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

Tag: New Haven Independent Page 1 of 12

Why large foundations need to step up for smaller local news projects

Postcard of Athens, Ohio, via Wikimedia Commons

In the course of our reporting for “What Works in Community News,” Ellen Clegg and I were confronted with a reality that cuts against our usual optimism: that though news startups across the country are helping to fill the gap created by the decline of legacy newspapers, the new media landscape is unevenly distributed.

Large regional and statewide nonprofits like The Texas Tribune and NJ Spotlight News are doing reasonably well, though the Tribune has recently hit a few bumps and Spotlight has never been a fundraising behemoth. Smaller projects serving affluent suburbs, like a number of startups in Eastern Massachusetts, are doing well. But there are few independent news outlets serving low-population rural areas and urban communities of color, and those that do exist are often overlooked by the larger philanthropic organizations.

Corinne Colbert writes about that reality for a newsletter called Local News Blues, which I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of until my friend and teacher Howard Owens of The Batavian pointed me to it a few days ago. Colbert is cofounder and editor-in-chief of the Athens County Independent, a nonprofit digital startup that in southeastern Ohio. Late last week she wrote a commentary headlined “Does big philanthropy really care about our smaller news markets?” Now, you know the rule about question headlines: the answer is almost always “no.” She observes:

Nearly 60% of foundation grants go to national and global nonprofit outlets, according to the Institute for Nonprofit News. Local outlets — which INN defines as those serving audiences at the county, city or town level or having a specific focus — represent almost one-fourth of nonprofit news jobs, but we get less than 20% of foundation funding. That gap represents millions and millions of dollars.

Recently the Houston Landing, a well-funded nonprofit with strong backing from the American Journalism Project, imploded when the publisher fired the highly regarded editor and the top investigative reporter without offering any logical explanation. The Landing may recover, but there’s been a serious lack of transparency. Meanwhile, projects that Ellen and I have written about such as MLK50 in Memphis and the New Haven Independent have never been able to attract much in the way of national funding, even though both are performing vitally important work.

Nonprofits are bringing news and information to communities in ways that for-profits often no longer can. But it’s time for major foundations — including Press Forward, a $500 million effort comprising 22 philanthropies — to bring renewed efforts to helping not just large, sexy projects but more quotidian efforts as well. Fortunately there are signs that Press Forward gets it.

“Small markets … present business challenges that corporations are often unwilling to face,” writes Colbert, “and those challenges make launching or growing a local news operation especially difficult. National funders could ease those burdens, but first they have to acknowledge our existence — and our importance.”

Leave a comment | Read comments

How Norma Rodriguez-Reyes became one of New Haven’s leading media executives

Norma Rodriguez-Reyes. Photo (cc) 2021 by Dan Kennedy.

On the latest “What Works” podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Norma Rodriguez-Reyes, the president of  La Voz Hispana de Connecticut. La Voz started circulating in New Haven in 1993, but fell on hard times. Norma helped take charge of the paper in 1998 when it verged on bankruptcy. Under her direction, the for-profit newspaper has grown into the state’s most-read free Spanish-language weekly. It reaches more than 125,000 Spanish speakers across Connecticut.

Norma is among the entrepreneurs highlighted in our new book, “What Works in Community News.” In addition to her work at La Voz, Norma is the board chair of the Online Journalism Project, the nonprofit umbrella that includes the New Haven Independent, the Valley Independent Sentinel, and WNHH community radio. The New Haven Indy and the radio station both work out of La Voz’s offices in downtown New Haven.

I’ll be in New Haven next Tuesday, Jan. 16 (details here), to talk about our book in a conversation with Paul Bass, the founder of the New Haven Indy and now the executive director of the Online Journalism Project. Paul is also in charge of yet another nonprofit media project, the Independent Review Crew, which produces arts and culture reviews in cities across the country, including Boston. He talked about the project on our podcast last September.

Ellen has a Quick Take on a surprising development in local news on Martha’s Vineyard. The ownership of the weekly Martha’s Vineyard Times has changed hands. Longtime publishers and owners Peter and Barbara Oberfest sold the Island news organization to Steve Bernier, a West Tisbury resident and longtime owner of Cronig’s Market.  And the acting publisher is Charles Sennott, a highly decorated journalist and founder and editor of The GroundTruth Project. He also helped launch Report for America.

I discuss a hard situation at Eugene Weekly, an alternative weekly in Oregon that’s been around for four decades. EW has shut down and laid off its 10-person staff after learning that the paper was the victim of embezzlement. Although the folks at EW are optimistic that a fundraising campaign will get them back on their feet, the closure has had a devastating effect on Eugene’s local news scene.

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

Leave a comment | Read comments

In New Haven, a pro-Palestinian protester targets a symbol of Judaism

The New Haven Independent reports that during a large demonstration on Saturday, a pro-Palestinian protester climbed a giant menorah on New Haven Green and inserted a Palestinian flag between the candle-holders — an act of pure, unadulterated antisemitism. Fortunately, reporter Jake Dressler writes, other protesters “pleaded with him to take down the flag” and that “the flag was taken down immediately by other protesters.”

Paul Bass, executive director of the Online Journalism Project (which makes him essentially the publisher of the nonprofit Independent), wrote on Threads: “If this incident blows up, I think one question will be how this relates to the discussion of when/ whether/ how to separate anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism.” Indeed, the protester took the notion that criticism of Israel isn’t antisemitism and turned it on its head.

The Independent is one of the projects that Ellen Clegg and I write about in our forthcoming book, “What Works in Community News.”

Leave a comment | Read comments

Paul Bass, a hyperlocal pioneer, talks about his national network of arts and culture reviewers

Paul Bass checks the 2021 New Haven election returns. Photo by Maaisha Osman. Used with permission.

On the latest “What Works” podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Paul Bass, the founder and former editor of the New Haven Independent. Bass is originally from White Plains, New York, but he arrived in New Haven in the late 1970s to attend Yale, and he has been reporting on all the quirks and glory of his adopted hometown ever since.

Bass was the main subject of my 2013 book, “The Wired City,” and is one of the news entrepreneurs featured in our forthcoming book, “What Works in Community News.” Bass launched the New Haven Independent in 2005 as an online-only nonprofit.

Last fall, Bass announced he was stepping aside as editor, handing the top job over to managing editor Tom Breen. But he’s continuing to play a role at the Independent and its multimedia arms, and he has just begun another venture: the Independent Review Crew, which features arts and culture reviews from all over, including right here in Boston via Universal Hub.

Ellen has a Quick Take on The Texas Tribune, the much-admired nonprofit news outlet started by Evan Smith and others in Austin. The Tribune has been a model for other startups, so it rocked the world of local news last month when CEO Sonal Shah announced that 11 staffers had been laid off.

I report on another acquisition by Alden Global Capital, the New York-based hedge fund that has earned scorn for the way it manages its newspapers. Alden acquired four family-owned newspapers in Pennsylvania. Worse, the family members who actually ran the papers wanted to keep them, but they were outvoted by the rest of the family.

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

Leave a comment | Read comments

Greater Boston arts and local news get a boost from three new nonprofit projects

There’s good news about local news in Greater Boston today on three fronts. I’ll start with an attempt to revive arts reviews — at one time a staple of mainstream and alternative publications, but now relegated to niche outlets like The Arts Fuse, a high-quality website edited by Boston University professor and former Boston Phoenix arts writer Bill Marx.

Recently Paul Bass, the executive director of the nonprofit Online Journalism Project in New Haven, Connecticut, launched a grant-funded project called the Independent Review Crew (link now fixed). Freelancers in seven parts of the country are writing about music, theater and other in-person cultural events. Boston is among those seven, and freelance writer-photographer Sasha Patkin is weighing in with her take on everything from concerts to sand sculpture.

You can read Patkin’s work on the Review Crew’s website — and, this week, her reviews started running on Universal Hub as well, which gives her a much wider audience. Here’s her first contribution.

Bass is the founder of the New Haven Independent, started in 2005 as part of the first wave of nonprofit community websites. The Online Journalism Project is the nonprofit umbrella that publishes the Indy and a sister site in New Haven’s northwest suburbs; it also oversees a low-power radio station in New Haven, WNHH-LP. Before 2005, Bass was a fixture at the now-defunct New Haven Advocate, an alt-weekly that, like the Phoenix, led with local arts and was filled with reviews. The Review Crew is his bid to revive the long lost art, if you will, of arts reviewing.

Other places that are part of The Review Crew: New Haven; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Troy/Albany, New York; Oakland, California; Hartford, Connecticut; and Northwest Arkansas (the Fayetteville metro area is home to about 576,000 people).

I’ve got all kinds of disclosures I need to share here. I gave Bass some guidance before he launched The Review Crew — not that he needed any. The Indy was the main subject of my 2013 book “The Wired City,” and I’ve got a lengthy update in “What Works in Community News,” the forthcoming book that Ellen Clegg and I have written. I also suggested Universal Hub to Bass as an additional outlet for The Review Crew; I’ve known Gaffin for years, and at one time I made a little money through a blogging network he set up. Gaffin was a recent guest on the “What Works” podcast.

In other words, I would wish Paul the best of luck in any case, but this time I’ve got a bit more of a stake in it.

***

The Phoenix was not the city’s last alt-weekly. For nearly a decade after the Phoenix shut down in 2013, DigBoston continued on with a mix of news and arts coverage. Unfortunately, the Dig, which struggled mightily during COVID, finally ended its run earlier this year. But Dig editors Chris Faraone and Jason Pramas are now morphing the paper into something else — HorizonMass, a statewide online news outlet. Pramas will serve as editor-in-chief and Faraone as editor-at-large, with a host of contributors.

HorizonMass will publish as part of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, founded by Faraone and Pramas some years back to funnel long-form investigative coverage to a number of media outlets, including the Dig. HorizonMass will also have a significant student presence, Pramas writes, noting that the project’s tagline is “Independent, student-driven journalism in the public interest.” Pramas adds:

With interns working with us as reporters, designers, marketers, and (for the first time) editors, together with our ever-growing crew of professional freelance writers, we can continue to do our part to train the next generation of journalists while covering more Bay State happenings than ever before. We hope you enjoy our initial offerings and support our efforts with whatever donations you can afford.

***

Mark Pothier, a top editor at The Boston Globe, is leaving the paper to become the editor and CEO of the Plymouth Independent, a well-funded fledgling nonprofit. Pothier, a longtime Plymouth resident and former musician with the band Ministry, is already listed on the Independent’s masthead. Among the project’s advisers is Boston Globe journalist (and my former Northeastern colleague) Walter Robinson, also a Plymouth resident, who was instrumental in the launch of the New Bedford Light. Robby talked about the Plymouth Independent and other topics in a recent appearance on the “What Works” podcast.

Pothier started working at the Globe in 2001, but before that he was the executive editor of a group of papers that included the Old Colony Memorial, now part of the Gannett chain. When Gannett shifted its Eastern Massachusetts weeklies to regional coverage in the spring of 2022, the Memorial was one of just three that was allowed to continue covering local news — so it looks like Plymouth resident are about to be treated to something of a news war.

Leave a comment.

Two Alden papers, the Boston Herald and The Denver Post, will end commenting

Royalty-free photo via Wallpaper Flare

At least two daily newspapers owned by Alden Global Capital’s MediaNews Group will end reader comments on July 1.

The Boston Herald announced the move earlier today, saying that the change was being made to “dramatically speed up the performance of the website” as well as on its mobile platforms. The Denver Post took the same action last week, although editor Lee Ann Colacioppo cited bad behavior rather than technology, writing that the comment section has become “an uncivil place that drives readers away and opens those trying to engage in thoughtful conversation to hateful, personal attacks.”

Both papers emphasized that readers will still be able to talk back at them through social media platforms.

Wondering if this were a MediaNews-wide action, I tried searching about a half-dozen papers in the 60-daily chain and could find no similar announcements. I found something else interesting as well. The eight larger dailies that comprise the Tribune Publishing chain, which Alden acquired a couple of years ago, are now included as part of MediaNews Group, although they are still listed separately as well. (A ninth, the Daily News of New York, was split off from Tribune and is being run as a separate entity.)

The moves by the Herald and the Post represent just the latest in the long, sad story of user comments. When they debuted about a quarter-century ago, they were hailed as a way of involving the audience — the “former audience,” as Dan Gillmor and Jay Rosen put it. The hope was that comments could even advance stories.

It turned out that comments were embraced mainly by the most sociopathic elements. Some publishers (including me for a while) required real names, but that didn’t really help. The only measure that ensures a civil platform is pre-screening — a comment doesn’t appear online until someone has read it and approved it. But that takes resources, and very few news organizations are willing to make the investment.

The best comments section I know of belongs to the New Haven Independent, where pre-screening has been the rule right from the start. Keeping out racist, homophobic hate speech opens up the forum for other voices to be heard. The New York Times engages in pre-screening as well.

So kudos to the Boston Herald and The Denver Post — and I hope other news outlets, including The Boston Globe, will follow suit.

Mary Margaret White of Mississippi Today talks with us about journalism and southern culture

Mary Margaret White

On this week’s “What Works” podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Mary Margaret White, the CEO of Mississippi Today, a nonprofit digital news outlet that has been covering the state for more than six years. The staff has a robust presence at the statehouse in Jackson and provides cultural and sports coverage as well.

Mary Margaret is a Mississippi native. She has a bachelor’s in English and journalism and a master’s in Southern studies from the University of Mississippi. She also spent almost 10 years working for the state, with jobs in arts and tourism. Her work has appeared in The Listening Post CollectiveThe New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture and on Mississippi Public Broadcasting radio.

I’ve got a Quick Take on a major transition at the New Haven Independent. Last week the indefatigable founder, Paul Bass, announced he was stepping aside as editor of the Independent. The new editor will be Tom Breen, currently the managing editor. Luckily, Bass isn’t going anywhere but will continue to play a major role.

Ellen’s Quick Take is on another big transition at The Texas Tribune. Economist Sonal Shah is becoming CEO at the Tribune in January. Shah, who has had leadership roles at Google, the White House, and other high-impact organizations, replaces co-founder Evan Smith, who is taking a role as senior adviser to the Emerson Collective. It’s a big change at a pioneering nonprofit newsroom. Smith says he’ll continue to spread the local news gospel in his new role.

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

Seismic change comes to the New Haven Independent as Tom Breen moves up

Tom Breen. Photo (cc) 2021 by Dan Kennedy.

There is huge news today in the world of independent community journalism. Paul Bass, the founder of the New Haven Independent, is stepping aside as editor while Tom Breen, currently the managing editor, moves up to the top position. Bass has been talking about making this change for a while, and on Tuesday he made it official.

Bass, 62, isn’t going anywhere. He’ll continue as executive director of the Online Journalism Project, the nonprofit organization he set up to oversee the Independent, the Valley Independent Sentinel in New Haven’s northwest suburbs, and WNHH Radio, a low-power FM station that specializes in community programming. He’ll also continue to report the news for the Independent and host a show on WNHH.

Paul Bass. Photo (cc) 2021 by Maaisha Osman.

Breen, 34, joined the staff of the Independent as a reporter in 2018 and later became managing editor. Breen is a dogged journalist; last November, I accompanied him as he knocked on the doors of houses that had been foreclosed on, a regular practice of his that has yielded important stories.

The Independent is one of the oldest and still among the best nonprofit local news startups in the country. It was the primary subject of my 2013 book, “The Wired City,” and it will also be featured in “What Works: The Future of Local News,” a book-in-progress by Ellen Clegg and me.

Congratulations to Paul and Tom. This is a big change for a news organization that has been remarkably stable over the course of its 17-year existence.

Eric Boehlert’s fierce media criticism will be missed

Eric Boehlert. Photo (cc) 2019 by kellywritershouse.

Some years ago Paul Bass, the founder and editor of the New Haven Independent, gave me a stack of clips to help me understand that city’s media landscape. One piece I remember especially well was a masterful, in-depth magazine feature on New Haven’s newspapers written by a young reporter named Eric Boehlert. Headlined “Nightmare in Elm City,” it was published by Inside Media in 1990.

I wish I could put my hands on that piece right now. Because earlier today I learned some terrible news: Eric had been killed by a train while riding his bicycle Tuesday night in Montclair, New Jersey, where he lived. He was just 57 years old. (Oddly enough, I was in Montclair last week on a reporting trip, although our paths did not cross.)

Eric later made his mark as a liberal media critic for Salon, Media Matters and other publications, and — during the last few years of his life — as an independent writer at Substack. He was a fierce progressive. His final post, published on Monday, took the media to task for failing to highlight the strong job growth that has taken place under President Joe Biden. He wrote:

Biden is currently on pace, during his first two full years in office, to oversee the creation of 10 million new jobs and an unemployment rate tumbling all the way down to 3 percent. That would be an unprecedented accomplishment in U.S. history. Context: In four years in office, Trump lost three million jobs, the worst record since Herbert Hoover.

Yet the press shrugs off the good news, determined to keep Biden pinned down. “The reality is that one strong jobs report does not snap the administration out of its current circumstances,” Politico stressed Friday afternoon. How about 11 straight strong job reports, would that do the trick? Because the U.S. economy under Biden has been adding more than 400,000 jobs per month for 11 straight months.

Boehlert was also an early champion of the left blogosphere, which was a significant force in Democratic circles 20 years ago and helped fuel the rise of Howard Dean in 2004. In 2009 I reviewed his book “Bloggers on the Bus” for The Guardian, calling it “a reliable, entertaining guide” to an era that’s now all but gone.

Eric’s voice was an important one, and he will be greatly missed. My condolences to his family and friends.

Babz Rawls Ivy, the radio voice of New Haven, shares her life and wisdom

Babz Rawls Ivy and Dan Kennedy outside her home in New Haven. Photo by Babz.

Babz Rawls Ivy is host and co-producer of “LoveBabz LoveTalk” on WNHH-LP radio in New Haven. But that doesn’t begin to describe her. So let’s add a few more words: Force of nature. Wise presence. Storyteller.

WNHH is a low-power FM community station launched seven years ago by the New Haven Independent, a pioneering online nonprofit news site. Paul Bass, founder and editor of the Independent, wanted to bring powerful local voices onto the airwaves. Babz Rawls Ivy brings truth-telling to a whole new level.

Rawls Ivy’s show is on the air every weekday from 9 to 11 a.m. If you’re in New Haven, you can hear it at 103.5 FM. You can also listen live on the Independent’s website and on its Facebook page, where programs are also available after the show. Past programs are also available on a number of other platforms, including Apple Podcasts. Just search for “WNHH Community Radio.”

In our Quick Takes for the week, Dan shares the latest on Gannett’s downgrading of local coverage, and Ellen asks whether retired journalists are the new seed capital for startup digital sites.

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

Page 1 of 12

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén