An ambitious plan to save local news by investing in community journalism

Golden, Colo., is among the cities and towns served by Colorado Community Media

By Dan Kennedy

Rick Edmonds of Poynter interviewed Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro and Lillian Ruiz about the National Trust for Local News, a project they founded to invest in community journalism projects around the country.

Their goal is to raise $300 million in order to finance deals like the purchase earlier this year of Colorado Community Media, a chain of two dozen weekly and monthly papers in the Denver suburbs. The papers are now being run by The Colorado Sun, a start-up website founded by a number of former Denver Post journalists.

My colleague Ellen Clegg and I interviewed Hansen Shapiro recently to ask her about the National Trust. We especially wanted to learn more about how she had arrived at the $300 million figure, which she had told Ben Smith of The New York Times might be enough to save every independent community paper in the United States that is at risk of shutting down or being sold off to a chain owner.

She told us that her estimate was based on research showing that there are about 4,000 independent weekly and daily papers — what she called “sub-large-chain titles,” to include those held by small regional chains — with perhaps as many as 2,400 owners. Here is how she described the National Trust’s strategy:

We’re approaching it two ways. One is inbound interest from publishers who are ready to retire and want to figure out what the next move is. Some of them have successors lined up, but they don’t have financing. Some of them don’t have successors lined up and their businesses are failing. And that’s the house-on-fire version. And some of them have great businesses. They don’t have a successor. They think they want to be out of the business in two years, and they’re like, could we start a conversation now so that so we can figure out something?

Any paper can be kept out of the hands of a hedge fund or a corporate chain is a victory.

How public pension funds are helping to finance the destruction of local news

This is Cerebrus, not Cerberus. Photo (cc) 2006 by Andrew Becraft

By Dan Kennedy

Public employee pension funds are investing — perhaps unwittingly — in the destruction of local news.

That’s the most important takeaway in a recent report by Julie Reynolds for the Nieman Journalism Lab. Reynolds writes that Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that has destroyed newspapers across the country, has financed a number of its deals with the help of Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm. That includes Alden’s acquisition earlier this year of Tribune Publishing, which owns major-market papers such as the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and, in New England, the Hartford Courant.

Cerberus’ top investor is the California Public Employees Retirement System, followed by the Public School Employees’ Retirement System of Pennsylvania. Eight of Cerberus’ top 10 investors are public employee pension funds. “Perhaps it’s time to demand that public pensions divest from shadow banks that aid and abet the aggressive dismantling of the free press,” Reynolds writes.

Cerberus turns out to have quite a track record, and it extends well beyond its role in helping Alden destroy local news. As Reynolds reports:

The firm has been accused of profiting from the Sandy Hook school massacre, because it promised to unload its ownership in gun manufacturers but then didn’t — at least not until its company Remington Arms went bankrupt in 2018. And Cerberus is the owner and founder of Tier 1 Group, the company that trained four members of the Tiger Squad that assassinated and dismembered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The role of public pension funds in newspapers isn’t new. CNHI, based in Montgomery, Alabama, owns 89 local news outlets in 21 states, including The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover and its affiliated papers north of Boston. CNHI, in turn, is owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

But though CNHI has cut deeply over the years, its track record isn’t nearly as grim as that of Alden. At least in Massachusetts, its newspapers remain well-staffed enough to do a reasonably good job of covering their communities.

In the trade magazine Editor & Publisher, Gretchen A. Peck reports that Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild-CWA, wonders if Alden’s purpose in buying up newspapers is to exert political influence aimed at staving off regulation:

Schleuss speculated whether there might be political play behind these newspaper acquisitions. The NewsGuild president also opined about legislative remedies that Congress might enact to force hedge funds like Alden to be “radically transparent” about their investors. That would allow the public to discern if investors are earnest and market-minded or if they’re bad actors attempting to hold sway over the press.

It’s a real concern, though to date I haven’t seen any signs that Alden has an agenda other than cutting its papers to the bone and squeezing out whatever profits remain.

Peck’s article is also accompanied by a “publisher’s note” that is interesting mainly because it represents one of the few occasions when Alden has deigned to address the way it’s running its newspapers:

Publisher’s Note: E&P reached out to Heath Freeman of Alden Global Capital, welcoming his comment and contribution. The company’s crisis manager responded, post-deadline, with the following remark he attributed to MediaNews Group’s COO, Guy Gilmore: “A subscription-driven revenue model, long overdue payments from tech behemoths including Google and Facebook for the use of our content and the modernization of non-editorial operations are some of the keys to ensuring local newspapers can thrive over the long term and serve the local communities that depend on them.”

Black newspapers across the country collaborate via Word In Black

By Dan Kennedy

The trade magazine Editor & Publisher reports that 10 Black newspapers have created a network to provide news in communities of color across the country. The Effort, called Word In Black, is part of the Fund for Black Journalism, which was launched a year ago by the Local Media Association, according to E&P’s Evelyn Mateos.

Word In Black, she adds, “covers racial equity, K-12 education, police reform, healthcare disparities, social justice, politics, opinion, sports and LGBTQ.” Nick Charles, who’s heading up the project, tells Mateos:

[These] 10 different publishers sometimes have different mindsets, different politics, and they live in different parts of the country. So, people in Texas don’t have the same ideas about a lot of things that people in New York may have. But their affection and love for communities are what binds them. Collaboration is going on because people realize that to survive and to meet our mission as journalists, we have to band together.

The papers range from New York to Sacramento, but nothing locally. It would be great to see The Bay State Banner become part of this. It would also be interesting to see if The Emancipator, a nationally focused website sponsored by The Boston Globe and BU’s Center for Antiracist Research, could find a way to collaborate.

A documentary tracks the demise of Denver’s daily newspapers — and the rising of the Sun

Photo by Brian Malone

By Dan Kennedy

In the documentary “News Matters,” Dean Singleton, who sold a majority share of his newspaper chain to the hedge fund Alden Global Capital in 2013, tells a gruesome story.

He recalls being sent out to a one-car accident after midnight when he was a young reporter working in Wichita Falls, Texas. The police officer at the scene told him the driver had been killed. Singleton, though, could see that the driver’s arms and legs were still moving, so he pressed the officer. The answer: the body would keep jerking around for a while, but that didn’t make him any less dead.

“That’s kind of where print newspapers are today,” he says.

“News Matters,” by Brian Malone, tells the story of Denver’s two daily newspapers — the Rocky Mountain News, which folded in 2009, and The Denver Post, formerly the crown jewel of Singleton’s empire, now being torn apart by Alden. The Post at one time had between 250 and 300 reporters; today it has about 60. As retired Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron says, that’s not nearly enough to cover a metropolitan area the size of Denver, with a population of about 2.9 million.

Among those interviewed for the film is Greg Moore, a former managing editor of The Boston Globe, who was the Post’s top editor for 14 years before resigning in 2016 rather than implement cuts demanded by Alden. Moore recalls being grilled by Alden’s bean-counters over every issue imaginable, and some that weren’t imaginable, like “Why do you have photographers?” and “Why can’t you be the same size as some pissant paper in New Jersey?”

If there is a central character in “News Matters,” it’s former Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett, who wrote a searing editorial in 2018 referring to Alden as “vulture capitalists” and calling on community leaders to buy the Post. Plunkett becomes emotional when he recalls the cuts that followed Moore’s departure, saying, “I felt like I was floating out of my body, not even attached to the real world. And I just had this very clear thought — this is where The Denver Post dies.” Plunkett resigned not long after writing the anti-Alden editorial.

Toward the end of the film, we see some of the Post journalists who we’ve gotten to know — Larry Ryckman, Dana Coffield, Tamara Chaung and Jennifer Brown — starting a new venture, the online-only Colorado Sun. “The journalists you see up here today are the owners of The Colorado Sun,” Ryckman tells the small crowd that had gathered, “and we will be the ones calling the shots.”

Singleton’s retort: “The Colorado Sun has no future in my opinion … There’s no business model there.”

Well, the Sun is still shining, and it appears that it may be on track toward becoming a sustainable business. The film takes us into the early days of COVID-19. “Ad revenue has fallen off a cliff,” Ryckman says, “but it has greatly increased membership.” Earlier this year, the Sun acquired a group of 24 weekly and monthly newspapers in Denver’s suburbs.

And the once-mighty Denver Post continues to shrink.

If you’d like to see “News Matters,” you’d better hop to it. I only found out about it last week, and it turns out that Rocky Mountain PBS is taking it down on Wednesday. For the next couple of days, you can watch it here. There’s also information about hosting a screening that you can find at the film’s website.

In Washington State, an evening newspaper rises from the dustbin of history

By Dan Kennedy

If the morning daily newspaper is an endangered species, then the evening paper shuffled off to extinction many years ago. Now Cowles Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, is bringing it back.

Not really, and I’ll get to that in a moment. But first a little background.

Evening papers were dominant back when factory work was the way that tens of millions of Americans made their living. You’d work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., come home and read the evening paper. Later, as we shifted to more of a white-collar, 9-to-5 culture, morning papers became the primary distribution vehicle for newspaper journalism. Evening papers faded away, and eventually few, if any, remained. The Boston Evening Globe, for instance, stopped publishing in 1979.

Today, of course, the news cycle is entirely different, with stories posted online around the clock, sometimes not to show up in print until days later — if ever.

Some of us, though, continue to like the day’s paper, whether online or in print. The daily paper represents a curated news report — the considered judgment of the editors as to what the day’s most important news is. Again, to use the Globe as an example, you can access a list of the stories in that day’s print edition (unfortunately, it seems that stuff always gets left out) or read the paper in the form of an e-edition — a PDF of that day’s paper that looks like the print edition. The Globe offers two versions, both so-so.

What The Spokesman-Review has done is revive its old evening paper, the Spokane Daily Chronicle, in the form of an e-edition that’s posted each afternoon. As reported by Kristen Hare of Poynter Online, the idea isn’t to compete with The Spokesman-Review, as it did back before the Chronicle folded in 1992 (even under common ownership); rather, it’s to boost the bottom line and give people who live in the Spokane area another reason to buy a digital subscription or keep the one they’ve already got.

“Our view is the e-edition is the gateway drug to our web presence for traditional readers,” publisher Stacey Cowles told Hare. “If they love it enough, it could help solve our huge manufacturing and distribution cost headache. But additional online pages have to be meaningful to make a difference. More stock listings don’t cut it.”

Added editor Rob Curley: “We were realists on this. It wasn’t about how are we going to make this a bigger pie, it was how are we going to hang on to the pie that we have when we know we’re going to continue to push subscription prices?”

If all this sounds retro, keep in mind that Curley is a pioneer in digital journalism, first at the Naples Daily News in Florida and, in the pre-Jeff Bezos age, at The Washington Post, where he presided over the launch of a digital-only local-news site in Loudoun County, Maryland. I met him in 2015 when I was researching my book “The Return of the Moguls” and Curley was editor of California’s Orange County Register under the ill-fated ownership of Aaron Kushner.

Print and print-like products continue to play an important part in keeping newspapers alive — as in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where The Berkshire Eagle is actually buying a used printing press in order to boost is color capacity. Someday, newspapers may drop their print editions entirely, or go weekend-only. Until that day comes, though, it makes sense to serve the print-oriented readers who pay the bills.

What local news outlets can do to overcome suspicion on the right

Photo (cc) 2008 by TimothyJ

By Dan Kennedy

Previously published at GBH News.

Recently I had a conversation with a hyperlocal news editor who wanted to talk through a dilemma. Her website, which covers such matters as town boards, schools, housing, public health and charity events, is resolutely nonpartisan. From the beginning, her goal has been to bring together people from varied backgrounds and with different political beliefs. Yet her sense was that most of her readers, like her, were liberal. What could she do to reach out to conservatives?

Her dilemma is not unique. Surveys show that people trust local and regional news more than they do the national media. Ideally, local news can help overcome the hyperpolarization that is tearing us apart at the national level and foster a spirit of community and cooperation.

Increasingly, though, the divisions that define national life are inescapable. Our school systems are rippling with rage over masks, vaccines and how kids are taught about racial justice. Discussions about policing have devolved into binary sloganeering about defunding the police or backing the blue.

And well-meaning journalists, mostly liberal but wanting to give a voice to everyone, wring their hands.

Last week, the research project Trusting News, a joint venture of the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the American Press Institute, released a report on how local and regional news organizations can do a better job of connecting with conservative audiences. More than 3,400 self-identified conservatives responded to a survey, and 91 of them were interviewed by 27 media outlets around the country. (In New England, the participants were New Hampshire Public Radio, Vermont’s Burlington Free Press and The Day of New London, Connecticut.)

The report, written by Marley Duchovnay, a research associate at the University of Texas’ Center for Media Engagement, and Gina M. Masullo, associate director of the center, makes six recommendations. Three of them are of particular interest:

  • “Build relationships with people who have conservative and right-leaning viewpoints in your community and listen to them.”
  • “Include a variety of voices from people with conservative and right-leaning views in stories. Journalists should be cautious of using ‘conservative’ or other terms as catch-all labels for people who may have very different beliefs.”
  • “Consider diversity of political beliefs and backgrounds when hiring for the newsroom.”

The first two bullet points are just good journalism: get to know your community, and don’t assume everyone on the right drives “a pickup truck with the Confederate flag on the back,” as Masullo put it at a webinar held last week to explain the findings. The third, though, is potentially problematic. News organizations don’t ask job candidates about their political views, nor should they. So how do we go about ensuring ideological diversity in the newsroom?

“I think more the idea is to, in your recruitment strategy, try to hit rural areas, more conservative areas,” said Masullo. And yes, that seems fine in theory. But with the journalism economy continuing to shrink, hiring is not an everyday occurrence — and the need to hire people of color to diversify overwhelmingly white newsrooms has to be a top priority.

I was also struck by another finding in the report — that material from wire services in local media outlets contributes to perceptions of liberal bias more than the local content does. At the webinar, the presenters cited Mark Rosenberg of the Victoria Advocate in Texas, who told them: “National news drives distrust in the media far more than local news, it was surprising and frustrating to hear. 95% of what I do is local, but the syndicated copy and columns is what is driving distrust. That is something that recurred in all three interviews that I did.”

To invoke the old cliché, this presents both a challenge and an opportunity. For daily newspapers like the Advocate, which have positioned themselves as a single source for community, national and international news, it’s difficult to imagine how that problem could be solved — especially when some of the respondents complained even about The Associated Press, known for its lack of bias.

Most weekly papers and hyperlocal websites, though, focus exclusively on their community, which means that they avoid offending conservatives who don’t want to see national and international news that has what they consider to be a liberal slant.

One approach that even the editors and publishers of daily papers could consider is thinking about how they can de-emphasize national news, including syndicated columns, in their opinion sections. Earlier this week my research partner, Ellen Clegg, interviewed Joshua Darr of Louisiana State University about a study he conducted along with two other scholars. The study attempted to show what happened when the Desert Sun of Palm Beach, California, dropped national opinion content for a month and went exclusively local. The result was a slight but measurable decline in polarization.

“The experiment is not without controversy,” Clegg writes. “The Trump-Biden presidential race and the COVID pandemic arguably showed how much local election laws, local public health policies and local governments matter in setting the course of the nation’s future. Abandoning coverage entirely — and opinion page columns do constitute a form of coverage all their own — could seem irresponsible to some.”

Still, for many daily newspaper editors, running syndicated material in the opinion section isn’t a way to serve readers so much as it is an aversion to new ways of doing things. More local opinion journalism, combined with some national content from the left and the right, would seem like a good mix.

A crucial concern that isn’t really addressed in the report but that did come up at the webinar is the importance of not pandering to people with right-wing views. Though the goal of broadening the conversation and bringing more voices into the tent is a laudable one, we can’t forget that it’s conservatives — radicals, really — who have gone off the rails, embracing lies about the outcome of the last election, the Jan. 6 insurrection, vaccinations, mask-wearing and such. Trusting News director Joy Mayer, though, told the participants that the very nature of the study tended to weed such people out.

“The people who self-selected into this research were not the people with the most extreme views and the most extreme distrust,” Mayer said. “If you are willing to spend an hour sitting and talking to a local journalist, you have to believe that they want to change. You have to believe they’re worth an investment of your time. The whole world is not made up of people who would be grateful for an hour to spend with a journalist.”

If journalists who run local news projects want to serve everyone in their community, and not just the more liberal elements, then the fundamental ideas outlined in the report are worth paying attention to: listen; be fair; don’t resort to cheap labels in describing those with different views.

I don’t know if it can help. But getting past the divisions that are ripping us apart is perhaps the most vital challenge facing us today. If there is to be solution, it’s got to start at the local level.

After cutting print days, the locally owned Berkshire Eagle buys a new printing press

Pontoosuc Lake, Pittsfield. Photo (cc) 2006 by the Massachusetts Office of Tourism.

By Dan Kennedy

Ten months after reducing the number of days it appears in print, The Berkshire Eagle is upgrading its printing capabilities. According to a message from Eagle president Fred Rutberg, the paper, based in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is in the process of acquiring a 9-year-old Goss Magnum press that will make it possible to print in color on every page. The move is aimed at making the paper more appealing to both readers and advertisers, Rutberg says.

Last October the Eagle moved from a seven- to a five-day print schedule, dropping its Sunday and Monday editions and transforming the Saturday paper into an all-weekend edition. The Eagle’s satellite papers in Brattleboro and Bennington, Vermont, ended a day of print as well.

At the time, Rutberg described the move as an acceleration of plans that were already in the works, explaining that the COVID pandemic had hit advertising hard. The Eagle ran a long story describing print cutbacks at other papers around the country, presumably to show readers that the lesser emphasis on print shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the paper was on the skids. Indeed, executive editor Kevin Moran told New England Public Media that the move would not result in any layoffs.

“COVID-19 really put a chilling effect on some of our advertising revenue,” Moran was quoted as saying. “But on the second hand, ever since the middle of March, we’ve seen a really big increase in our digital-only subscriptions.”

The Berkshire Eagle has been one of the good-news stories amid the local-news crisis of recent years. Once regarded as one of the best small dailies in the country, the paper was laid low under the ownership of the hedge fund Alden Global Capital. In 2016, Rutberg led a group of investors who bought the Eagle back from Alden and began the slow process of rebuilding what the bean-counters had torn down. The Associated Press put it this way in a 2019 feature:

It’s easy to get carried away — The Eagle is still struggling, and its survival is far from assured. Readers are trickling, not flocking, back.

But if it does fail, it won’t be for lack of effort. The Eagle’s owners, editors and staff are waging an all-out campaign to revitalize local journalism in the Berkshires and southern Vermont.

Rutberg’s announcement that he’s buying a new press is surely good news, but it shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the Eagle favors print over digital. Click on the subscribe button and it’s all about digital, with the paper offering various deals for digital-only and digital-plus-print subscriptions. The reality is that even as papers (can’t we come up with a better name?) and readers continue to shift to online, print remains more lucrative. The value of print advertising has simply held up better than digital, which was driven into the floor by Craigslist, Google and Facebook.

In his message to readers, Rutberg said:

When I announced last year that we were reducing The Eagle’s print editions from seven to five days a week, I also told you that we had adopted a long-term strategy of Being Digital.

Judging from the mail I received, many of you surmised that we had decided to abandon print, and that the announced reduction in print frequency was the beginning of the end of The Berkshire Eagle print edition. That was not the case last year, and it is not the case now. I hope that the substantial investment we are making in print, as evidenced by our purchase of the Magnum printing press, will put those thoughts to bed.

The Eagle isn’t out of the woods. But in the five years that the Rutberg group has owned it, it’s provided far more quality journalism to its communities than would have been the case under Alden. And it has a fighting chance of becoming a profitable, sustainable business.

There is no substitute for committed local ownership.

A media scholar explains why news for the liberal elite is hurting us all

By Dan Kennedy

Previously published at GBH News.

As technological and cultural forces have ripped apart the economic foundations of local and regional journalism, news executives have desperately sought out audiences with the money and inclination to pay.

These audiences — affluent, well-educated, liberal and overwhelmingly white — favor news organizations with a national focus such as The New York Times, NPR and the “PBS NewsHour.” Meanwhile, marginalized Americans, from urban communities of color to the rural white working class, have been left behind.

In her new book, “News for the Rich, White, and Blue: How Place and Power Distort American Journalism,” Nikki Usher tracks the decline of what she calls “Goldilocks newspapers” — large regional papers like The Boston Globe, The Dallas Morning News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Unlike the fairy tale, though, Usher’s definition of Goldilocks papers are places where everything is just wrong — the outlets are too large to serve local communities, too small to contend with national media and unable to compete with Google and Facebook in the digital advertising market. (Disclosure: Usher interviewed me for her book.)

“Losing local news … leaves national news to pick up the slack,” Usher writes, “meaning many people in the United States do not see where they live or people like them authentically presented in the news.”

Usher, a journalism professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, earned her Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and is a Harvard graduate. The following email interview has been lightly edited.

Q: You argue that the economic challenges facing journalism have led news organizations to pursue an audience that is mostly white, liberal and affluent. How did we get here?

A: For decades, news organizations have sought to reach so-called quality audiences, or audiences that advertisers want to reach — so trying to reach those with disposable income is always the goal, right? It’s important to remember that for most of contemporary history, newspapers, magazines, broadcast television and radio made their money by selling audiences to advertisers. However, since the 1960s and 1970s, newspapers strategically moved away from selling to working-class audiences to focus on those profiting from the post-war boom.

But now we’re in a really different era. The traditional advertising model for newspapers, in particular, has collapsed, thanks to the upside-down logics of digital advertising and the changing dynamics, interests and behavior of digital audiences. When it comes to digital, audiences for local news are especially tiny. And we have market failure for local newspapers, meaning that the market is no longer supporting the costs of production and distribution. This is a real, actual crisis, with at least 1,800 communities losing a local newspaper since 2004.

So this is the context: the audiences for newspapers are smaller and the traditional ad model is broken. In a state of market failure, pre-existing inequities in coverage and access are amplified. News organizations have to focus on those most likely to pay for a digital subscription. The news organizations most likely to survive are large, national news organizations like The New York Times, which can scale these digital subscriptions.

Who are those who can and will pay? Well, those with disposable income who have the cultural capital to recognize that local journalism matters. That veers affluent, although “rich” is more tied to an elite outlook and framing than it is actual income. For instance, a student at Harvard might choose to pay for a student-rate for a digital subscription and get hooked for life, or at least that’s the hope.

Income and class are horribly correlated with race in this country, but the reality of white audiences comes out of a much larger problem: the longstanding whiteness of the institutional news media. At the moment we’re having a reckoning, but, for too long, white voices have dominated the production of news in this country, excluding and stereotyping historically marginalized communities and journalists from these communities. Institutional news media has for decades been for and by white.

And, well, the Blue? Liberal audiences? Oh boy, that’s a whole depressing conversation, but the only people who still trust the mainstream news media are liberals, which poll after poll shows is the case. Additional data suggests liberals believe in the civic value of local news enough to pay for it. Markets shape journalism and journalists, and here is where we are: digital subscriptions are not for everyone, and the news produced is coming from journalists who have a white, largely culturally elite background — especially as it becomes more and more financially precarious to become a journalist.

Q: What are the implications for democracy?

A: So, there are lots of different ways to think about democracy. The cynic in me would like to point out that much of the kind of locally specific accountability journalism we worry about losing has been a historical anomaly, mainly present only in major cities at large news outlets as a post-Watergate phenomenon. So news equals democracy isn’t a historically accurate framing.

But journalism is more than just about information; it’s about creating a shared culture. That shared culture reflects the biases of its creators, but it’s important to have journalism to document the shared meaning and history of a place — and I worry so much about what happens when that is no longer present.

When we just have large national news organizations telling the stories about American life, and quality news is available only to those who will pay, we get a super-distorted version of democracy. You can have democracy — but it’s an elite democracy that serves the interests and information needs of elites, rather than journalism that facilitates the pluralistic multicultural democracy that we need.

Q: You and I talked about The Boston Globe’s success, one of a few exceptions to the overall decline of large regional newspapers. Do you think that’s because of committed local ownership — and could that be replicated elsewhere? Or is it simply a consequence of Boston being one of the last great news towns?

A: Boston is a great news town. Have they finally caught Whitey Bulger’s ghost, or are there other mobsters still lurking around in Southie? I had a blast as a Globe intern eons ago.

But in all seriousness, Boston has a lot of advantages that structurally predispose it to being a place where local news thrives: there is a large sector of wealthy, educated, liberal Americans who see the value of paying for news. Boston also has famously corrupt institutions, like the Catholic Church, and the value of exposing corruption is not lost on Boston area residents. Boston sports fans are rabid.

So yes, local ownership makes a huge difference. John Henry’s tolerance for loss is likely a little greater than some of the other billionaires investing in news, plus he’s really in the billionaire class. That gives the Globe a bit of a cushion that isn’t present elsewhere.

Q: Could a healthier media environment help overcome the political and cultural polarization that is tearing us apart? How?

A: How we define health reflects our normative and partisan bias about what constitutes a healthy news environment. For those who are on the far right, the present news environment, where conservative media now reaches deep into the trenches of American life, this is a golden time for a historical correction.

Before having this conversation, we need to remember that diagnoses of health, civility and incivility, and polarization can be turned into variables, but they are also in the eye of the beholder. Some data suggests that what is tearing us apart is not just our views but how we actually feel about people who are not like us. To overcome this, it might be helpful to have the press stop demonizing people who don’t act or behave the way you wish they would — at present, anti-vaxxers in rural America — and stop stereotyping historically marginalized communities that have long been harmed by problematic and extractive news coverage.

The seeds of our dysfunction are baked into the press, yes, but also, as I argue in the book, are part and parcel of the larger social, regional, structural and racial inequities that we have let grow.

Q: Choosing from among the possible solutions you outline at the end of your book, please identify one that you think would have the greatest impact.

A: Can I pick two? Antitrust breakup of Big Tech, which might restore some competition to the digital advertising market and undermine the monopoly over consumer data that advantages big tech companies.

The unlikely one? Having the Democratic Party or party donors start funding local news media directly, as the Republicans are already doing.

With Alden destroying the Hartford Courant, Hearst goes statewide and digital

The Connecticut Statehouse in Hartford. Photo (cc) 2009 by Dan Kennedy.

By Dan Kennedy

Chain ownership is almost never a good thing. But some chains are better than others — and Hearst is among the very best. No doubt its status as a privately owned company whose family is involved in management has a lot to do with that. The legendary mogul William Randolph Hearst would be proud.

Among other things, the Hearst-owned Times Union of Albany, New York, did some of the crucial early reporting about sexual assault allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo — accusations that have brought him to the brink of resignation or removal.

Hearst has been making some interesting moves in Connecticut for quite some time. Now, with the hedge fund Alden Global Capital tearing apart what’s left of the Hartford Courant, Hearst is positioning itself as a digital rival for statewide coverage. Rick Edmonds of Poynter reports that the company has launched a new website, CTInsider.com, that features coverage from its 160 journalists at eight dailies and 14 weeklies and websites in the state.

CTInsider.com offers a combination of free and paid content. Subscribers pay $3.99 a week after an initial discount.

The Hearst paper I’m most familiar with is the New Haven Register, a daily paper that figured heavily in my 2013 book about hyperlocal news projects, “The Wired City.” The project I was profiling, the New Haven Independent, a digital nonprofit founded in 2005, was providing deep coverage of the city, filling a gap left by the dramatic downsizing of the Register.

It was an interesting time for the Register. Under the ownership of the reviled Journal Register chain, the Register had lurched into bankruptcy. Journal Register then morphed into Digital First Media, headed by a visionary chief executive named John Paton who, about a dozen years ago, provided a jolt of optimism. Soon, though, Alden moved in, merging Digital First with its Denver-based chain, MediaNews Group, and, well, you know the rest. But then Hearst bought the New Haven Register a few years ago, and the paper has since undergone something of a revival.

The Hartford Courant had thrived for many decades as Connecticut’s sole statewide paper. But under Tribune Publishing’s chaotic ownership, it had been shrinking for many years. During the years that I was reporting “The Wired City,” a pair of vibrant websites devoted to covering state politics and policy had popped up — the for-profit CTNewsJunkie.com and the nonprofit Connecticut Mirror, both of which are still going strong.

Things went from bad to worse at the Courant earlier this year when Alden added Tribune to its holdings despite efforts by the staff to find a local buyer.

It’s great to see Hearst now upping its game in Connecticut as well.

Despite spinning off a few papers, there are no signs that chains are walking away

Nantucket, where The Inquirer & Mirror is once again locally owned. Photo (cc) 2007 by Michael Galvin.

By Dan Kennedy

From time to time I’ve taken note of rare instances when Gannett has sold some of its 1,000 or so papers to local ownership. In Massachusetts, for example, The Inquirer & Mirror of Nantucket was acquired last fall by a group headed by the editor and a local businessman.

Kristen Hare of Poynter asked Gannett for some numbers, it turns out that the chain has sold 24 papers to community interests. (Be sure not to miss the correction. As you’ll see, Gannett can’t even keep track of how many papers it owns.)

Not that there’s any benevolent motive at work here. Gannett is going to do what’s best for its bottom line, and a few isolated weeklies don’t fit with its strategy of regional groups, dailies and stories shared across papers regardless of whether they have any local interest.

Just recently, Gannett shut down two weeklies west of Boston — the Marlborough Enterprise and the Hudson Sun. Maybe there weren’t any local buyers available. But those towns are also covered by Gannett’s MetroWest Daily News, so there was an incentive not to empower any possible competitors.

Writing for the Local News Initiative at Northwestern University, Mark Jacob speculates that the hedge fund Alden Global Initiative might sell off some of the nine major-market dailies it acquired when it gobbled up Tribune Publishing earlier this year. I suppose anything is possible, but that seemed to fly out the window when Baltimore hotel magnate Stewart Bainum’s efforts to buy Tribune fell short. Bainum planned to break up the chain, starting with The Baltimore Sun, which he wanted to donate to a nonprofit. In the end, though, Alden’s offer prevailed, even though it was loaded with undisclosed debt.

Jacob also profiles The Berkshire Eagle of Pittsfield, a rare instance of a newspaper that Alden was willing to sell to local interests, and The New Bedford Light, launched despite Gannett’s refusal to sell The Standard-Times.

And then there is this odd observation by Jacob:

In some ways, large chains can be beneficial for local news consumers. They often bring website expertise, technical support and consistent business practices. And they may have a greater ability to recruit talent.

No. Some chains are better than others, but all of them are dedicated to the proposition that newspapers exist mainly so that the owners can squeeze out profits that could otherwise be invested in news and technology. Even in terms of digital publishing, I have rarely encountered an independent news website that is as clunky and intrusive as a typical chain site.

As the old saying goes: Local doesn’t scale.