Bringing a new Light to the undercovered community of New Bedford

Palmer’s Island Lighthouse in New Bedford Harbor. Photo (cc) 2010 by the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.

The New Bedford Light, a nonprofit news project launched recently, could lay claim to being the most highly touted community journalism organization in quite some time. Today, The New York Times weighs in. Previously, The Boston Globe and CommonWealth Magazine ran profiles.

As the Times’ Katharine Q. Seelye notes, the Light’s model is to run one significant story a day in the hopes of filling the gap created by the implosion of The Standard-Times, a venerable New Bedford daily that has been ripped apart under the ownership of the Gannett chain.

“We cannot go down the route of the daily newspaper that tries to do all things for all people,” the editor, Barbara Roessner, told Seelye. “The challenge for us is to stay disciplined to do the deeper work and not be caught up in the daily news cycle.”

I’m not so sure about that. As I’ve written previously, what the city might need more than anything is daily accountability journalism. It can be done effectively with a small staff, as the New Haven Independent, to name one example, has been demonstrating for nearly 16 years.

Still, the Light is attractive and has published some significant stories since its debut. Leading the site right now is a story by Will Sennott on the city’s looming eviction crisis. Other recent stories include a look at the effects of rising real-estate prices and racial and ethnic patterns of where COVID-19 hit the New Bedford area the hardest.

The leadership of the Light is unusually high-powered. Roessner is a former managing editor of the Hartford Courant and former executive editor of the Hearst Connecticut Media Group. The publisher is Stephen Taylor, a former top executive of The Boston Globe as well as a member of the family that used to own the Globe. Walter Robinson of “Spotlight” fame is a board member.

It looks like the Light should go a long way toward changing New Bedford’s status as an undercovered community.

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A nonprofit in New Bedford seeks to fill the gap left by Gannett’s Standard-Times

Best wishes to New Bedford Light, a nonprofit startup that is aiming to provide in-depth journalism in a city whose legacy newspaper, The Standard-Times, has been gutted by Gannett. Bruce Mohl of CommonWealth magazine reports. (MassINC chair Greg Torres, which publishes CommonWealth, is involved.)

The Light hasn’t launched yet, but it’s had a Facebook page for several months. I hope the project succeeds, but I’m a little bit skeptical of the model. Mohl writes:

Barbara Roessner, the founding editor, lives in Westport and is a former managing editor of the Hartford Courant. Her initial plan calls for producing one major in-depth piece of journalism each week; the focus will be on providing context and insight, she said, not breaking news or high school sports.

I wonder if it might make more sense to make the Light essential to everyone right from the start by providing basic accountability journalism — city council, school committee, police, development and the like. Mohl does describe the once-a-week pace as the “initial” plan; maybe that will evolve into more comprehensive coverage as the project develops. My advice would be to cover the everyday details of city life and leave the suburbs to The Standard-Times. The logo, though, references “Greater New Bedford,” which suggests they’re looking beyond the city.

I was also interested to see that the group behind the Light approached Gannett about selling The Standard-Times and was turned down. Maybe the chain’s executives will come to regret their decision. More likely they’ve calculated that there are a few more dollars they can squeeze out.

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