Update: This is getting complicated, so let me give it another shot. Bill Shaner, who writes the newsletter Worcester Sucks and I Love It, reports that the Guardian has lifted its About page almost verbatim from The New Bedford Light, a large, well-established nonprofit. But it should be noted that the very first line of the Guardian’s ethics and practices policies — not the same as its About page — is this: “We will subscribe to standards of editorial independence adopted by the Institute for Nonprofit News and the New Bedford Light.” The attribution should be clearer and included in the About page, too.
New England’s second largest city will soon be getting its own nonprofit news organization — but there’s a twist. The sponsor behind The Worcester Guardian is the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, a business group whose involvement, on the face of it, is incompatible with the independence that accountability journalism requires.
I’m not dismissing this out of hand. The press release issued by the Chamber says that the Guardian will be governed by “an independent board of directors and a community advisory board,” and that the project will seek membership in the Institute for Nonprofit News. INN is not going to approve the Guardian’s application unless its leadership is satisfied that the Chamber will not be in a position to dictate or interfere with coverage. Here, for example, is an excerpt from INN’s model code of ethics:
Our organization retains full authority over editorial content to protect the best journalistic and business interests of our organization. We maintain a firewall between news coverage decisions and sources of all revenue. Acceptance of financial support does not constitute implied or actual endorsement of donors or their products, services or opinions.
In addition, Dave Nordman, the former executive editor of the city’s daily, the Telegram & Gazette, has signed on as a consultant to the project. Nordman is an outstanding journalist. Dave has been a Northeastern colleague for the past couple of years, serving as executive editor in the university’s office of external affairs.
The Worcester area has been something of a news desert for years, as Gannett has hollowed out the T&G. It sounds like the Chamber is trying to do the right thing, and I wish the Guardian well.
In his report on the launch for the Boston Business Journal, Don Seiffert writes that the Chamber will help the Guardian get started with a $50,000 donation. Below is the Chamber’s press release.
“The Worcester Guardian will deliver free civically oriented journalism on an array of topics important to Worcester and the Central Massachusetts region,” said Timothy P. Murray, the chamber’s president and CEO.
This announcement coincides with the public release of a white paper prepared for the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors in July titled, “Central Massachusetts: A story to be told – a new model for Worcester in delivering civic information and local news to Central Massachusetts residents.”
The white paper details the growing national trend of communities establishing non-profit news organizations. Successful nonprofit news organizations in New England include VTDigger in Vermont, the New Hampshire Bulletin and the New Bedford Light. In Maine, the nonprofit National Trust for Local News recently purchased five daily and 17 weekly newspapers.
The Worcester Guardian has applied for membership in the Institute for Nonprofit News, which has over 425 affiliates nationwide, including 38 in Massachusetts.
Readers will be able to access stories free of charge through the Worcester Guardian’s website, social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram and X (formerly Twitter) – as well as free email newsletters.
“As is the case in other communities this will take time to scale and will require resources and support from the business community, various institutions and nonprofits, as well as everyday readers,” Murray said. “It will be work, but I am confident the community will respond and support this important initiative that will seek to tell our collective story locally, statewide and across the country on a daily basis.”
Since 2000, more than 2,200 newspapers across the country have closed, including over 360 alone since just before the start of the pandemic, according to the New York Times. In Worcester, the Telegram & Gazette has seen steady cutbacks under corporate ownership since being sold by the Stoddard, Fletcher and Booth families in 1986.
“The decline of local news both here in Central Massachusetts and across the country is unhealthy to our civic well-being,” said Christine Cassidy, the chamber’s board chair. “Consistent with the chamber’s role over its nearly 150-year history and our mission in seeking to better our region, the chamber will lead the facilitation over the next 18 to 24 months in establishing an independent and sustainable nonprofit news organization.”
This will include establishing an independent board of directors and a community advisory board for the new 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
To ensure the Worcester Guardian follows proper journalistic guidelines from the outset, former Telegram & Gazette executive editor David Nordman will serve as a consultant to the new nonprofit news organization.
“I am excited to assist with this important initiative,” Nordman said. “Free, nonprofit, independent news provides a dynamic new platform to tell the Central Massachusetts story and report on important issues impacting Worcester and the region.”