The Globe’s Rhode Island initiative may be expanded across New England

The Boston Globe’s Rhode Island section could be a model for other verticals devoted to different regions in New England. That’s the main takeaway from this week’s edition of “E&P Reports,” a vodcast produced by the trade publication Editor & Publisher.

The vodcast, hosted by E&P publisher Mike Blinder, featured the Globe’s Rhode Island editor (and my “Beat the Press” crony), Lylah Alphonse; Rhode Island reporter Dan McGowan; and Michelle Micone, the Globe’s vice president for innovation and strategic initiatives.

It was Micone who talked about expanding the Globe’s coverage to other regions. She specifically mentioned New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont but not Connecticut, which was either inadvertent or, more likely, a nod to the Nutmeg State’s very different media and cultural environment. I mean, my God, they root for the Yankees down there.

Alphonse and McGowan were careful not to criticize The Providence Journal, but let’s face it — the Globe’s Rhode Island project was begun in response to Gannett’s evisceration of that once great paper. Blinder said that the Journal’s full-time staff is down to about 14. [Note: The actual number is about 30.] Alphonse told me that Globe Rhode Island now has eight full-time journalists. Of course, the folks who remain at the Journal are doing good work under trying conditions, and Alphonse and McGowan were smart to acknowledge that.

One statistic that really hit me was that McGowan’s daily newsletter, “Rhode Map,” is sent to 80,000 recipients each morning, with an open rate of about 30%. By contrast, the Journal’s combined paid print and digital circulation on weekdays, according to data the paper filed with the Alliance for Audited Media, is a little under 31,000. (About 24,000 of that is print, showing that Gannett’s push on digital subscriptions has a long way to go.)

I also want to highlight the news that staff reporter Alexa Gagosz, one of our great master’s degree alums at Northeastern, is heading up expanded food and dining coverage in Rhode Island, including a weekly newsletter.

Now, to get back to possible expansion in other regions: Rhode Island was an opportunity that may not be entirely replicable elsewhere, thanks not only to the ProJo’s shrinkage but to the state’s unique identity. The state has a range of media options, including good-quality public radio, television newscasts and independent community news outlets. But the ProJo’s decline gave the Globe a chance to slide in and quickly establish itself as one of the players.

Where else does opportunity that exist? Worcester and Central Massachusetts strike me as in serious need of more journalism. The Globe memorably walked away from the region when then-new owner John Henry sold the Telegram & Gazette to a Florida-based chain after leading the staff to believe he was committed to selling to local interests. Soon enough, the T&G became part of Gannett, and it was subjected to the same devastating cuts that the chain has imposed throughout the country. The T&G carried on but is currently in flux, having lost its respected executive editor, Dave Nordman, to Northeastern, where he’s heading up the internal news operation. Could the Henrys return to Worcester? I’ve heard that might be within the range of possibilities.

But where else? New Hampshire and Maine both have good-quality independent newspapers, though New Hampshire’s two leading papers — the Union Leader and the Concord Monitor — have shrunk quite a bit. Vermont is unique, dominated by one of the most respected nonprofit news organizations in the country, VTDigger.

Then there’s the distribution model, which, if they were asking me (they’re not), is too reliant on print. Quite a bit of the Globe’s Rhode Island coverage appears in the Globe’s print edition. But rather than take on the cost of trucking more papers to Rhode Island, why not use digital to expand your reach and drive more digital subscriptions? What the Globe is doing with Rhode Island and print simply wouldn’t work if the paper established bureaus in Central Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.

The Globe is one of the few major metropolitan dailies in the country that is growing. What it’s doing in Rhode Island is impressive, and I’d love to see it happen elsewhere.

Correction: After this item was published, I learned that the Journal’s full-time newsroom staff is actually around 30 people, supplemented by freelancers.

Meredith Clark on race, power and why the media have fallen short on diversity

Meredith Clark. Photo by Alyssa Stone / Northeastern University

On the brand new “What Works” podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Professor Meredith Clark, our colleague at Northeastern University. Dr. Clark is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern as well as founding director of the university’s new Center for Communication, Media Innovation and Social Change.

Before arriving at Northeastern, she was a faculty fellow at Data & Society, an independent nonprofit research organization based in New York that examines some of the questions being raised by the massive increase in the use of data in all aspects of society.

Dr. Clark’s research is on the intersections of race, media and power, and she’s studied everything from newsroom hiring and reporting practices to social media communities. Her media diet is wide-ranging and eclectic. Our interview touches on many cultural icons, including poet Audre Lorde and Captain Olivia Benson, the fictional “Law & Order SVU” crime-solver.

Meredith is perhaps best known in news circles for her work in trying to revive an annual diversity census conducted by the News Leaders Association, an effort that fell short earlier this year after just 303 media outlets responded out of the 2,500 that were asked to provide data. Ellen and I asked Meredith why so few were willing to participate — and what can be done to encourage diversity at small start-up news organizations.

In Quick Takes, I discuss Gannett’s recent move to dismantle some of the chain’s regional editorial pages, which I see as not entirely a negative, and Ellen tips the hat to two of the 2022 recipients of the prestigious Freedom of the Press Award: Wendi C. Thomas, founding editor and publisher of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, and Mukhtar Ibrahim, founding publisher and CEO of Sahan Journal.

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

Gannett puts the brakes on its drive to cut back on print

Photo via Pixabay

It looks like executives at Gannett have decided they were going too far in cutting back on print. The country’s largest newspaper chain has been eliminating print days at its dailies and killing off or merging print weeklies. Here, for example, is Kevin Graeler, managing editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri, which had been scheduled to drop from seven days to just three:

Under a national decision by Gannett, which owns the Tribune and more than 200 other newspapers across the USA Today Network, all changes to the number of print editions published per week are being paused while the company analyzes new data and takes into consideration valuable input from our subscribers.

Of course, the real problem isn’t the lack of print — it’s the lack of coverage. In Massachusetts, Gannett announced in February it was moving nearly all of the local staff reporters at its community weeklies to regional beats. So much for coverage of the city council, mayor, select board and school committee. A month later, the chain told readers that it was closing 19 weeklies and merging nine others into four.

This doesn’t take place in a vacuum. For years, people have been starting independent news organizations in response to cutbacks by Gannett and its predecessor company, GateHouse Media. And just recently, new local news ventures have either been launched or announced in Marblehead, Concord and Newton. More to come, I’m sure.

You can find a complete list of independent local news outlets in Massachusetts in the upper right-hand corner of this page. Just look for “Mass. Indy News.”

Anne Galloway steps aside at VTDigger and will return to the reporting ranks

The Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier. Photo (cc) 2015 by Dan Kennedy.

There is mega-news to report in the world of nonprofit digital journalism. Anne Galloway, the founder of VTDigger, is stepping aside as executive editor, taking on a new role as editor-at-large. She’s staying at Digger and will focus on investigative reporting. Here’s part of the official announcement from the Vermont Journalism Trust, the nonprofit that publishes Digger:

In the 13 years since Galloway launched VTDigger, it has grown from one reporter — Galloway herself — to become the largest newsroom in Vermont, with dozens of employees and more than 550,000 monthly readers. During that time, Galloway not only scaled up the organization while spearheading daily news coverage. She also wrote many investigative pieces that explained complex issues and uncovered corruption, most notably the EB-5 fraud scandal involving developers at Jay Peak. In her new role, Galloway intends to continue following that important story for VTDigger.

In a letter to readers, Galloway writes: “Today, VTDigger is Vermont’s newspaper of record, and the only online nonprofit news organization in the country that has replaced daily print newspapers in a local market. We have developed a sustainable funding model that is the envy of our competitors in print and broadcast.”

In late 2015 I traveled to Vermont to report on the media ecosystem that had grown up to fill gaps left by the Burlington Free Press, which had shrunk considerably under the not-so-tender ministrations of Gannett. This was the original, pre-GateHouse Gannett; but despite having a reputation that was better than the current iteration, the company had taken a chainsaw to Vermont’s paper of record. In response, the alt-weekly Seven Days, Vermont Public Radio and VTDigger had all stepped up. (I wrote about my findings in “The Return of the Moguls.”)

I visited Digger at its offices near the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier. At that time the site had 13 full-time employees, seven of whom were journalists. That has since grown to 32. Galloway told me what it was like when she started the site in 2009 shortly after being laid off by the Rutland Herald.

“I didn’t have money to pay myself for two years, but I basically decided that I had to start a daily,” she said. “I started writing about the legislature. I went into the statehouse and I started covering the state budget in a very serious way. I started covering a few other issues. So it was me every day writing one to two stories.”

Now VTDigger is among the most respected nonprofits in the country covering state politics and policy. Congratulations to Galloway, and best wishes on whatever comes next.

Gannett’s Reno daily seeks charity to pay for local government coverage

Photo (cc) 2007 by Natalie Hegert

Gannett is seeking charitable donations to cover the salary of the local government reporter at the Reno Gazette Journal, one of its dailies. According to executive editor Brian Duggan, the paper is trying to raise $100,000 over the next two years so that it can keep paying Mark Robison. Duggan writes:

Mark’s salary is entirely dependent on the RGJ Fund, which is a field of interest fund held by the Community Foundation of Northern Nevada. It was established by the RGJ in 2020 as a way to help our newsroom grow.

Here’s some background from the Community Foundation.

My first reaction was blind outrage. My second reaction was tempered outrage. Short term, there’s no question that this will help the community. More coverage is better than less coverage, and Robison’s stories are offered for free, outside the Gazette Journal’s paywall.

But in the medium and long term, helping Gannett — the largest newspaper chain in the country, notorious for cutting its newsrooms to the bone — makes it more difficult for anyone else to start or maintain an independent news project. In fact, there are two such projects in Reno — This Is Reno and the Reno News & Review. Why not help them beef up their coverage of local government?

It’s not unprecedented for nonprofit grant money to be given to for-profit news organizations. To be fair, it sounds like none of the foundation’s money are actually being given to the paper; the foundation is simply administering the fund. (I emailed the foundation seeking comment but did not receive a response.) But there are two aspects of the Reno situation that stand out:

1. Robison is covering a core beat, local government. Grant money is usually used for special reporting projects, such as The Boston Globe’s series on educational inequality, “The Great Divide,” paid for partly by the Barr Foundation. Because of the grant money, the Globe is providing more and different education coverage than it otherwise might. By contrast, would the Reno paper actually not cover local government without charitable contributions? (OK, maybe it wouldn’t.)

2. Gannett keeps slashing its coverage to pay down debt and to squeeze out as much revenue as possible. I’m sure Duggan and Robison are fine journalists. But the people who own their paper demonstrate little interest in providing deep reporting in the communities they serve. Thus the donors are, in effect, subsidizing Gannett’s cost-cutting.

There has to be a better way of helping local news in Reno.

Our local Gannett weekly has given way to a mash-up of regional news

Like COVID or an overdue tax bill, the debut issue of The Transcript & Journal made its unwelcome appearance in our home earlier today. The weekly paper is a mash-up of Gannett’s Medford Transcript and Somerville Journal, a move that was announced earlier this year as part of the chain’s decision to eliminate 19 Massachusetts weeklies and merge nine others into four.

Last week’s final issue of the Medford Transcript had local news on the front page — a story about a debate among city council members on whether they should continue to meet weekly or switch to every other week and a report on efforts to build a replacement for (or substantially renovate) Medford High School.

But the front of The Transcript & Journal, as promised, replaces all that with regional news such as the Fair Share proposal to implement a statewide tax on millionaires and the opening of new restaurants in far-flung locales such as Brighton and Kingston. Meanwhile, there’s nothing on a story reported by The Boston Globe earlier this week on a civil-rights complaint filed against the Medford Police Department in which two Black residents say they were unlawfully stopped.

There is one Medford article on the front — a feature on a 10-year-old walking loop that recognizes the city’s historic landmarks. It’s a good story about something I wasn’t familiar with. It was also written by a journalism student at Endicott College. Now, journalism students are some of my favorite people. But we see what’s going on here, right?

And that’s it for the A section other than press releases, obituaries and a story about restaurants at the Burlington Mall. The B section, devoted to local sports, seems pretty much unchanged, but it was thin to begin with.

At a webinar earlier this week organized by the Shorenstein Center at the Harvard Kennedy School, Mizell Stewart III, vice president of news performance, talent and partnerships for Gannett and the USA Today Network, described the move as an attempt to drive digital subscriptions and to focus on local news that has a greater impact on people’s lives.

“Covering local news continues to be very labor intensive and very expensive,” Stewart said. The idea is to take “a more regional approach” and focus on “commonalities and trends.” But isn’t that why we have regional media like The Boston Globe, public radio and local TV newscasts?

This will not end well.

Jonathan Dotan on deep fakes, blockchain technology and the promise of Web3

Jonathan Dotan

The new “What Works” podcast features Jonathan Dotan, founding director of The Starling Lab for Data Integrity at Stanford University. The lab focuses on tools to help historians, legal experts and journalists protect images, text and other data from bad actors who want to manipulate that data to create deep fakes or expunge it altogether.

He has founded and led a number of digital startups, he worked at the Motion Picture Association of America, and he was a writer and producer for the HBO series “Silicon Valley.” While he was working on “Silicon Valley,” a character invented a new technology that got him thinking: What if everyday users could keep hold of their own data without having to store it in a cloud, where it is open to hackers or the government or other bad actors? That, at least in part, is what blockchain technology is all about, and it’s a subject about which Dotan has become a leading expert.

Dotan also shares a link to a valuable resource for anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of Web3.

I’ve got a rare rave for Gannett, which is rethinking the way its papers cover police and public safety. And Ellen Clegg unpacks a recent survey about violent attacks against broadcast reporters.

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

Gannett rethinks the public safety beat. Good. But keep an eye on the bottom line.

Photo (cc) 2017 by Raymond Wambsgans

Whenever I write about Gannett, our largest newspaper chain, it’s usually because they’re cuttings staff and closing papers. At the same time, though, the company has been a leader in rethinking how we cover law enforcement, which has emerged as a vitally important issue in the Black Lives Matter era. We know what the problems are:

  • Until recently, it was routine practice at many news outlets, especially smaller ones, simply to run stuff from the police log and from press releases issued by law enforcement without doing any actual reporting. The idea was that it’s a public record, so let’s get it out there.
  • A lack of follow-up: If charges were dropped or a suspect was acquitted, that often didn’t get reported.
  • Now that everything is digital, it’s very easy to Google someone applying for a job or whatever and find that they’d been arrested for something. Given that Black men, in particular, are disproportionately charged with crimes, it had the racist effect of denying opportunities to people of color.

So what is Gannett doing? As part of the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, the chain has come up with a Public Safety Mission Statement that tries to get at some of these issues. Four Gannett journalists recently wrote up what they’ve been doing in an essay for the American Press Association’s Better News website. Here are some of the ideas they offered:

  • Gannett newspapers have stopped running mug shots, including mug-shot galleries, “recognizing instead that law enforcement pick and choose the crimes they announce and the mug shots they release, capturing people on their worst days in their worst moments, often in situations that may not reflect the full story.”
  • At the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in upstate New York, reporters stopped rewriting routine police press releases and are trying to include community voices in public safety stories.
  • At The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, the staff is producing deeper stories on crime and policing that have led to more readers and new subscriptions. Examples of such stories include reporting on how a community was affected by a police standoff and how secrecy on the part of law enforcement prevents news outlets from reporting on allegations of excessive force.

These are all positive steps, and they follow earlier Gannett initiatives, such as making it possible for people to request that negative stories about them be removed from Google search. A number of other news outlets, including The Boston Globe, followed with similar programs.

This being Gannett, though, we should regard these initiatives with at least some degree of skepticism. Given the ongoing shrinkage of staff, it’s become increasingly difficult for the chain’s newspapers and websites to keep up with goings-on in muncipal government, public schools and public safety. Moving away from day-to-day police coverage and weighing in with an occasional piece that takes a look at broader issues may be good journalism — but it might be a money-saver as well. I say that not just theoretically but as the reader of a Gannett weekly (soon to be merged with another weekly) whose only full-time reporter is being moved to a regional beat.

So kudos to Gannett. But let’s keep an eye on what this looks like moving forward.

The Patriot Ledger will end home delivery and stick your paper in the mail

Photo (cc) 2012 by kearnsandcairns

I’ve been trying to find out how widespread this is, but to no avail. Recently I learned that The Patriot Ledger of Quincy, a Gannett daily and, back in the misty past, one of the best medium-size papers in the country, is going to end home delivery and switch to the postal service instead.

What this means for print customers is unclear. You’d think there’s no way they will receive that day’s paper until the next day, or possibly the day after, although, as you’ll see in the message below, the Ledger is promising same-day mail delivery. Of course, this comes on top of the pending closure of 19 Gannett weeklies in Massachusetts, the end of Saturday print editions at many of the dailies, and numerous other cuts — including at the Ledger itself, which will switch from a print paper to an e-edition on Mondays.

As best as I can tell, the move to the USPS is being rolled out slowly at a few Gannett dailies here and there. It doesn’t seem like an all-at-once sort of thing. For instance, when I plugged some of the language from the Ledger announcement into Google, I discovered that Gannett switched to mail delivery at The Ithaca Journal of New York and The Banner-Press of Brenham, Texas, in December. I’m not coming up with others, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there.

The message to Patriot Ledger subscribers, from a post office box in August, Georgia, was provided to me by a customer who lives in Quincy. It’s hard to see much good in here given that Gannett continues to cut its newsrooms and its coverage. It’s also very bad news for the paper’s loyal newspaper carriers; I reproduce a message from one of them below.

I have to say, though, that there are a few things in here that sound interesting. Ledger subscribers will be able to access any Gannett e-edition in the country, including the flagship USA Today. I might just get a digital subscription to USA Today if it means I can access other Gannett papers. Here’s most of the message:

Dear Subscriber:

The Patriot Ledger has been a vital part of the fabric of our community since its inception, bringing readers the reliable, local and passionate journalism you know and expect. While our commitment remains steadfast, we want to inform you of changes to your subscription.

Labor shortages have impacted newspaper deliveries across the country including the area and we want to make sure that your paper delivery is consistent. Beginning May 3, 2022, we will no longer provide home delivery of The Patriot Ledger. Delivery of your newspaper will continue and be provided via the U.S. Postal Service. The last day of home delivery will be May 2, 2022. You can expect delivery of your newspaper at the same time as your daily mail service. There will be no change to your current subscription rate.

Additionally, with more of our readers engaging with our content online, we are announcing a bold step towards our digital future. Beginning May 9, 2022, The Patriot Ledger will transition from delivering the Monday print edition to providing you a full Monday electronic edition (e-Edition), a digital version of our newspaper, available to you early morning. With the exception of Monday, you will continue to receive the print edition via USPS according to your delivery schedule.

As a loyal subscriber, we understand this change will impact you, which is why we are taking every step to ensure you have easy access to the news, sports, events and information you value most.

While a printed newspaper once was the sole means of accessing news and information, we offer many ways to connect with The Patriot Ledger. Your subscription includes unlimited digital access to patriotledger.com, where our team of journalists post updates and breaking news throughout the day, as well as our mobile apps, video, newsletters and the e-Edition….

Your local e-Edition also includes bonus magzines on various topics of interest and the full edition of USA TODAY. For quick tips on how to navigate the e-Edition visit patriotledger.com/eeditiontips.

As we make this transition, we are adding additional benefits to your subscription!

• Ad-free, 24/7 access to our USA TODAY Crossword puzzle! You can enjoy daily games by visiting puzzles.usatoday.com or through the USA TODAY Crossword app available on your iPhone or Android device.

• Universal access to all e-Editions throughout the USA TODAY Network in cities across the country, accessible via your own e-Edition. To access other newspapers, once inside the e-Edition, simply click on the icon titled Universal on the right-side navigation bar….

Thank you for your continued loyalty and support of our community-focused journalism.

Greg Mathis
Editor

So, is Gannett really making this move because of problems with its home-delivery network? Perhaps. But another Ledger customer sent me a message he received recently from a carrier who’s now out of work. Here it is:

Hello; I am writing to inform you that as of May 2, 2022, I will no longer be delivering your Patriot Ledger. The Parent company of the Patriot Ledger is the Gannett Company, they decided in their ultimate wisdom to get rid of all the Patriot Ledger Paper Carriers.

The Gannett Company has decided that they would rather pay more to have their paper delivered by the United States Postal Service. The average pay for a Patriot Ledger carrier is around $1.20 for 6 days papers (that is for all 6 days deliver $1.20). The USPS will be charging far more than this rate.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I was told that I was essential worker, and I delivered the Patriot Ledger throughout Covid every day. And now that things are getting a little better, for some reason that is beyond me, my job has been eliminated. I have enjoyed all your friendships all along the way. I feel fortunate for having the opportunity to meet you all. And hope that I also helped you by delivering your paper on time and where you wanted it.

The Patriot Ledger is also going to a 5-day newspaper, Tuesday Thru Saturday. They are stopping Monday deliveries. Gannett has continued to cut services and they are now saying to their customers you will no longer have your weekday Patriot Ledger at the time you have been receiving it and you will NEVER have your Saturday paper by 8:00am.

Many of the Patriot Ledger Carriers have been with the Patriot Ledger for many years, some for well over 20 years. We had our legally signed contracts with the Gannett Company voided because the contract has always been written in favor of the Company.

I have met the nicest guys that are also doing routes husbands, fathers, grandfathers, and ladies that have delivered the Patriot Ledger longer than most of the men. I have met the nicest customers because of this route too. Have enjoyed your friendships and your many kindnesses and gifts.

I want to say it has been a pleasure delivering your Patriot Ledger, and I will miss the friends I have made over these many years. For a while both our kids were in the Military and they also were deployed to the Middle East at the same time. This very route helped me to keep my mind off everythig too. They are both thankfully home.

Sincerely,

Your Patriot Ledger Carrier.
(name redacted)

Do you know of other daily newspapers that are dropping home delivery in favor of mailing it out? Please let me know in the comments.

In Lexington, a slice of local newspaper history

I thought you might enjoy a little slice of local newspaper history that I dug up Tuesday while doing some research. Mike Rosenberg of The Bedford Citizen once told me that Alan Adams, the former owner of the Lexington Minuteman and, eventually, five other papers, had a building named after him. Today I located the building and learned a little bit about Adams.

First, the building. It’s right next to the Minuteman Bikeway in the center of Lexington, across Meriam Street from the Lexington Visitors Center on the other side of the street. It’s pretty nondescript if you view it from the bikeway, since you’re looking at the side of the building. From Mudge, though, it’s quite striking — white and brick with four large white columns, with “Adams Building” written across the top. It has long ceased to serve as a newspaper headquarters and today mainly comprises professional offices.

Adams died in 1975 at the age of 70. According to his obituary in The Boston Globe, he began working at the Lexington Minuteman (also known variously as the Minute-man, or the Minute-Man) in 1930, and bought the paper in 1932. He also served as a local politico. Among other things, he chaired the Republican Town Committee and held elected office as a town selectman. Presumably he got good press. Obviously it’s not the sort of conflict that anyone would tolerate today, but it wasn’t that uncommon at the time.

From Richard Kollen’s history of Lexington. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume this photo isn’t protected by copyright.

According to a 2004 book by Lexington historian Richard Kollen titled “Lexington: From Liberty’s Birthplace to Progressive Suburb,” Adams used the Minuteman’s pages during World War II to promote wartime measures such as keeping the lights turned off at night so that the pilots of any incoming German bombers wouldn’t be able to see their targets. Adams also admonished his fellow townspeople for not taking those precautions seriously enough, once writing: “Seven stores were reported with unsatisfactory preparations and … all too many houses have not taken care of their porch lights properly.”

Adams sold his papers in 1971, according to the Globe obit. I’m not sure what their immediate fate was, but I know that at some point they were combined with another local chain called Beacon. The Beacon-Minuteman Corp., based in Acton, was eventually acquired by Fidelity’s Community Newspaper Co., then by Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell, and then GateHouse Media, which merged several years ago with Gannett.

Today the Lexington Minuteman is a shell of what it once was, though it was among a handful of Gannett weeklies that escaped being targeted for shutdown or a merger during a recent round of cost-cutting. Adams himself represented a different era in local journalism — one that was ethically lax in some respects, but that served as the voice of the community in ways that we rarely see anymore.