Together, we can do something about local news coverage in Medford

Last fall I asked the lone full-time reporter for the Medford Transcript if he would take part in the mayoral debate I was helping to organize for the Medford Chamber of Commerce. He told me that he would have liked to, but that he couldn’t because he’d be covering it. A reasonable answer, although it also spoke to the Transcript’s lack of resources.

Not long after, he left the paper. The debate was covered by a part-time stringer. And today, more than a year and a half later, that full-time position still hasn’t been filled.

The Transcript does assign stringers to cover a few stories. They do a good job, and nothing I write here should be taken as denigrating their work. But in a city of nearly 58,000 people, we have enough news for a staff of two full-time reporters. Or four. Even when we had one, the young journalists who filled that position managed to write some important stories before moving on to bigger and better jobs. Zero, though, is just untenable.

Today Medford is very close to being a news desert, joining hundreds if not thousands of communities across the country that have so little coverage that they lack the reliable news and information they need to participate in local affairs in a meaningful way. Instead, we rely on Facebook, Nextdoor, Patch (which does have a little bit of original reporting), email lists, messages from the mayor, texts from the police department and reports by citizens who have the time and the inclination to sit through public meetings on Zoom and write them up. (Update: Since publishing this essay, I’ve learned about a free paper called the Medford News Weekly. Despite its name, there’s a lot of Somerville news in it, and the content is mostly press releases. Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on.)

As a longtime journalist and academic who studies the business of news, I want to share some thoughts on what might be done to solve the problem. Over the past few years, I’ve had several conversations with people in Medford about how to fill the gap created by the hollowing-out of our local newspaper. But solving the problem is a daunting task and, frankly, those conversations didn’t lead anywhere. First, though, a bit on how we got here. Continue reading “Together, we can do something about local news coverage in Medford”

More than 1,000 turn out for Black Lives Matter rally in Medford

Grace Episcopal Church. Photos (cc) 2020 by Dan Kennedy.

We just got back from a huge Black Lives Matter protest and march organized by Mobilize Medford. A crowd that I’d estimate at well over 1,000 people gathered in front of City Hall to protest against racism and police brutality. Afterwards, the protesters marched and chanted along High Street — Paul Revere’s route — to West Medford. We left the march at Grace Episcopal Church, where we’d parked our car. It was an impressive turnout for an important cause.

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Daily papers in Medford and Malden, long in extremis, finally give up the ghost

The Malden Evening News. Photo via Wicked Local, from the News' now-defunct Twitter account.
The Malden Evening News. Photo via Wicked Local, from the News’ now-defunct Twitter account.

Two venerable Greater Boston daily newspapers, the Malden Evening News and the Medford Daily Mercury, have ceased publication, according to Wicked Local. In recent years there was little news in either one. But they were good papers under the ownership of the late David Brickman, who bought the Mercury in 1947 and eventually owned both papers as well as a third, the Melrose Evening News.

According to an obituary of Brickman that appeared in The Boston Globe in 1992, he was a driving force behind the state’s open-meeting law and served on the state’s Ethics Commission. He also served in various political capacities under governors Leverett Saltonstall, Christian Herter, John Volpe, Endicott Peabody, Foster Furcolo and Ed King, all while continuing to publish his newspapers. That’s not exactly what we would consider ethical journalism today, but it wasn’t that unusual at the time.

In the early 1980s my wife, Barbara Kennedy, was a freelance photographer for Brickman’s papers. We lived in Medford back then, and the five-days-a-week Mercury was a respectable source of goings-on around the city. Even then, though, there were signs that Brickman was having financial difficulties (freelancers are always the first to know), and he sold his papers in 1989.

According to this well-sourced Wikipedia article, in 1990 Brickman’s successor, Warren Jackson, combined all three papers, as well as an Everett edition of the Malden paper, into one entity known as the Daily News-Mercury. In 1996 the paper was acquired by its last owners, the Horgan family, who revived the separate Malden and Medford nameplates.

When Barbara and I returned to Medford in 2014 after 30 years on the North Shore, we discovered that the Mercury had fallen on hard times, as its contents consisted almost entirely of press releases from Malden. We began reading GateHouse’s Medford Transcript, a Wicked Local weekly, which does a respectable job with its extremely limited staffing.

As sad as it is to see any newspaper go under, perhaps the not-unexpected demise of the Malden and Medford dailies will open up an opportunity for someone to start an independent journalism project to give GateHouse some competition, either in print or online. Medford is already the home to several vibrant online communities and to a website called Top 10 Things to Know in Medford Right Now, which suggests that the demand is there.

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A Medford church’s demise and uncertain revival

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Photo via Penny Postcards

The Boston Globe has published a terrific story by reporter Lisa Wangsness and photographer Dina Rudick about a Congregational church in our West Medford neighborhood.

It was right down the street from us when we lived here in the early ’80s. When we returned to a different part of West Medford in late 2015, we noticed it had become a Haitian church and that the Congregationalists had moved into a storefront in West Medford Square. The storefront is called the Sanctuary United Church of Christ.

Now I know what happened.

A wicked smart idea to fund public transportation

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2006 photo (cc) by Adam E. Moreira.

The Boston Globe’s Tim Logan has an important story today about an emerging new paradigm for funding public transportation: charging a fee to property owners who will benefit from it.

It’s already working in some areas, Logan reports. Columnist Shirley Leung notes that Steve Wynn is paying a substantial subsidy to improve Orange Line access to his proposed Everett casino (which I still hope will never get off the ground, but that’s another matter).

My wicked smart Facebook community has already been talking about using such fees to pay for the $1 billion extra that it’s going to cost to build the Green Line Extension into Somerville and Medford. It sounds to me like a great idea, especially since — as state Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack tells Logan — developers are already assessed fees for road improvements. I’d rather see them pay for a new MBTA station than a new interchange.

As always, we need to avoid unintended consequences. There’s already a danger that small, independent businesses will be forced out as property values soar. Perhaps they could be exempt from whatever fee structure the state ultimately decides to adopt.

Endless winter

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The Mystic River in Medford on a very gray Saturday morning, just before the snow. (Click on image for larger view.)

A chance encounter in a snowbound cemetery

Oak Grove Cemetery
Oak Grove Cemetery

Because today was a rare beautiful day, I took a walk this afternoon through Oak Grove Cemetery in Medford, which is down the street from our house. The snow was so deep that it reached up near the tops of the gravestones — an eerie sight even in the bright sunlight.

I came across a middle-aged man and woman. She was sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car. He was trying to make his way through deep snow toward a grave, holding a brightly colored balloon that proclaimed “Happy Birthday!”

Whose grave were they visiting? A parent’s? No, that’s not what I was really thinking. A child’s? The passage of time must have healed whatever pain they had lived through, because they seemed to be in a light-hearted mood. I heard the theme from “Rocky” as he closed in on his destination (“Da-da-daaaa! Da-da-daaaa!”)

All of us eavesdrop on the lives of others every day. For whatever reason, this one stuck with me.

Before the next blizzard

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Looking north toward the Upper Mystic Lake from the causeway between the Upper and Lower Mystic Lakes at the Medford-Arlington line. Please click on the image for a high-resolution Flickr slideshow.