So it’s heartening to see not one, but three news outlets popping up in Marblehead in the past year.
As documented in a recent Globe article, the three came after Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, decided to shift the Marblehead Reporter away from local news and into more regional coverage. Was born.
One of them, Beacon, was started by three family friends who were concerned about the lack of reporting on “things that don’t seem right going on in our town.” The second, Current, was launched by a journalist who left Reporter and wanted to make better use of local sources. The third, Marblehead Weekly News, is a print publication, and you can also post his PDF of the page online. Readers can hear the satisfying rustle of newspaper with each turn of the virtual page.
Each business model is slightly different. For example, Current is a non-profit organization funded through a combination of advertising, donations, and grants, while Beacon is a for-profit organization that relies on advertising revenue. Survival next year will be a challenge as some experts predict a recession that could reduce subscription and advertising spending.
But the mere fact that Marblehead, a town of 20,000, has spawned three news startups in less than a year should give hope to anyone interested in local news coverage across the country.
Indeed, Marblehead is a wealthy town with a thriving business district and well-educated residents, a place with a strong market for news and the money to back it up. But Dan Kennedy, a professor of journalism at Northeastern University who has authored a book on local news, points out that there are also less affluent communities that are well served by news organizations. He has documented his more than 250 hyperlocal news sites in Massachusetts, but this list does not include regional news sites like He Globe or He WBUR.
For example, New Bedford Light is a non-profit digital news operation founded by veteran journalists with a staff of about 12 reporters and editors. Its coverage of local news is free and often detailed. Last year, one of her reporters partnered with her ProPublica to conduct a survey of her private equity’s aggressive investment in New England’s fishing industry.
Similar dynamics may be playing out elsewhere across the country.
Several innovative journalism firms have sprung up in recent years in Chicago, where the Chicago Tribune, a major newspaper, has laid off countless times over the decades. Most notably, NPR’s affiliate Chicago Public Media, the nonprofit that runs WBEZ, acquired Chicago Sun-Times, a tabloid newspaper in Chicago, last year and turned it into a nonprofit. The two newsrooms have since added dozens of journalists, said Tim Franklin, head of his local news initiative at Northwestern University’s Medill.
Equally novel approaches to creating local news operations are emerging in wealthy suburbs and low-income rural areas across the country, Franklin said. But the emergence of very local news outlets has not kept up with the industry’s shrinking. According to Medill research, newspapers continue to be closed at a rate of about two per week.
As such, Franklin has joined a series of news publishers who argue that some form of government intervention may be needed to foster news startups, especially in low-income urban areas and less densely populated rural areas. said to have participated. Offering tax credits to local publishers that hire or retain journalists is one of his approaches being considered in some states. California and New Jersey have also created funds to fund journalism projects and fund young reporters working in underserved areas.
In Massachusetts, lawmakers hope to soon launch a commission to study news reporting in underserved communities. That work could lead to policies aimed at strengthening or creating hyperlocal news organizations.
Government intervention in the local news industry should be carefully considered.
But the local news industry faces a steadily growing crisis that, if left unchecked, will only undermine civic ties and democratic traditions. What’s happening at Marblehead is an encouraging example of what’s possible for those who care.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter. @grove opinion.