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

Tag: MassINC

Bruce Mohl will retire as editor of CommonWealth Beacon

Bruce Mohl. Photo (cc) 2011 by the Rappaport Center.

CommonWealth Beacon editor Bruce Mohl has announced that he’ll be retiring later in 2024 after 15 years on the job. As Bruce notes, the publication was a four-times-a-year print publication known as CommonWealth magazine when he started and is now a growing digital operation covering state politics and public policy. He writes: “To all of you, I wanted to say thanks. Thanks for reading. Thanks for returning phone calls. Thanks for the news tips. And most of all thanks for getting involved.”

CEO Joe Kriesberg adds:

Under his leadership, CommonWealth magazine and now CommonWealth Beacon have been essential reading for all of us who are interested in and care about public affairs and civic life in Massachusetts. Bruce is widely recognized as one of the best reporters in the Commonwealth, regularly breaking stories and providing in-depth coverage of complicated issues like energy and transportation. His leadership has ensured CommonWealth’s editorial independence and maintained a standard of fair, open-minded and non-partisan coverage that is a hallmark of CommonWealth Beacon.

Best wishes to Bruce, who was a longtime editor and reporter at The Boston Globe before coming to CommonWealth, which is published by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC), a nonpartisan think tank. Disclosures: I’ve had a long, off-and-on association with the publication myself. For a few years in the late aughts, I wrote regular media features for the print magazine. And now I’m a member of the editorial advisory board.

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The Herald’s curious quote from CommonWealth

How did CommonWealth Magazine reporter Colman Herman’s words end up in former state inspector general Greg Sullivan’s mouth when Sullivan was quoted in the Boston Herald? It’s a great question, and John Carroll asks it at his blog It’s Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town.

Here’s what happened. As Carroll noted Friday, both The Boston Globe and the Herald ran stories about a sweetheart deal the Red Sox have had with the city since the 1940s after Herman reported the previous day that there seemed to be no legal basis for it. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is said to be investigating. The Globe credited CommonWealth; the Herald didn’t.

But what is stranger still is that the Herald story, by Richard Weir, quotes Sullivan as saying something that Herman wrote, word for word: “No other single private entity is allowed to close off a street in Boston on a regular basis.” Carroll adds he has it on “good authority” that Sullivan contends he never said it.

Perhaps it’s also worth pointing out that CommonWealth and the Herald have a poisonous relationship. For reasons that were never clear, a couple of years ago the Herald went after CommonWealth’s publisher, the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, a nonprofit think tank. Here is an example. (Note: I used to write a media column for CommonWealth and remain a friend of MassINC.)

It’s hard to know what to make of the latest weirdness without hearing from Sullivan and the Herald. Now that Carroll has documented it, I hope the principals will weigh in.

Update: A couple of people reminded me of this CommonWealth story, which challenged the Legend of Gidget, one of the foundations on which the modern Herald was built. So maybe that’s where the animus began.

Talking about data, journalism and the future

Brent Benson has written a thoughtful piece about Tuesday’s panel discussion on “Big Data and the Future of Journalism.”

I had the privilege of moderating a great panel comprising Laura Amico of Homicide Watch and WBUR Radio’s Learning Lab (she also teaches a journalism course at Northeastern); John Bracken of the Knight Foundation; Charles Kravetz, general manager of WBUR; and Paul McMorrow of CommonWealth Magazine and The Boston Globe.

The quote I’ll remember:

If you’d like to get a feel for how the discussion played out on Twitter, just click here.

Update: Catherine D’Ignazio of the MIT Center for Civic Media has posted a comprehensive live blog of the panel discussion.

Data journalism: What it is and why it matters


If you think Big Data is a reference to David Ortiz’s World Series OPS, you’ll want to be sure to attend MassINC’s free panel discussion on “Big Data and the Future of Journalism” on Tuesday, Feb. 11, at 4 p.m.

I’ll be moderating, which means you and I will have a chance to learn from some wicked smart people about what data journalism is, where it’s headed and why it matters. You can find out all the details by clicking here.

In addition to the panelists listed, we’ll be joined by Laura Amico, the co-founder of Homicide Watch, who teaches at Northeastern University and is working on a project called Learning Lab at WBUR Radio (90.9 FM).

Haverhill Matters moves closer to reality

The Bradford Bridge, looking north toward downtown Haverhill

The Bradford Bridge, looking north toward downtown Haverhill

This article appeared earlier at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

It was as incongruous a situation as I could imagine. Friday, April 19, was one of the most gripping news days we have ever experienced in Massachusetts. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger of the suspected marathon bombers, was in hiding. Boston and several other cities were under voluntary lockdown. And that morning I was driving north, toward Haverhill, on my way to a meeting where earnest community activists were making plans to revive local journalism.

While all hell was breaking loose elsewhere, the Haverhill Matters Organizing Committee met in a sunny conference room at Haverhill Community Television. The committee’s goal is to launch a cooperatively owned news site to be called Haverhill Matters sometime this year.

It’s been a long time coming. Tom Stites, a veteran journalist who’s worked at the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, came up with the idea of local news co-ops a few years ago. He founded the Banyan Project to serve as an umbrella; Haverhill Matters will be the pilot. I wrote about his plans for the Nieman Journalism Lab last year, as well as in the epilogue to my forthcoming book about online community journalism, “The Wired City.” The launch date for Haverhill Matters has slipped a few times, but at this point it looks like 2013 will be the year.

The hour-long meeting was taken up with fairly mundane planning issues, but I could see that the site is moving toward reality. Currently the committee is at the first of a four-stage process, outlined in considerable detail on the Banyan website. The organizers envision everything from crowdsourced reporting projects to quotidian coverage of local news. A board of directors will hire two full-time employees: an executive director and an editor. The site will also make ample use of freelancers, neighborhood bloggers, and college and high school interns.

After some back-and-forth about liability issues, the committee members agreed to sign on with the Cooperative Development Institute to handle Haverhill Matters’ finances. There were charts about finances and timetables, and about how the yet-to-be-hired editor should spend the 520 hours he or she will be working each quarter.

“We’re really at a go/no-go moment, and I think we’ve decided to go,” said Tim Coco, president and general manager of WHAV, an online radio station based in Haverhill.

“Well, we want to,” replied local activist Mike LaBonte, co-chair of the organizing committee.

Coco professed some skepticism about what he was hearing but supported the idea of moving ahead. “It’s not feasible,” he said, “but that’s never stopped me before.”

The Banyan Project is aimed at serving what Stites calls “news deserts” — less-than-affluent communities that tend to be shunned by high-end advertisers and, thus, by the news organizations that rely on those advertisers. Haverhill, a city of 61,000 on the Merrimack River at the New Hampshire line, meets that definition. The Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, or MassINC, lists Haverhill as one of 11 “Gateway Cities” — former manufacturing centers that are struggling with a lack of resources and economic investment.

Yet in other respects, Haverhill is an unlikely news desert. Though the days when two daily newspapers battled it out are long gone, the Eagle-Tribune, based in nearby North Andover, continues to publish a daily Haverhill edition. The Eagle-Tribune also publishes a weekly paper, the Haverhill Gazette, that offers local staples such as school news, feel-good features and announcements. Add in Haverhill Community Television, with its robust lineup of local programming, and WHAV, and it would appear that more than a few flowers are sprouting in this particular desert.

The real target, then, is the unaccountability of local journalism controlled by out-of-state corporations. For years now, the Eagle-Tribune’s owner, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. (CNHI) of Montgomery, Ala., has been decimating its properties. Neither the Eagle-Tribune nor the Gazette has an office in Haverhill anymore. Thus Haverhill Matters represents an attempt by local residents to tell their own story.

In reporting “The Wired City,” I learned that there are problems with both the for-profit and nonprofit models of independent online local journalism. The owners of the for-profits — including sites like The BatavianCT News Junkie, and Baristanet — have to spend so much time selling advertising that it limits the amount of journalism they can afford to do.

Nonprofits such as the New Haven Independent, the main focus of my book, are more robust. But not every community is willing to support such a venture, and the Internet Revenue Service has made it increasingly difficult for such sites to attain nonprofit 501(c)(3) status. Moreover, nonprofits are prohibited from endorsing political candidates, traditionally an important activity for local news organizations.

A cooperatively owned news site — analogies include credit unions and food co-ops — would occupy a space somewhere between the two models, and would not be banned from publishing endorsements. Tom Stites is currently soliciting contributions for Haverhill Matters’ launch. Once the site is up and running, he hopes to attract 1,500 members at $36 a year, bringing in $54,000, as well as advertising and grant money. A chart Mike LaBonte displayed showed an initial $45,000 expenditure, with the site reaching break-even in two and a half years.

Unlike one-off projects such as the New Haven Independent or The Batavian, the intention behind Haverhill Matters is that it be replicable. Stites hopes the Banyan Project will be able to offer a “co-op in a box” to communities looking to start their own cooperatively owned news sites. But first he has to prove the model can work. Which is why Haverhill Matters matters.

Photo (cc) 2013 by Dan Kennedy. Some rights reserved.

Monday-morning media morsels

A few media odds and ends for your Monday morning:

• Marjorie Arons-Barron, a communications executive who was previously the longtime editorial director of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), recently started a blog. Arons-Barron is as sharp an observer of state and local politics as we have, and you should definitely plug her into your RSS aggregator. It is no slam on the city’s newspapers to point out that she is easily a match for anyone opining at the Boston Globe, the Boston Phoenix or the Boston Herald.

• During the special-election campaign for the U.S. Senate, a mystery blogger started a site called and became a respected source of links and information. After revealing himself to be Conor Yunits, the son of a former Brockton mayor and something of an aspiring politico in his own right, he has begun what looks to be a more permanent project called Worth watching.

• CommonWealth Magazine, the quarterly public-policy journal published by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, has a new online look and a new URL. Not only is it a lot slicker and easier to read, but it is more closely tied to its blog, CommonWealth Unbound. Of particular interest is a section called Civic Journalism, with blog posts by and interviews with the likes of Globe editor Marty Baron, former Globe editor Matt Storin, former Globe columnist Eileen McNamara (do I detect a trend?) and Phoenix reporter-turned-media consultant Dorie Clark.

• Richard Adams, who has been editing my weekly commentaries for the Guardian since I started writing them in mid-2007, has been promoted, and is now writing a blog for the paper’s Web site. I especially like his item on President Obama’s summit with House Republicans, which begins: “When the Republicans invited President Obama to address their congressional House delegation in Baltimore today, they had no idea how badly it would turn out for them.” Definitely RSS-worthy.

Plugged in, tuned out

I’ll be taking part in a panel discussion tomorrow evening on young people and the news. Titled “Plugged In, Tuned Out,” the program — sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC) — will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Back Bay Events Center, in the Dorothy Quincy Suite at 180 Berkeley St. in Boston.

Other panelists will be Adam Gaffin, the impresario of Universal Hub; Bianca Vazquez Toness, a reporter for WBUR Radio (90.9 FM); and Dante Ramos (scroll down a bit), deputy editorial-page editor of the Boston Globe. The moderator will be Adam Reilly of the Boston Phoenix.

The panel is an outgrowth of an article I wrote for MassINC’s quarterly magazine, CommonWealth, which you can read here. For more information and to RSVP, click here.

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