By Dan Kennedy
Fears that the Cambridge Chronicle would become a ghost newspaper were allayed last fall when Gannett transferred veteran journalist Will Dowd from the Marblehead Reporter to replace Amy Saltzman, who was stepping down as editor.
The Chronicle, founded in 1846 and regarded as the oldest weekly paper in the country, survived two Gannett purges this past spring: it was one of just three weeklies in Eastern Massachusetts that would still cover local news after journalists at all the other weeklies were reassigned to regional beats (the others spared were the Old Colony Memorial of Plymouth and the Provincetown Banner); and it was kept intact as a standalone paper when Gannett shut down 19 weeklies and merged nine others into four.
But now the Chronicle is on the brink. Dowd has returned to Marblehead, this time as editor of an independent nonprofit startup, the Marblehead News. And his departure comes just as Gannett has completed yet another round of layoffs, which raises questions about what the chain’s intentions are for filling any open positions.
It doesn’t look good. In scrolling down the Chronicle’s website this morning, I couldn’t find a single local story — everything was either regional or statewide. The paper’s Twitter account has been silent since July 6.
If Dowd isn’t replaced, that would represent a grotesque abdication of responsibility in a city of 118,000. The Chronicle ought to have a staff of several people; instead, it may be moving from one to zero. Cambridge has some good hyperlocal projects, including Cambridge Day and the Cambridge Civic Journal. What it lacks is a news organization with paid, full-time journalists. Will anyone step up?