Worcester City Hall. Photo (cc) 2015 by Dan Kennedy.
The governance structure of The Worcester Guardian, a fledgling nonprofit begun by the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, is starting to become clearer. A message by consultant Dave Nordman, the former executive editor of the city’s daily, the Telegram & Gazette, says that the Guardian will have an independent board of directors in addition to a community advisory board. The Chamber has committed $50,000 to the launch, but Nordman says the intention is for the Guardian to be a fully independent news organization.
The aim, Nordman told me by email, is “total separation.” He said that Chamber president and CEO Tim Murray will probably have one of nine seats on the board but will not serve as the chair. “The board’s main responsibility,” Nordman said, “will be to rally the community.” The announcement of an editor, he added, is imminent.
The original announcement raised questions about how closely the Chamber would be tied to the Guardian. Nordman’s assurances makes it more likely that the Guardian will be accepted by the Institute for Nonprofit News, or INN, which would be a crucial step for credibility and fundraising. The Guardian’s inaugural governing documents also tracked too closely with the INN’s policies as well as the mission statement of The New Bedford Light, a large nonprofit, as reported by Bill Shaner of the newsletter Worcester Sucks and I Love It. Nordman, though, is a pro, and his involvement suggests that the Guardian will get off to a strong start. (Nordman is also a colleague of mine at Northeastern.) Nordman writes in his message at the Guardian’s website:
I believe free, nonprofit, independent news could provide a dynamic new platform to tell the Central Massachusetts story and report on important issues impacting Worcester and the region.
I believe mistakes will be made and lessons will be learned along the way.
I believe nonprofit, for-profit and independent journalism can co-exist. I believe blogs and social media also provide a forum for healthy discourse.
And I believe Murray when he says he will allow the Guardian to tell the story of Worcester independent of the chamber.
The community will be watching.
The Worcester area is not exactly a news desert, although local residents have lamented deep cuts at the Telegram & Gazette under Gannett’s ownership. MassLive, part of The Republican of Springfield, publishes a fair amount of Worcester news. GBH News has a Worcester bureau. The 016.com aggregates news from the Worcester area as well. Still, a Worcester-based nonprofit, grounded in community values, would be a welcome addition to Central Massachusetts.
Federal Square in Worcester. Photo (cc) 2015 by Dan Kennedy.
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.
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.”