Love Live Local offers a useful guide to independent media on Cape Cod

Photo (cc) 2013 by Arek Olek

A nonprofit organization called Love Live Local has published a useful guide to independent local news organizations on Cape Cod.

Included in its roundup is The Enterprise of Falmouth, Mashpee, Bourne and Sandwich; The Cape Cod Chronicle, which covers Chatham, Harwich and Orleans; Cape Cod Broadcasting, which includes four FM radio stations that provide local news; and The Provincetown Independent, whose coverage area comprises Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet and Eastham. I recently wrote about the Independent.

As Love Live Local points out, the Cape’s legacy newspapers are now owned by Gannett, which, along with its predecessor company, GateHouse Media, has cut them repeatedly over the years. If residents really want to be informed about what’s going on in their communities, they need to seek out independent sources of news.

So what is Love Live Local? Here is what the About page says:

When Love Live Local started in 2013, how it would evolve was a bit of an unknown. The intention was to highlight positive stories, Cape Cod happenings and connect local businesses with customers and supporters. As the founders began to appreciate not only how important small business was to the region, but also how much they were struggling, the messaging evolved, and they began to advocate much more strongly on behalf of small, local businesses — the backbone of this community.

Locally owned media and other types of businesses are all part of the same ecosystem that makes for a vibrant community. It’s good to see that there’s an organization on the Cape dedicated to helping them thrive.

Rich guys band together in a final push to stop Alden from buying Tribune Publishing

Photo (cc) 2009 by Thomas Hawk

Less than a week ago, efforts to keep Tribune Publishing out of the clutches of the hedge fund Alden Global Capital appeared to be faltering.

The hotelier Stewart Bainum, who originally got involved so that he could acquire Tribune’s Baltimore Sun and its affiliated papers in order to turn them over to a nonprofit, was seeking to outbid Alden’s $630 million offer. But according to Rick Edmonds of Poynter, the Alden deal was a simple cash offer that could be consummated quickly, which meant that Bainum was likely to lose out.

On Saturday, though, Marc Tracy of The New York Times reported that a Swiss billionaire named Hansjörg Wyss had teamed up with Bainum, with each man pledging to put up $100 million apiece.

Then, on Monday, we learned from Lukas I. Alpert of The Wall Street Journal that yet another wealthy patron, the technology investor Mason Slaine, had also agreed to put up $100 million. Slaine, who already owns a small chunk of Tribune, wants to acquire Tribune’s two Florida papers, the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale.

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Also over the weekend, Gary Lutin, a Manhattan investment banker, revealed that he wants to buy The Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania, telling the paper: “There are many encouraging examples of both large global news organizations as well as small community news organizations that survive and eventually prosper based on improving the quality of the news service.” Lutin’s interest is not dependent on the Bainum group’s success — he says he’ll attempt to cut a deal with whoever the eventual buyer turns out to be.

Meanwhile, Patrick Soon-Shiong, the possibly reluctant owner of the Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune, remains in a position to veto any deal with Alden, though Edmonds has speculated that Soon-Shiong would be happy to cash in.

“Hope is what Tribune staffers are feeling,” writes CNN media reporter Kerry Flynn, “as it looks more and more feasible that local ownership could be in their futures — instead of Alden.”

The Tribune saga has been years in the making as the chain — which currently consists of nine papers — has lurched from one ownership melodrama to another. There was the epic era of Sam Zell, the foul-mouthed Chicago real-estate magnate who hated newspapers, documented memorably by the late David Carr. There was the rudderless period when the company was known as tronc.

Now the struggle over Tribune may represent the last best chance to stop Alden from destroying what’s left of some of the most important papers in the country — among them the Chicago Tribune, New York’s Daily News and, closer to home, the Hartford Courant.

“Maybe I’m naive,” Wyss told the Times, “but the combination of giving enough money to a professional staff to do the right things and putting quite a bit of money into digital will eventually make it a very profitable newspaper.”

Wyss isn’t being naive at all. Not only have The New York Times and The Washington Post shown it can be done, but regional papers such as The Boston Globe, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and The Seattle Times are all doing well under local ownership committed to the transition from print to digital and from a mostly advertising-based model to one mainly supported by reader revenue.

Journalism is too important to be left to the whims of unbridled capitalism. We shouldn’t be reduced to having to root for one group of rich guys over another. But that’s where we’re at. In that spirit, may Bainum, Wyss, Slaine and Lutin win.

Previous coverage.

Project Oasis documents the growth (and challenges) of digital local news

Photo (cc) 2015 by oarranzli

Digital local news is expanding rapidly, but the challenges of running community journalism projects sustainably are daunting.

Those are the conclusions of a recently released report by Project Oasis aimed at documenting the rise of alternatives as legacy community newspapers continue to shrink and shut down. The project, based at the University of North Carolina, is sponsored by Google News, LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers and Douglas K. Smith.

Project Oasis comprises several parts — a database of digitally focused news projects in the United States and Canada; a “playbook” full of ideas for those who are interested in starting projects in their own communities; and a research report written by Chloe Kizer and edited by Michele McLellan that offers a survey of what’s been learned.

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What’s most striking is how much growth there’s been, which is no doubt related to economics (journalists who’ve been downsized out of their jobs are looking to maintain their careers) and opportunity (communities that are either unserved or underserved by legacy media). Project Oasis identified 704 digital-native local news projects in the U.S. and Canada as of a year ago. Of those, 266 were launched in the past five years. In addition, a 2010 study found that there were 126 such projects, “indicating that the past decade has seen the number of local sites multiply six times over.”

The report also draws some conclusions based on 255 organizations that provided information about their operations. Among other things, those outlets tend to be small, with more than half reporting revenues of less than $100,000 a year. Many of the founders are journalists with little or no business background and no resources to hire someone to concentrate on revenue. As the report puts it:

Most founders launch their newsrooms because they are passionate about journalism and their communities. But few start with business expertise. Like their traditional counterparts, the new locals rely heavily on advertising revenue, although some have begun developing reader revenue.

The financial picture does improve as publications mature, according to the data. But this field on the whole is very young.

The report also contains the rather disturbing news that the founders of many sites who who consider them “profitable” aren’t actually paying themselves a salary. Overall, the survey found that most of the sites were for-profits dependent on advertising revenue, whereas a minority were nonprofits subsisting on grants and donations. The report found that those with more than one revenue stream were more successful.

The database of local news projects probably should be taken for what any such survey would be: out of date as soon as it’s published, but interesting as a snapshot in time.

The Massachusetts listings, for example, include some well-known successful projects such as Universal Hub and The Bedford Citizen. But they also include the Banyan Project, which spent years trying to launch a news co-op in Haverhill before giving up, while leaving out WHAV Radio, a nonprofit community radio station in Haverhill with a significant digital presence.

Overall, Project Oasis is a valuable addition to what we know about online local news start-ups. And if you’re thinking of launching a project yourself, you’ll definitely want to spend some time with the playbook.

A Vermont newspaper dispute raises questions over nonprofit ethics

Meeting house in Charlotte, Vermont. Photo (cc) 2018 by Nicholas Erwin.

The Vermont nonprofit VTDigger has a fascinating story about another nonprofit, The Charlotte News. Although it’s not entirely clear what happened, James Finn reports that the editor departed after the publisher and the volunteer board apparently tried to interfere with her coverage.

There are some big names involved in the controversy, including high-profile journalists who quit the board in support of the former editor, Chea Waters Evans. There’s also a discussion about new ethical dilemmas that have arisen as more and more community journalism is being provided by nonprofits. Poynter’s ubiquitous Kelly McBride weighs in.

All worthwhile topics, of course. But I have to wonder if these people ever worked for a small paper. A publisher who meddles in coverage? Pass the smelling salts! Anyone who’s ever had a story killed so as not to offend an advertiser (and yes, I have) will probably roll their eyes over this.

Still, it sounds like a good, dedicated editor-reporter was pushed into resigning when she should have been given a raise. I hope this is resolved so she can come back.

A nostalgic look back at The Daily Item of Clinton

Tom Farragher’s column in today’s Boston Globe is a two-fer for me. Farragher writes about a recent effort to save the archives of The Item, formerly The Daily Item of Clinton. It turns out that one of those involved was Sean Kerrigan, a former Item reporter who’s now chair of the town’s select board. I worked with Sean at The Boston Phoenix, so it was nice to run across his name.

“It’s sad it takes something like this for people to understand how important a paper can be to a town,’’ Kerrigan told Farragher. “I’m a little biased obviously, but I can’t imagine a Clinton without the Item.”

Farragher also mentions the day in 1977 when the then-new president, Jimmy Carter, came to town for one of his first public forums. I wasn’t there. But I was a Northeastern co-op student down the road at The Woonsocket Call, and I remember that we were all buzzing about it in the newsroom.

The Item has been a weekly since 1996, and is now part of the Gannett chain, covering Clinton and six surrounding towns.

A nonprofit in New Bedford seeks to fill the gap left by Gannett’s Standard-Times

Best wishes to New Bedford Light, a nonprofit startup that is aiming to provide in-depth journalism in a city whose legacy newspaper, The Standard-Times, has been gutted by Gannett. Bruce Mohl of CommonWealth magazine reports. (MassINC chair Greg Torres, which publishes CommonWealth, is involved.)

The Light hasn’t launched yet, but it’s had a Facebook page for several months. I hope the project succeeds, but I’m a little bit skeptical of the model. Mohl writes:

Barbara Roessner, the founding editor, lives in Westport and is a former managing editor of the Hartford Courant. Her initial plan calls for producing one major in-depth piece of journalism each week; the focus will be on providing context and insight, she said, not breaking news or high school sports.

I wonder if it might make more sense to make the Light essential to everyone right from the start by providing basic accountability journalism — city council, school committee, police, development and the like. Mohl does describe the once-a-week pace as the “initial” plan; maybe that will evolve into more comprehensive coverage as the project develops. My advice would be to cover the everyday details of city life and leave the suburbs to The Standard-Times. The logo, though, references “Greater New Bedford,” which suggests they’re looking beyond the city.

I was also interested to see that the group behind the Light approached Gannett about selling The Standard-Times and was turned down. Maybe the chain’s executives will come to regret their decision. More likely they’ve calculated that there are a few more dollars they can squeeze out.

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Union leaders, management at odds over legislation to protect Hartford Courant

Union leaders and management at the Hartford Courant spoke out Thursday about legislation that would allow Courant subscribers to sue the paper’s owners over cost-cutting measures. Mark Pazniokas of the nonprofit CT Mirror — himself a Courant alumcovers the story.

As expected, management and an association of newspaper publishers criticized the measure as an assault on the First Amendment, while proponents cited an 1887 charter that the legislature granted to the Courant. That charter was revised in 1951.

“So there is a history of the legislature passing special acts about the corporate structure of the parent company of the Hartford Courant,” said Sen. Matt Lesser, according to the Mirror’s report. “That is different from me going in and saying, ‘I’m looking to manage the news operations of the publication.’”

The legislation is aimed at blocking the Courant’s owner, Tribune Publishing, from selling to the hedge fund Alden Global Capital. Tribune has been cutting deeply at the Courant, but Alden has an unparalleled reputation for slashing its news coverage.

Also, fun fact: The Mirror’s story was picked up by the Courant.

Update: Here is the full text of the bill. The state attorney general would also have standing to sue.

Earlier:

 

 

Connecticut bill would allow Hartford Courant subscribers to sue over cost-cutting

The state capitol in Hartford, Connecticut. Photo (cc) 2009 by Dan Kennedy.

This is absolutely wild. This morning, a legislative committee in Connecticut will hold a hearing on a bill that would allow Hartford Courant subscribers to sue the paper’s owners if they take on debt or pay dividends that are not “for the good of the company.”

If the bill becomes law and is upheld as constitutional, it could pose a real threat to Tribune Publishing, which has been hacking away at the Courant and which is now on the verge of selling out to the hedge fund Alden Global Capital, notorious for pillaging its newspapers.

According to Matt Szafranski, editor-in-chief of Western Mass Politics & Insight, who’s read the bill, the measure could be legal because the Courant operates under a legislative charter granted in 1887 that requires the paper to operate in the public interest. The Courant was founded in 1764 and is generally regarded as the oldest continuously published newspaper in America.

The Hartford Courant Guild, the union that represents the Courant’s journalists, launched a Save Our Courant campaign last year aimed at finding local ownership. That effort may have gotten a boost earlier this week when The New York Times reported the emergence of a new potential buyer for Tribune who may turn around and sell off the chain’s papers to local interests. The potential buyer, hotelier Stewart Bainum, plans to take Tribune’s Baltimore Sun nonprofit.

Szafranski passed along the Hartford Courant Guild’s press release, which I’m reproducing here in full:

Tomorrow (Thursday) the insurance and real estate committee of the Connecticut state legislature will hold a hearing on a bill that would allow Hartford Courant subscribers to sue the paper’s ownership if it takes on any debt or pays out dividends that are not “for the good of the company.” In other words, it would reassert The Courant as belonging to the community, not to faraway corporate owners.

Crucially, the bill would make life difficult for Alden Global Capital, the notorious hedge fund currently seeking to buy the paper.

The hearing will begin at 9 a.m. and will be streamed through CTN [the Connecticut Network, which carries legislative proceedings]. Among those planning to testify are Courant reporter Rebecca Lurye and Fraser Nelson, a national expert who helped guide the Salt Lake Tribune to nonprofit status in 2019. Already, dozens of supporters have submitted written testimony, including Lurye and Connecticut AFL-CIO president Sal Luciano.

“I’m writing because America’s longest continuously published newspaper is under attack, its survival threatened by far-off corporate leaders who are diminishing the vital journalism we produce in their pursuit of the next penny,” Lurye wrote. “If this hedge fund follows the playbook it has used at numerous other newspapers around the country, the Courant will soon be a shell of what it is now.”

“Quality journalism is just as is important as freedom of the press,” Luciano wrote. “Our state capital city and its residents deserve a newspaper that is committed to reporting the news created here.”

Since the start of 2020, The Courant has lost a third of its staff, had its printing outsourced to Springfield and been stripped of its newsroom, leaving employees without an office indefinitely. The employees of The Courant continue to advocate publicly for the paper to be sold to a local, civically minded owner.

If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out at this address.

More on The Emancipator

Here’s The Boston Globe’s announcement of The Emancipator, including a video and a list of the advisory board members.

There are a lot of heavy hitters here, but the three who stand out to me are New Yorker journalist Jelani Cobb, who teaches at the Columbia School of Journalism; Nikole Hannah-Jones, who won Pulitzer Prize for The 1619 Project; and Heather McGhee, author of the widely acclaimed “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.”

Also of note: Globe columnist Kimberly Atkins will write for The Emancipator and oversee its newsletter, to be called Unbound.

The Globe and BU will collaborate on an anti-racist digital publication

The Boston Globe’s opinion section and Boston University are launching an anti-racist initiative called The Emancipator, and they’re looking for an editor-in-chief. Here’s how the job listing begins:

The Boston Globe and Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research are collaborating to resurrect the tradition of abolitionist-era journals such as William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator and Frederick Douglass’s The North Star via a new multimedia platform for opinion journalism. In the decades leading up to the Civil War, antislavery publications, many of which were founded in Boston, were the nation’s most influential megaphones for antislavery commentary and helped to bring about Emancipation. Today, we envision The Emancipator as a leading megaphone for antiracist commentary and ideas that are grounded in both scholarly research and journalistic reporting.

The editor will work out of the Globe’s newsroom (once it reopens, of course) with a co-editor based at BU. The project will be under the guidance of the Globe’s editorial-page editor, Bina Venkataraman, and the director of BU’s Center for Antiracist Research, Ibram X. Kendi.