer employed by the Herald News. I live in Connecticut now, but it saddens me to see how the journalism landscape has changed just in the SouthCoast of Massachusetts alone these past eight years. Just a few of my former colleagues at the Herald News are still working there. I still follow their efforts, mostly like social media, and they are laboring tirelessly to bring residents news. When one reporter is on furlough, an editor fills in — wearing multiple hats, reporter, editor, photographer, videographer, social media manager, whatever the task is at hand.

    Despite the effort of those brave folks still endeavoring to cover the most news, that means a lot of stories are going uncovered, unreported. And I will continue to use the Herald News as an example. There used to be reporters assigned to specific towns, dedicated to covering education, courts, Fall River City Government, features, business and sports. Now, the staff who are still there are spread thin. Same thing at the Standard-Times in New Bedford and the Newport Daily News in Rhode Island. When I started, all of those newspapers had different ownership and with that came a healthy dose of competitive spirit, which led to in-depth reporting of local government, and lively writing about local personalities and their communities. Now all three papers are owned by Gannett and the landscape has not improved because of it.

    Now, it doesn’t have to be that way. Local journalism is still viable. Different solutions are popping up. At my current paper, the Record-Journal in Meriden, CT, a locally owned publication, our leadership is continuing to explore ways to deliver news that matter, improving our outreach to audiences and determining new ways to fund it. It seems likely that we will operate on a model that blends the old ad-based for profit and subscription model with something that more resembles nonprofit newsrooms. The Connecticut Mirror is an example of an entirely nonprofit, non-partisan news organization that covers statewide news and is bucking the overall journalism trend by growing.

    I hope that this commission will look at models for how to sustain local journalism, but to ensure that it thrives. Thank you for your time and consideration.

  2. Pingback: Boston Business Journal supports creating a state news commission – Media Nation

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