Mike Deehan of Axios Boston talks about the debut of the mobile-first Axios Boston

Mike Deehan

On this week’s podcast, Dan and Ellen talk with Mike Deehan, a savvy Boston journalist who is part of the new Axios Boston newsletter. Mike’s colleague at Axios Boston, Steph Solis, was scheduled to join the discussion but was out reporting on reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Deehan and Solis have been reporting on Massachusetts news and politics for a number of years. Mike was formerly digital content editor for State House News Service, editor of Massterlist, and worked for the Dorchester Reporter. Steph worked for Masslive and was an immigration reporter for the USA Today Network. The Axios Boston debut was newsy and a perfect smart-phone scroll for subway reading, whether the MBTA is running or not.

Steph Solis

Dan has a Quick Take on the soaring cost of newsprint. Print is still important to the bottom line at most newspapers, and this turns out to be one more blow to local news. Ellen looks at a new rural news network being set up through the Institute of Nonprofit News.

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

Bedford Citizen co-founder Julie Turner to retire as editor, move to new role

Julie Turner at work at the 2021 Bedford Town Day. Photo (cc) 2021 by Dan Kennedy.

By Dan Kennedy

Huge news in the world of hyperlocal journalism: Julie McCay Turner, the managing editor of The Bedford Citizen, is retiring. Turner is one of three co-founders who launched the nonprofit digital news project in 2012.

In recent years the Citizen has ramped up its fundraising, and what was once a volunteer project is now what you might call pro/am, with paid and unpaid contributions. The board is in a position to be able to hire a replacement, which was not the case a few years ago. “As I step away from my position as managing editor, I’m humbled and grateful to have been part of the Citizen’s first decade,” she writes. “It’s been an amazing run, and I look forward to helping to set a course for the second decade.”

The Citizen is one of the projects that Ellen Clegg and I are tracking for our book project, “What Works: The Future of Local News,” and I’ve had the privilege of spending time with Turner and other Citizen folks during the past year. They are a model for what a community can do in the face of downsizing chain journalism. Indeed, Gannett’s Bedford Minuteman was closed earlier this year, which means the Citizen is the only news source in town.

Congratulations, good luck and best wishes to Julie, who will stay until a successor is named and then move into a new, as yet undefined role. Last December she told me she was still working well over 40 hours a week at an age when most people are retired. I hope she’s got something fun planned.

Food journalism as regional news: Our conversation with Hanna Raskin

Hanna Raskin, allegedly. Photo by Allisyn K. Morgan.

On this week’s “What Works” podcast, Ellen and Dan talk with Hanna Raskin, founder and editor of The Food Section, a Substack newsletter devoted to covering restaurants and trends in food across the South. Before starting her Substack last year, Hanna was food editor and critic for eight years at the family-owned Charleston Post and Courier in South Carolina.

Hanna also covered food for alternative weeklies, including the Mountain XPress in Asheville, North Carolina, and Seattle Weekly.

Dan offers a Quick Take on The Baltimore Banner, a nonprofit news project that finally made its long-awaited debut. He wishes them all good luck but has some issues with their business model, which includes a hard paywall not entirely compatible with a nonprofit’s public-service mission.

Ellen’s Quick Take is on a Pew Research Center study on trends in digital circulation at locally focused publications. The bottom line: digital is trending up, print circulation continues to tank, and readers are spending less time on site.

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

The Boston Globe’s Rhode Island initiative may be expanded across New England

By Dan Kennedy

The Boston Globe’s Rhode Island section could be a model for other verticals devoted to different regions in New England. That’s the main takeaway from this week’s edition of “E&P Reports,” a vodcast produced by the trade publication Editor & Publisher.

The vodcast, hosted by E&P publisher Mike Blinder, featured the Globe’s Rhode Island editor (and my “Beat the Press” crony), Lylah Alphonse; Rhode Island reporter Dan McGowan; and Michelle Micone, the Globe’s vice president for innovation and strategic initiatives.

It was Micone who talked about expanding the Globe’s coverage to other regions. She specifically mentioned New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont but not Connecticut, which was either inadvertent or, more likely, a nod to the Nutmeg State’s very different media and cultural environment. I mean, my God, they root for the Yankees down there.

Alphonse and McGowan were careful not to criticize The Providence Journal, but let’s face it — the Globe’s Rhode Island project was begun in response to Gannett’s evisceration of that once great paper. Blinder noted that the Journal’s full-time staff is down to about 14. [Note: The actual number is about 30.] Alphonse told me that Globe Rhode Island now has eight full-time journalists. Of course, the folks who remain at the Journal are doing good work under trying conditions, and Alphonse and McGowan were smart to acknowledge that.

One statistic that really hit me was that McGowan’s daily newsletter, “Rhode Map,” is sent to 80,000 recipients each morning, with an open rate of about 30%. By contrast, the Journal’s combined paid print and digital circulation on weekdays, according to data the paper filed with the Alliance for Audited Media, is a little under 31,000. (About 24,000 of that is print, showing that Gannett’s push on digital subscriptions has a long way to go.)

I also want to highlight the news that staff reporter Alexa Gagosz, one of our great master’s degree alums at Northeastern, is heading up expanded food and dining coverage in Rhode Island, including a weekly newsletter.

Now, to get back to possible expansion in other regions: Rhode Island was an opportunity that may not be entirely replicable elsewhere, thanks not only to the ProJo’s shrinkage but to the state’s unique identity. The state has a range of media options, including good-quality public radio, television newscasts and independent community news outlets. But the ProJo’s decline gave the Globe a chance to slide in and quickly establish itself as one of the players.

Where else does opportunity that exist? Worcester and Central Massachusetts strike me as in serious need of more journalism. The Globe memorably walked away from the region when then-new owner John Henry sold the Telegram & Gazette to a Florida-based chain after leading the staff to believe he was committed to selling to local interests. Soon enough, the T&G became part of Gannett, and it was subjected to the same devastating cuts that the chain has imposed throughout the country. The T&G carried on but is currently in flux, having lost its respected executive editor, Dave Nordman, to Northeastern, where he’s heading up the internal news operation. Could the Henrys return to Worcester? I’ve heard that might be within the range of possibilities.

But where else? New Hampshire and Maine both have good-quality independent newspapers, though New Hampshire’s two leading papers — the Union Leader and the Concord Monitor — have shrunk quite a bit. Vermont is unique, dominated by one of the most respected nonprofit news organizations in the country, VTDigger.

Then there’s the distribution model, which, if they were asking me (they’re not), is too reliant on print. Quite a bit of the Globe’s Rhode Island coverage appears in the Globe’s print edition. But rather than take on the cost of trucking more papers to Rhode Island, why not use digital to expand your reach and drive more digital subscriptions? What the Globe is doing with Rhode Island and print simply wouldn’t work if the paper established bureaus in Central Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.

The Globe is one of the few major metropolitan dailies in the country that is growing. What it’s doing in Rhode Island is impressive, and I’d love to see it happen elsewhere.

Correction: After this item was published, I learned that the Journal’s full-time newsroom staff is actually around 30 people, supplemented by freelancers.

Meredith Clark on race, power and why the media have fallen short on diversity

Meredith Clark. Photo by Alyssa Stone / Northeastern University

Dan and Ellen talk with Professor Meredith Clark, their colleague at Northeastern University. Dr. Clark is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern as well as founding director of the university’s new Center for Communication, Media Innovation and Social Change.

Before arriving at Northeastern, she was a faculty fellow at Data & Society, an independent nonprofit research organization based in New York that examines some of the questions being raised by the massive increase in the use of data in all aspects of society.

Dr. Clark’s research is on the intersections of race, media and power, and she’s studied everything from newsroom hiring and reporting practices to social media communities. Her media diet is wide-ranging and eclectic. Our interview touches on many cultural icons, including poet Audre Lorde
and Captain Olivia Benson, the fictional “Law & Order SVU” crime-solver.

Meredith is perhaps best known in news circles for her work in trying to revive an annual diversity census conducted by the News Leaders Association, an effort that fell short earlier this year after just 303 media outlets responded out of the 2,500 that were asked to provide data. Ellen and Dan asked Meredith about why so few were willing to participate — and what can be done to encourage diversity at small start-up news organizations.

In Quick Takes, Dan discusses Gannett’s recent move to dismantle some of the chain’s regional editorial pages, which he sees as not entirely a negative, and Ellen tips the hat to two of the 2022 recipients of the prestigious Freedom of the Press Award: Wendi C. Thomas, founding editor and publisher of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, and Mukhtar Ibrahim, founding publisher and CEO of Sahan Journal.

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

Colorado media activists save Aurora’s weekly newspaper

Photo (cc) 2012 by Ken Lund

By Dan Kennedy

Media activists in Colorado have stepped up once again to save a newspaper from either closing or falling into the clutches of corporate chain ownership. Colorado media watcher Corey Hutchins, a journalism professor at Colorado College, reports that Sentinel Colorado, a free weekly with a daily website in Aurora, will be acquired by a temporary holding company.

It’s a complicated transaction that involves some of the same players that pulled off the purchase of Colorado Community Media’s weekly and monthly newspapers last year. CCM is now being managed by The Colorado Sun, a digital start-up in Denver that was given an ownership stake.

Aurora, Colorado’s third-largest city, has a population of about 380,000 and is approximately a dozen miles east of Denver.

As with the CCM transaction, the Colorado News Collaborative has helped with the Aurora deal, although the Sun is not involved this time around. Laura Frank, the collaborative’s executive director, was quoted by The Sentinel as saying:

Journalism leaders and community members in Colorado are finding ways to change the narrative and the trajectory of failing news outlets. Together, we are making journalism stronger, which makes democracy stronger. I’m thrilled COLab can help support that work.

Earlier this year, the nonprofit Corporation for New Jersey Local Media acquired 14 weekly newspapers serving about 50 cities and towns. The papers will be run as a public benefit corporation — a for-profit arrangement that is geared toward serving the public rather than rewarding its owners.

That’s also the business model for the Sun and CCM, and it’s been emerging at news organizations across the country as a third-way alternative to traditional for-profit ownership and nonprofit status.

How a growing Jewish newspaper in Greater Boston is helping to fill the local news void

This week Dan and Ellen talk with Steve Rosenberg, editor of the Jewish Journal in Massachusetts, and Linda Matchan, who was named associate editor in February. Our topic: the role of ethnic and religious media in the local news landscape.

Both Steve and Linda had long and productive careers at The Boston Globe. Steve worked for 15 years as a staff writer and columnist, writing about cities and towns north of Boston. He was also editor of the now-defunct Jewish Advocate.

Linda worked at the Globe for 36 years. During her extensive career, she did a little bit of everything, from  investigative reporting to feature writing to spot news.

Dan shares a Quick Take on the Uvalde Leader-News, a twice-weekly paper that not only had the difficult task of covering the school shootings that claimed the lives of 21 people but that was also a victim of those shootings. Here’s a link to Rachel Monroe’s riveting New Yorker story on Uvalde and its aftermath, as well as the emotional remarks by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others at a memorial in Washington for victims of gun violence.

Ellen discusses the ethical dilemma posed by the Online News Association’s new “3M Truth in Science Award.” (Teresa Carr broke the story in Undark and Nieman Lab.) Ellen reached out to longtime science journalist Judy Foreman to get her perspective.

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

Gannett puts the brakes on its drive to cut back on print

Photo via Pixabay

By Dan Kennedy

It looks like executives at Gannett have decided they were going too far in cutting back on print. The country’s largest newspaper chain has been eliminating print days at its dailies and killing off or merging print weeklies. Here, for example, is Kevin Graeler, managing editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri, which had been scheduled to drop from seven days to just three:

Under a national decision by Gannett, which owns the Tribune and more than 200 other newspapers across the USA Today Network, all changes to the number of print editions published per week are being paused while the company analyzes new data and takes into consideration valuable input from our subscribers.

Of course, the real problem isn’t the lack of print — it’s the lack of coverage. In Massachusetts, Gannett announced in February it was moving nearly all of the local staff reporters at its community weeklies to regional beats. So much for coverage of the city council, mayor, select board and school committee. A month later, the chain told readers that it was closing 19 weeklies and merging nine others into four.

This doesn’t take place in a vacuum. For years, people have been starting independent news organizations in response to cutbacks by Gannett and its predecessor company, GateHouse Media. And just recently, new local news ventures have either been launched or announced in Marblehead, Concord and Newton. More to come, I’m sure.

You can find a complete list of independent local news outlets in Massachusetts in the upper right-hand corner of this page. Just look for “Mass. Indy News.”

Hearst CT de-emphasizes print while expanding its newsroom and digital subs

The New Haven Register’s printing plant is long gone. And now its owner, Hearst, will be printing it out of state as the chain doubles down on digital subscriptions. Photo (cc) 2009 by Dan Kennedy.

By Dan Kennedy

A newspaper battle is brewing in Connecticut — but print is becoming an afterthought.

Hearst Connecticut recently announced that it would move its printing operations to Albany, New York, meaning that deadlines for titles such as the New Haven Register and the Connecticut Post of Bridgeport will be earlier than ever. Twenty-eight jobs will be eliminated, reports Greg Bordonaro of the Hartford Business Journal.

At the same time, Hearst has been growing in Connecticut. The chain is adding positions to its combined newsroom of about 160 full-timers. According to confidential sources I’ve been in touch with with, digital subscriptions have risen from about 21,000 to 39,000 over the past 16 months.

With Connecticut’s statewide daily, the Hartford Courant, being strangled by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital, the privately owned Hearst is attempting to fill the void. Last summer, Hearst unveiled a new statewide website, CTInsider, that has its own staff and also draws on content from Hearst CT’s eight dailies and 13 weeklies.

It’s an approach that emphasizes statewide and regional coverage over community watchdog reporting, and it’s similar to what Advance is doing in New Jersey, where papers such as The Star-Ledger of Newark, The Times of Trenton and the South Jersey Times have been united under the NJ.com banner. Nevertheless, the emphasis on growth and real journalism at Hearst CT is heartening at a time when hedge-fund cutbacks are dominant.

Tennessee newspaper legend Otis Sanford on the rise of a new media ecosystem in Memphis

Otis Sanford at his 2014 induction into the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame

This week on the “What Works” podcast, Ellen and Dan talk with Professor Otis Sanford, who is something of a journalistic legend in Memphis. As a general assignment reporter at The Commercial Appeal in 1977, Sanford covered the death of Elvis Presley. He also covered courts, county government and politics before being promoted into management. After stints at the Pittsburgh Press and Detroit Free Press, Sanford returned to The Commercial Appeal. In 2002 he was named managing editor and in 2007 he became editorial page editor.

As opinion editor in Memphis, Sanford launched a Citizens Editorial Board. While that was a number of years ago, Sanford was ahead of the curve in terms of community engagement.

In 2011, Sanford joined the University of Memphis Department of Journalism faculty. He holds the Hardin Chair of Excellence in Economic and Managerial Journalism. He still writes a column on politics and events in Memphis. It’s published in The Daily Memphian, a thriving startup founded by journalists and business people who were disappointed by the rounds of layoffs at The Commercial Appeal.

The Daily Memphian is one of two digital newsrooms launched by journalists who left The Commercial Appeal. The other newsroom is the award-winning MLK50, started by Wendi C. Thomas, to cover income inequality, race and justice issues.

Dan has a quick take on the latest from The Baltimore Banner, a digital start-up that will be competing with the Baltimore Sun, acquired last year by the notorious hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

Ellen looks at the new Votebeat site, a Chalkbeat spinoff that just might help election integrity.

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