Podcast

Welcome to the conversation

From Northeastern University’s School of Journalism, welcome to “What Works: The Future of Local News,” hosted by former Boston Globe editor Ellen Clegg and Northeastern’s Dan Kennedy. Local journalism, the bedrock of democracy, is in crisis. Ellen and Dan talk to journalists, policymakers and entrepreneurs about the work they’re doing to keep local news alive. Corporate chains and hedge funds are squeezing the life out of local news. There is a better way, and Ellen, Dan and their guests are telling that story.

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Graphics: Alison Booth
Music: “WOW!” and “Nightmare” by Promiser

Episode 26: Jonathan Dotan

May 11, 2022

Jonathan Dotan is founding director of The Starling Lab for Data Integrity at Stanford University. The lab focuses on tools to help historians, legal experts and journalists protect images, text and other data from bad actors who want to manipulate that data to create deep fakes or expunge it altogether. 

He has founded and led a number of digital startups, he worked at the Motion Picture Association of America, and he was a writer and producer for the HBO series “Silicon Valley.”  While he was working on “Silicon Valley,” a character invented a new technology that got him thinking: What if everyday users could keep hold of their own data without having to store it in a cloud, where it is open to hackers or the government or other bad actors? That, at least in part, is what blockchain technology is all about, and it’s a subject about which Dotan has become a leading expert.

Dotan also shares a link to a valuable resource for anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of Web3.

Dan has a rare rave for Gannett, which is rethinking the way its papers cover police and public safety. And Ellen unpacks a recent survey about violent attacks against broadcast reporters.

Episode 25: Kristen Hare

May 3, 2022

Kristen Hare is a journalist, media watcher and faculty member at Poynter Institute in Florida. Kristen not only documents trends in our beleaguered industry, but she also teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to cover their communities effectively. Before joining Poynter’s faculty, she spent eight years covering local news for Poynter’s website. In addition to all of this, she also spent two years with the Peace Corps in Guyana, in South America.

At Poynter, she writes a weekly newsletter about local news called Local Edition. She’s also got experience in a number of local newsrooms. She has reported for the St. Louis Beacon and the St. Joseph News-Press in Missouri, and she still keeps her hand in by writing feature obituaries for the Tampa Bay Times.

Dan has a Quick Take on a tax credit for news subscribers in Canada, which apparently isn’t working all that well. Maybe it’s something in the permafrost. Ellen looks at a fight for control at the 50-year-old alternative paper, the Chicago Reader

Episode 24: Mike Shapiro

April 27, 2022

Mike Shapiro is the founder and CEO of TAPinto, a network of more than 90 online local news sites, most of them in New Jersey and with a few in New York and Florida. Shapiro launched TAPInto in 2008. Back then it was called TheAlternativePress.com and the goal was to build a network of hyperlocal news sites covering New Jersey towns.

His core idea is relatively simple. Would-be editors and publishers are actually franchisees. They pay a fee to buy into a turnkey operation that gives them access to technology and marketing resources. Shapiro’s team provides training and maintains the infrastructure, but these publishers are responsible for maintaining and growing their readership. Some have journalism backgrounds, but some join because they love their communities and want to become small business owners. The name was changed as the network grew: Shapiro no longer sees it as an alternative to just one newspaper, but as a way to “TAPinto” any community.

Dan has a Quick Take on a new survey by the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University that finds that news consumers in Chicago aren’t willing to pay for local content, and Ellen nerds out on a recent NiemanLab report on the importance of local coverage of science.

Episode 23: Ed Miller

April 20, 2022

Ed Miller is co-founder and editor of The Provincetown Independent. Founded in October 2019, the weekly competes with Gannett’s Provincetown Banner. The Independent covers Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet and Eastham and Miller explains why he believes that a print-centric strategy is essential on the tip of the Cape. The Independent is a hybrid organization — a for-profit public benefit corporation that works in tandem with a nonprofit that Ed and co-founder and publisher Teresa Parker have also created.  Up until now, the nonprofit, the Local Journalism Project, has operated under the fiscal sponsorship of the Center for the Study of Public Policy.  But they have now created their own independent nonprofit and applied for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. As we learned from Ed in planning this podcast, the first meeting of the new LJP board was happening the very day the episode was taped.

Ellen has a Quick Take on the abysmal results for the News Leaders Association newsroom diversity survey.   

Dan reports on a startup newspaper in Queen Creek, Arizona, that will be called the Queen Creek Tribune and will make its debut on Sunday, April 24. It will be a total-market penetration print paper with a 20,000 press run. 

Episode 22: Ellen and Dan debrief

April 12, 2022

This week, co-hosts Ellen Clegg and Dan Kennedy run down a number of news stories, including a major deal in New Jersey: The nonprofit Corporation for New Jersey Local Media (CNJLM) acquired 14 weekly newspapers serving some 50 municipalities. The papers are owned by the New Jersey Hills Media Group.

The deal is similar to one announced last year when Colorado Community Media sold its 24 weekly and monthly newspapers in a complex deal involving several nonprofit organizations. The difference is that management of the Colorado papers was turned over to The Colorado Sun, a digital start-up that was awarded an ownership share and could eventually become the majority owner. In New Jersey, the sellers, Liz and Steve Parker, will remain in charge.

Ellen unpacks the story behind a glaring omission in the award-winning documentary film, “Storm Lake,”and Dan and Ellen both try to grapple with the blockchain and how Web3 might affect local newsrooms. 

Episode 21: Em Cassel

April 5, 2022

Em Cassel is editor and co-owner of Racket, a reader-funded website covering politics, music, arts and culture in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. (She was also a student in Dan’s digital journalism course at Northeastern University.) 

Em made a name for herself as food editor, managing editor, and editor-in-chief of City Pages in the Twin Cities. She was the first woman editor in the 41-year history of that publication. City Pages, which was bought by the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2015, was shut down in late 2020. The company said it wasn’t economically viable, citing the pandemic. Em provides some inside scoop about that, and talks about the founding of Racket, which proudly claims on its website that it has “no bosses, some biases.”

Dan has a Quick Take on the Montclair Local, a nonprofit weekly newspaper launched several years ago in New Jersey. And Ellen reports on an effort to shut down an entire town that was uncovered by the Tennessee Lookout, part of the rapidly expanding nonprofit network called States Newsroom. The Lookout’s scoop was highlighted in the newsletter of The Emancipator, a re-imagined update on the nation’s first abolitionist newspaper for the digital age that is being launched soon. 

Episode 20: Jody Brannon

March 30, 2022

Jody Brannon, director of the Center for Journalism & Liberty at the Open Markets Institute, started her career in print in her native Seattle. Never one to shy from a challenge (she’s an avid skiier and beamed in from the snowy mountains of Idaho), she transitioned to digital relatively early on in the revolution. She has had leadership or consulting roles at washingtonpost.comusatoday.commsn.com, as well as the tech universe.

She served on the board of the Online News Association for 10 years and holds a PhD in mass communication from the University of Maryland. The Center for Journalism & Liberty is part of the Open Markets Institute, which has a pretty bold mission statement: To shine a light on monopoly power and its dangers to democracy. They also say they work to engage in grassroots coalitions, such as Freedom from Facebook and 4Competition. 

Dan’s Quick Take is on an arcane subject—the future of legal ads. Those notices from city and county government may seem pretty dull, but newspapers have depended on them as a vital source of revenue since the invention of the printing press. Now they’re under attack in Florida.

Ellen weighs in on a mass exodus at the venerable Texas Observer magazine, once a progressive voice to be reckoned with and home to the late great columnist Molly Ivins.

Episode 19: Chris Krewson

March 21, 2022

Chris Krewson is the executive director of Local Independent Online News Publishers, better known as LION Publishers. The national nonprofit aims at supporting local journalism entrepreneurs and has some 400 members. LION tapped Chris as its leader in 2019, and he brings significant digital experience to the job. In fact, he’s had many prior lives. He was the top editor at Billy Penn, a mobile-first local start-up in Philadelphia launched by the legendary Jim Brady that’s now part of public radio station WHYY. He’s also the former top digital editor for Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania. 

Dan has a Quick Take on a Poynter Online essay by Kathleen McElroy, director of the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Texas at Austin. Ellen discusses the new Harvey World Herald online site, which fills a need in a news desert just outside of Chicago. And Chris clears up a crewcut pop culture mystery for Ellen.

Episode 18: Pam Johnston

March 16, 2022

Pam Johnston, general manager for news with GBH, has a deep background in local television in Boston at WLVI (Channel 56), and earlier at local stations in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Portland, Maine. At GBH, which is a public media company, she has a broad portfolio. She is responsible for local and regional news operations across all platforms, including radio, television and digital. She also supervises GBH’s contributions to two NPR programs, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”

Pam joined GBH in 2012 as director of audience development for “Frontline,” the national investigative series, where she is credited with diversifying the audience and connecting them with long-form documentaries, virtual reality experiences and podcasts. 

Dan has a Quick Take on a multimillion-dollar glitch in ad tech by Gannett, and Ellen reports on a union survey of workers at Tribune Publishing (now owned by Alden Global Capital) that reveals big gaps in pay equity.

Episode 17: Lex Weaver

March 8, 2022

Lex Weaver is editor-in-chief of The Scope at Northeastern University. The Scope is a  digital magazine focused on telling stories of justice, hope and resilience in Greater Boston, with an emphasis on communities of color. Their mission: practicing journalism as an act of service. They work to amplify the voices of those overlooked by traditional media.

The current version of the Scope launched in the fall of 2017 and was based on a brilliant prototype created by then graduate students Emily Hopkins (now a data reporter at ProPublica), Priyanka Ketkar (now a multimedia editor at Lakes District News in British Columbia) and Brilee Weaver (now a social media manager for Northeastern’s external affairs office.) As our Northeastern colleague Meg Heckman, The Scope’s first adviser, reminded us the other day, it was initially called The Docket, but we changed the name for a couple of reasons: 1.) We wanted to cover more than criminal justice; 2.) People outside of Northeastern thought we were a project of the law school. 

Thanks to a Poynter-Koch Fellowship, the Scope has a full-time editor-in-chief. Catherine McGloin was the Scope’s first full-time editor and our inaugural Poynter fellow. She started in the summer of 2019 and did a tremendous amount of work to build both content and audience—a feature called Changemakers, editor coffee hours in Nubian Square and email newsletters were all her idea. She was followed by Ha Ta. 

Lex has continued to help the Scope grow in terms of content, audience and partnerships. 

Dan looks at The Boston Globe as it turns 150, and Ellen reports on a California bill aimed at funding local public interest journalism.

Episode 16: Ken Doctor

March 2, 2022

Ken Doctor, a former Knight Ridder executive and longtime media analyst, recently rejoined the ranks of working journalists. He’s the founder and CEO of Lookout Local, a digital local news site in Santa Cruz, California. Ken hopes that Lookout Local can provide a model of what works in the local news ecosystem. He says he wants to change the conversation. In Quick Takes for the week, Dan shares his crowdsourced research on independent news organizations in Massachusetts, and Ellen unpacks a study published by an economic think tank in Cambridge that quantifies the impact when hedge funds acquire local newspapers.

Episode 15: Babz Rawls Ivy

February 22, 2022

Babz Rawls Ivy is host and co-producer of “LoveBabz LoveTalk” on WNHH-LP radio in New Haven. But that doesn’t begin to describe her. So let’s add a few more words: Force of nature. Wise presence. Storyteller.

WNHH is a low-power FM community station launched seven years ago by the New Haven Independent, a pioneering online nonprofit news site. Paul Bass, founder and editor of the Independent, wanted to bring powerful local voices onto the airwaves. Babz Rawls Ivy brings truth-telling to a whole new level.

Rawls Ivy’s show is on the air every weekday from 9 to 11 a.m. If you’re in New Haven, you can hear it at 103.5 FM. You can also listen live on the Independent’s website and on its Facebook page, where programs are also available after the show. Past programs are also available on a number of other platforms, including Apple Podcasts. Just search for “WNHH Community Radio.”

In our Quick Takes for the week, Dan shares the latest on Gannett’s downgrading of local coverage, and Ellen asks whether retired journalists are the new seed capital for startup digital sites.

Episode 14: Lincoln Millstein

Feb. 16, 2022

Lincoln Millstein played a critical role in launching The Boston Globe’s free digital site, boston.comBoston.com began as a portal, and carried Globe journalism but also curated other news sites and community blogs. It had a separate staff, and the office was in downtown Boston, not in the old Dorchester plant. Lincoln went on to be executive vice president at New York Times Digital, then moved on to the Hearst Corporation, where he held a number of different roles. 

When Lincoln retired as senior assistant to CEO Steven Swartz of Hearst in 2018, he wondered what was next. He found the answer by returning to his roots as a local reporter, recalling the days when he started out in the Middletown bureau of the Hartford Courant in the mid-1970s. 

He and his wife, Irene Driscoll, also a longtime journalist, had upgraded their summer place in Maine in anticipation of spending more time there in retirement. Then the pandemic hit, and they moved in. He started picking up lots of local scoops on how the pandemic was affecting businesses. Not to mention the occasional deer collision. That’s how The Quietside Journal got its start.

Dan has a Quick Take on the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, which recently won a big public-records victory over the city of Worcester, which has been stonewalling them for years, and Ellen looks at newsroom layoffs and transparency.

Episode 13: Inés San Martín and John Allen

Feb. 8, 2022

Inés San Martín and John Allen join the What Works podcast to discuss the founding of Crux, a digital site that covers all things Catholic, and the “corporate resurrection” that took place three days after The Boston Globe shut it down. Crux quickly partnered with the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service organization, and now is a hybrid business model combining nonprofit support, crowd-funding and advertising. Ellen shares an update on a high-impact investigative project by Sahan Journal, and Dan discusses the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which has bipartisan support on Capitol Hill but is not a perfect solution to the local news crisis. 

Episode 12: Callie Crossley

Feb. 1, 2022

Callie Crossley is a multitalented broadcast journalist and producer. She hosts Under the Radar with Callie Crossley and shares radio essays each Monday on GBH’s Morning Edition. She hosts Basic Black, which covers news events that have an impact on communities of color. Her work on “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years” won numerous awards. She shares her views on the thinning out of local news outlets and offers sage advice for next-generation journalists. Callie and Dan were regulars on “Beat the Press,” the long-running GBH-TV show that featured media commentary, for 22 years, and in 2019 both received the Yankee Quill Award from the New England Society of Newspaper Editors. In Quick Takes on developments in local news, Dan laments the rise of robot journalism, and Ellen reports on an effort by publisher Lee Enterprises to fight off a takeover bid by hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

Episode 11: Myojung Chung and John Wihbey

Jan. 24, 2022

Myojung Chung and John Wihbey, colleagues from Northeastern University’s School of Journalism, share the findings from their new working paper, published by Northeastern’s Ethics Institute. They and their colleagues examined attitudes about the regulation of social media in four countries: the U.K., Mexico, South Korea and the U.S. With Facebook (or Meta) under fire for its role in amplifying disinformation and hate speech, their research has implications for how the platforms might be regulated. And whether such regulations would be accepted by the public. Ellen and Dan kick around a nonprofit merger in Chicago and a new project in Houston. Plus a tiny Easter egg from country artist Roy Edwin Williams.

Episode 10: Jaida Grey Eagle

Jan. 18, 2022

Jaida Grey Eagle is a photojournalist working for Sahan Journal in Minneapolis through Report For America. She is Oglala Lakota and was born in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and raised in Minneapolis. Her photography has been published in a wide range of publications, and featured on a billboard on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. She is also a co-producer of “Sisters Rising,” a documentary film about six Native American women reclaiming person and tribal sovereignty in the face of sexual violence. Dan and Ellen offer quick takes on paywalls and media companies that target well-heeled readers, and on Evan Smith’s announcement that he’s stepping down as chief executive officer of The Texas Tribune.

Episode 9: Joshua Darr

Jan. 10, 2022

Joshua Darr, a professor at Louisiana State University, is right in the What Works sweet spot: His research delves into the divisive partisan rhetoric that infuses our national political debate and whether communities with a vibrant local news source experience less polarization. Dan and Ellen talk with Joshua about his research, as well as the Trusting News project report on how local and regional news organizations can do a better job of connecting with conservative audiences. Dan offers a quick take on plans by Axios to expand local news sites into 25 cities in 2022, and Ellen looks at a promising network of nonprofit newsrooms planned across Ohio. (This version of the audio has been corrected to add material on the Trusting News project and efforts to include conservative voices on local opinion pages.)

Episode 8: Phil Balboni

Jan. 4, 2022

Phil Balboni is a journalistic legend. His latest venture is DailyChatter, a nonpartisan newsletter that covers international news. The newsletter’s staff of experienced journalists based in Europe, Asia and the United States searches for “meaning and context in this immensely complex world.” Before creating DailyChatter, Phil was the founder, president and CEO of GlobalPost, the highly acclaimed international news site he launched in 2008. He was also the founder and president of New England Cable News, and was vice president of news and editorial director for WCVB-TV (Channel 5) in Boston. He has been awarded almost every major honor in broadcasting, including the Peabody, Murrow and Emmy. Tune in to hear Phil talk about his passion for local news as well as his hopes for a newly created professorship at the Columbia School of Journalism that was endowed in his honor. In Quick Takes, Dan analyzes the danger to the First Amendment posed by a New York court judge who ordered The New York Times to stop publishing confidential documents it had obtained about the notorious right-wing organization Project Veritas. Ellen weighs in with news from Texas, where a right-wing activist named Frank Lopez Jr. is flooding the zone with disinformation about immigration, taking advantage of the void created when the local newspaper shut down.

Episode 7: Damon Kiesow

Dec. 22, 2021

Damon Kiesow is a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he holds the Knight Chair in Digital Editing and Producing. But Dan and Ellen first met him about 10 years ago when he was at The Boston Globe, developing mobile products for Boston.com and BostonGlobe.com. At the time, the new Globe.com site had been launched with a paywall, and featured The Globe’s journalism. Although print revenue is still significant, the paywall strategy seems to be paying off now in terms of digital subscriptions. Kiesow and others were working on emerging technologies in mobile and social media. Kiesow focused on human-centered design: how readers interact with a print newspaper versus a digital side. Does some 150 years of experience reading print make a difference? Why is doom scrolling on digital platforms so exhausting? Tune in and find out. Plus a quick look at a powerful newspaper collaboration in South Carolina that is rooting out scandal after scandal, and an update on the vibrant digital archive of the late, great Boston Phoenix.

Episode 6: Rhema Bland

Dec. 14, 2021

Rhema Bland is the first permanent director of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting at the University of North Carolina school of journalism. She was appointed in October 2020 after working in higher education as an adviser to student media programs. She is a veteran journalist who has reported and produced for CBS, the Florida Times-Union, WJCT and the New York Daily News. The Wells Society was co-founded by award-winning journalists Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ron Nixon and Topher Sanders. The society is named after the path-breaking Black journalist and activist Ida B. Wells, who fearlessly covered the lynching of Black men and was present at the creation of the NAACP. The society’s mission is essential to the industry: to “increase the ranks, retention and profile of reporters and editors of color in the field of investigative reporting. Bland and her colleagues host training seminars for journalists across the country, focusing on everything from entrepreneurship to racial inequality to COVID-19. Also in this episode, Ellen talks about Ogden Newspapers’ purchase of Swift Communications, which publishes community papers in western ski towns as well as niche agricultural titles like the Goat Journal. And Dan shares news about federal antitrust lawsuits that are in the works against Google and Facebook by more than 200 newspapers.

Episode 5: Penelope Muse Abernathy

Nov. 22, 2021

Penelope “Penny” Muse Abernathy, a visiting professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, arguably launched a movement with her path-breaking research on “news deserts” and the forces undermining community newspapers across the nation. Abernathy, a former executive with The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, was also Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina from 2008 to 2020. She talks about why this is a pivotal moment for community journalism, about her forthcoming research and about why her journalism students are still bullish on speaking truth to power at the local level. In Quick Takes, Dan reports that the nonprofit strategy at The Salt Lake City Tribune is actually working out, and Ellen tunes us in to Heartland Signal, a new digital outlet with a Democratic spin that is setting up to cover the midterm congressional elections.

Episode 4: Art Cullen

Nov. 15, 2021

Art Cullen, editor of the twice-weekly Storm Lake Times in rural Buena Vista County, Iowa, tells the story of his fight for survival at a time when local papers across the country are cutting back and shutting down. The paper is the subject of a vivid documentary, “Storm Lake,” that will be broadcast on most PBS stations on Monday, Nov. 15, at 10 p.m., including GBH-2 in Boston. Also, we hear from Northeastern University graduate student Zhaozhou Dai about what he and fellow grad student Maaisha Osman learned when they visited the New Haven Independent and its community radio station, WNHH-LP, on Election Night. In Quick Takes, Ellen has some fun with a recent “Saturday Night Live” skit about local school boards — and reminds us of the importance of covering local politics. And Dan kicks around the McClatchy newspaper chain, which recently ended its relationship with Report for America, apparently because RFA co-founder Steven Waldman hurt the feelings of its hedge fund owner.

Episode 3: Chris Lovett

Nov. 8, 2021

Chris Lovett, longtime news director and anchor of the Boston Neighborhood Network News local cable access show, reflects on his career in community journalism, on camera and off. A Dorchester native, he’s interviewed local activists, politicos (including Tom Menino when he was a district city councilor) and neighborhood stalwarts. Lovett had a front-row seat as the changing media landscape shaped Boston, and he connects the dots between Menino’s early days as a frequent broadcast guest and Michelle Wu’s strategic use of social media. He has also shared his expertise with any number of Boston University students. And he’s not done with journalism yet, so stay tuned.

Episode 2: Julie Reynolds

Oct. 30, 2021

Ellen and Dan interview freelance investigative journalist Julie Reynolds, who talks about her singular pursuit of the truth about Alden Global Capital, the secretive New York hedge fund that has gobbled up newspapers across the country, stripping assets and firing reporters. Reynolds connects the dots from Alden to Cerberus Capital Management, the “shadow bank” that backed Alden’s recent takeover of Tribune Publishing. Dan explores pink slime news sites, and Ellen reports on some good news for newspaper readers in the town that inspired Frostbite Falls, home to Rocky and Bullwinkle.

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Episode 1: Mass. Rep. Lori Ehrlich

Oct. 5, 2021

In their first episode of the What Works podcast, Ellen and Dan discuss the crisis in community journalism, as well as promising initiatives aimed at solving it. Dan interviews Massachusetts Representative Lori Ehrlich, a Marblehead Democrat who has co-sponsored legislation to create a commission to assess the state of local journalism in the Commonwealth. As Ehrlich has said, the “lack of local news coverage is a fundamental threat to our democracy and civic society.”

 

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