By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Category: Local News Page 3 of 51

Reminder: Our conference on the future of local news is tomorrow

A final reminder about our conference on the future of local news — a free, all-day event that will be held tomorrow (March 15) at Northeastern University. We’ll have sessions on topics ranging from data visualization to university-community partnerships, as well as a book talk by Ellen Clegg and me. We hope you can attend. Registration and more information is online here.

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Startup news leaders tell journalism students how to get that first job

Maya McFadden of the New Haven Independent interviews Victor Joshua, founder of the youth basketball program Respect Hoops. Photo (cc) 2021 by Dan Kennedy.

I’ll be part of a panel tomorrow discussing job opportunities for new and recent journalism graduates. My role will be to talk about opportunities at the rising generation of local and regional news startups. I am not quite sure what to tell them, but more than anything I want them to know that they need to be resourceful.

About a dozen years ago, Thomas MacMillan told me how he got hired at the New Haven Independent, one of the original nonprofit digital-only local news sites. He was working at a non-journalism job and started doing some interning. He asked the editor, Paul Bass, how he could turn that into a staff job, and Bass’ unconventional answer was that MacMillan should write a grant to fund his position. MacMillan did it, got hired and, in my 2013 book, “The Wired City,” talked about the rewards.

“It’s really fun for me to feel like we’re on a rising star rather than a sinking ship,” MacMillan said. “There’s just something exciting about feeling like you’re working on the new paradigm, where you can experiment and try different things and people will occasionally take notice of what you’re doing.”

What I will tell students is that jobs at these startups are few and far between, but if you can land one, they come with great mentoring and, in some cases, surprisingly good pay. From my conversations with people, I’ve found that nonprofit boards and independent operators take their obligation to provide a living wage and benefits seriously. At the very least, journalists at these organizations are often making more than they would at a chain-owned newspaper.

Students can’t just expect jobs to open up, because that doesn’t happen all that often. Identify two, three or five that you’d like to work at. Get in touch and stay in touch. Cover some news for them — not for free, of course, but in most cases they’re not going to hire someone they don’t have a prior relationship with.

To prepare for the panel, I contacted an array of startup news folks to see what advice they would give to students. I present their lightly edited answers in full.

A chain of radio stations is launching online newspapers in 18 (or more?) markets

Photo (cc) 2014 by Robert Ashworth

This one comes in via former WBZ Radio (AM 1030) news director Peter Casey, who’s now a communications consultant and part of the team at the local startup Winchester News. Saga Communications, a Michigan-based company that owns radio stations in 27 secondary markets, is launching digital newspapers in 18 markets by the end of the second quarter, according to the website Inside Radio. Another story says that the outlets will be unveiled “across its entire footprint.” Despite the lack of clarity, it sounds like Saga’s eventual goal is to have an online newspaper anywhere it has radio stations.

Those stations include a number of New England markets: Brattleboro, Vermont; Greenfield, Northampton and Springfield, Massachusetts; Keene and Manchester, New Hampshire; and Portland, Maine. A quick scan of the stations shows that they mostly broadcast music, with formats including country, oldies and adult contemporary. I found a few news-and-talk stations in the mix as well, but they appear to be focused on local issues.

The stations will be based on a pilot that Saga is already publishing in Tennessee called Clarksville Now. A quick glance shows the site is newsy and community-oriented. Katie Gambill, who developed the site and who will be in charge of the rollout, is quoted as saying:

I am excited for the opportunity to spearhead this local online news and community connection site launch in other Saga markets. I honestly believe these local online news sites will help us to better serve and connect with our communities, especially when partnered with the power of radio. I am passionate about this endeavor and dedicated to the success of these sites, in fact, the Brand message for these sites is, “your community connection.”

Saga is a publicly traded company with annual revenues of about $114 million. Although there’s no substitute for local ownership, I think its Clarksville Now-modeled sites will be welcome in most communities. It’s also a great example of how a company that’s successful in one type of media can leverage that success and use it connect with its audience via news and information.

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Talking about ‘What Works in Community News’ with Mike Blinder of ‘E&P Reports’

Ellen Clegg and I are thrilled to be the guests on the new episode of “E&P Reports,” a vodcast hosted by Mike Blinder, the publisher of Editor & Publisher, a venerable magazine and website that covers the news business. We’ve had Mike on our “What Works” podcast, and he is a hoot — witty, engaging and passionate about the future of journalism. You’ll hear those qualities in the questions he asks us about our book, “What Works in Community News.” You can subscribe to the audio-only version of “E&P Reports” on any of the major podcast platforms.

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Public radio cutbacks hit Colorado as 15 people lose their jobs

Colorado Public Radio executive editor Kevin Dale. Photo (cc) 2021 by Dan Kennedy.

No sooner had I written last week that Colorado Public Radio may be the largest news organization in that state than deep cuts were announced. Fifteen jobs were eliminated, which, according to CPR’s Ben Markus, make up “the largest cut to the public broadcaster’s payroll in at least a quarter of a century.”

“I hate to see talented colleagues lose their positions for financial reasons,” Kevin Dale, CPR News’ executive editor, was quoted as saying. “CPR News has been growing into a powerful news source for the past six years. Our mission has been to become an urgent newsroom that also has time to devote to enterprise reporting and accountability reporting, and we remain dedicated to that.”

According to Markus, the cuts follow years of growth, from 48 employees in 2006 to 214 in 2022. When I interviewed Dale in 2021, he told me that about 65 of those employees were journalists. CPR had acquired a city-based digital site in 2019 called Denverite, and its staff members were part of that total. Unlike WAMU in Washington, which is shutting down its DCist site following a similar acquisition, CPR will keep Denverite going.

Although CPR’s woes are reportedly due to changes in audience behavior as podcasts from the likes of The New York Times and Spotify have cut into listenership, Markus’ story also suggests that the operation had been hiring beyond its means and noted that it had saddled itself with a new, yet-to-be-finished downtown headquarters last year costing more than $8 million.

The cuts also come amid austerity measures at several other public radio operations including WAMU, WBUR in Boston and NPR itself. Public radio is our leading free source of high-quality news and for years seemed to be immune from the headwinds that were devastating legacy newspapers. Corey Hutchins, who produces the newsletter “Inside the News in Colorado,” wrote that CPR “stood out as a bright spot amid a weakened local news landscape.” Hutchins is a journalism professor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs and works out of space refurbished by CPR as part of its earlier acquisition of KRCC.

I interviewed Dale in 2021 for Ellen Clegg’s and my book, “What Works in Community News.” Dale, who had previously worked at The Denver Post, described his mission as transforming CPR into a leading news organization by concentrating on in-depth journalism.

“Our goal was to become a primary news source,” Dale said, explaining that his operation tried to offer important contextual stories rather than breaking news. “I’ve been very careful all along to use the article ‘a’ instead of ‘the,’ because I think ‘the’ has connotations that end up in practices that we’re not interested in,” he said. “We’re not going to be out covering a major house fire or a major traffic jam unless it has implications beyond that.”

CPR is an anchor of the Denver and Colorado media ecosystem. I hope this proves to be a temporary setback and that the operation can soon begin growing once again.

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Emily Rooney talks about local TV news, ‘Beat the Press’ and holding the media to account

Emily Rooney. Photo via the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

On our latest “What Works” podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Emily Rooney, the longtime host of “Beat the Press,” an award-winning program on WGBH-TV (Channel 2). I was a panelist on the show, a weekly roundtable that offered local and national media criticism. It had a 22-year run but was canceled in 2021. You can watch the 20th-anniversary episode here. The show, which is much missed by many former viewers, had a brief second life as a podcast.

Emily has got serious television news cred. She arrived at WGBH from the Fox Network in New York, where she oversaw political coverage, including the 1996 presidential primaries, national conventions, and presidential election. Before that, she was executive producer of ABC’s “World News Tonight” with Peter Jennings. She also worked at WCVB-TV in Boston for 15 years, from 1979–’93, as news director and as assistant news director — a time when WCVB was regularly hailed as the home of the best local newscast in the U.S.

“Beat the Press” may be no more, but there’s a revival of interest in responsible media criticism from inside the newsroom. Boston Globe columnist Kimberly Atkins Stohr recently wrote an op-ed calling for the restoration of a public editor position at The New York Times, The Boston Globe and other news outlets.

In our Quick Takes, I’ve got an update on one of our favorite topics — pink slime. Wired has a wild story out of rural Iowa involving a Linux server in Germany, a Polish website and a Chinese operation called “the Propaganda Department of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.”

Ellen recounts a legal saga in Southeastern Minnesota involving the sale of a newspaper group and allegations of intellectual property theft. It’s all about a single used computer and its role in creating a media startup.”

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

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Talking local news in Keene

I’m excited to be giving the Sidore Lecture at Keene State College in New Hampshire today at 6:30 p.m. I’ll be talking about our book, “What Works in Community News.” Keene, as you may know, is the home of The Keene Sentinel, a great independent news organization. The event is free, so if you’re in the Keene area, I hope you’ll drop by.

Please join us for an all-day conference at Northeastern on the future of local news

Ellen Clegg and I want to share with you some news about a great upcoming event — a free, all-day conference that’s open to the public and will be held at Northeastern University on Friday, March 15. It’s called “What Works: The Future of Local News.” You can register and find more information by clicking here. You can come for all or part of it, and the day will include a light breakfast, a boxed lunch and a reception at the end of the day. Full details are in the flier below. We would love to see you there!

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How community-based entrepreneurs are solving the local news crisis

Photo via The Conversation

The local news crisis has led to no end of policy proposals, funding initiatives and angry denunciations of the harm done to journalism by the likes of Craigslist, Google and Facebook.

Ideas for responding to the crisis range from paying recent journalism school graduates with state tax revenues to cover underserved communities, as in California; mandating that state agencies direct half of their spending on advertising to community media, as has been proposed in Illinois; and creating tax credits that would benefit subscribers, advertisers and publishers, the subject of several federal and state initiatives.

And those are just a few.

Though all of these have some merit, they share a fundamental flaw: They are top-down solutions to problems that differ from one community to another.

There is an old saying that goes back a dozen years to the earliest days of hyperlocal digital news: Local doesn’t scale. In fact, I’d argue, the real solution to the local news crisis needs to come from the bottom up – from folks at the community level who decide to take their news and information needs into their own hands.

Read the rest at The Conversation.

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Cooperatively owned local news outlets are still an unfulfilled dream

Good to see that some journalists are trying cooperatively owned news projects, as Lauren Mechling reports for The Guardian. One of our frustrations in finding news organizations to write about in “What Works in Community News” was that there were no examples we could find of a successful local news co-op.

The for-profit Mendocino Voice in Northern California considered it but got overwhelmed during the COVID pandemic. As I was wrapping up my reporting, publisher Kate Maxwell told me she was more likely to shift to the nonprofit model rather than pursue a co-op. I spent years following efforts to start a co-op in Haverhill, which were eventually wound down because of fundraising problems. And The Devil Strip in Akron, Ohio, fell apart.

It’s still an interesting idea. Co-author Ellen Clegg and I believe that we need diversity in ownership models. For-profit startups tend to be tiny, and most of the ones with much in the way of reporting capacity are nonprofits. A news outlet owned by the staff and the community would be an interesting alternative. Maybe someday.

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