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.
Episode 53: Anne Larner
January 31, 2023
Dan and Ellen talk with Anne Larner, a civic leader in Newton, Massachusetts, a city of nearly 90,000 people on the border of Boston. Anne is on the Board of Directors of The Newton Beacon, an independent nonprofit news outlet covering Newton. Anne has a long track record of civic engagement in Newton and in Massachusetts. She moved to Newton in 1973, and has served on the School Committee, the Newton League of Women Voters, and has been a PTO president, among many roles. She also served 15 years at the MBTA Advisory Board, a public watchdog agency.
Newton is a microcosm of what’s happening in local news all over the country. Years ago, Newton had four local newspapers: The Newton Times, the Graphic, the Tribune and the TAB. But Gannett shut down a number of Massachusetts newspapers last year, including the print weekly, the Newton Tab. The Gannett digital site, Wicked Local, is still up and running. But content is regional.
Ellen has a Quick Take on MLK50, the award-winning Memphis newsroom that focuses on poverty, power, and justice. They’ve received two major philanthropic grants that allow them to build for the future. And speaking of MLK50, executive editor Adrienne Johnson Martin was here at Northeastern ahead of Martin Luther King Day to give a talk on their work in Memphis. We’ll feature some interviews from that by our colleague Dakotah Kennedy.
Dan has news about Rebuild Local News, a new nonprofit organization that’s advocating for solutions to the local news crisis. But wait. It’s not new. And the solutions that it’s proposing aren’t new, either. Still, this is good news, which he explains.
Episode 52: Adam Gaffin
January 20, 2023
On this week’s podcast, Dan and Ellen talk with Adam Gaffin, founder of Universal Hub and inventor of the French Toast Alert System. Universal Hub tracks news in the Boston area from the serious to the just plain weird by linking to hundreds of news outlets and local websites and by offering original reporting. His Twitter feed is a must-follow and, thankfully, he’s set up shop on Mastodon as well.
Dan wrote a profile of Adam for CommonWealth Magazine in 2008. Adam has been a local connector since the earliest days of digital self-publishing — well before blogging, putting together a directory of websites called New England Online in the early ’90s and then transforming that into Boston Online.
Ellen has a Quick Take on a young journalist who lost her job at West Virginia Public Broadcasting after she reported on alleged government abuses in the state’s foster care and psychiatric system. The journalist, Amelia Ferrell Knisely, alleges that there was political interference with the station, WVPB, which receives state funding.
Dan examines an important First Amendment case involving a citizen journalist in Texas. Roxanna Asgarian of The Texas Tribune broke the story. It’s a complicated tale, but the root of it is whether a citizen journalist should enjoy the same right to sue the government over a violation of her constitutional rights as a recognized news organization.
Many of the local news projects that we’re interested in here at What Works are just a few steps beyond citizen journalism, and we are firmly of the belief that the First Amendment protections enjoyed by large news outlets should be applied to small outlets and citizen journalists as well. It remains to be seen whether a federal appeals court in Texas will agree.
Episode 51: Mike Blinder
January 11, 2023
Dan and Ellen talk to Mike Blinder, the publisher of Editor & Publisher, the once and future bible of the publishing industry. Mike also hosts E&P’s weekly vodcast series, “E&P Reports.” Blinder has interviewed everyone from Richard Tofel, founding GM of ProPublica, to Jennifer Kho, the new executive editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, to professor and media critic Jeff Jarvis. Blinder probes important issues like government support for community journalism, the role of platforms, and the impact of chain consolidation.
Dan has a Quick Take on the failure of two bills in Congress that would have provided some government support to newspaper companies. It’s fair to say that the federal government is not going to be riding to the rescue of local news, and that communities had better get about the business of providing coverage on their own. Ellen reports on the City Paper in Pittsburgh, an alternative weekly, which has just been acquired by a subsidiary of Block Communications. The Block family has achieved some notoriety for its mismanagement of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Media observer Margaret Sullivan called the Post-Gazette a tragic mess under the Blocks.
Episode 50: Margaret Low
December 2, 2022
Ellen and Dan talk with Margaret Low, the CEO of WBUR, one of Boston’s two public radio stations. Margaret started as CEO in January 2020. She has had a 40-plus-year career with NPR, and started as an overnight production assistant at Morning Edition.At NPR, Low rose through the ranks and ended up in the top editorial job, where she oversaw 400 journalists worldwide, covering events like the Arab Spring, the re-election of Barack Obama, and the Boston Marathon bombing. She led a digital transformation of her newsroom. She turned Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, the Saturday morning quiz show, into a live production. She came to WBUR from The Atlantic, where she was president of AtlanticLIVE, and produced more than 100 live events a year.
Ellen has a Quick Take on the launch of Signal Cleveland. It’s well-funded, with $7.5 million to start with, and Rick Edmonds of Poynter Online writes that the news outlet has big goals: It wants to expand throughout Ohio within a few years.
Dan’s Quick Take is on a case in New Hampshire that is of interest to those of us who ascribe to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. As Dan puts it, we’d like to think that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that you may not be punished criminally for criticizing the government. But that’s not what the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit decided recently. In that case, the court ruled that New Hampshire’s criminal libel law passes constitutional muster. The case was especially pernicious because the defendant, Robert Frese, was charged with claiming, among other things, that the police chief in his town of Exeter was a coward who had “covered up for a dirty cop.” That statement may be entirely false; but the idea that someone could be charged with a misdemeanor for criticizing the police is pretty chilling. InDepthNH has a story here. The case even garnered a Muzzle Award in 2019.
Episode 49: Crystal Good
November 18, 2022
Dan and Ellen talk with Crystal Good, the founder of Black by God, the West Virginian. She’s a sixth-generation West Virginian, and she’s a storyteller and poet. She has also been a model and an advocate. She describes Black by God as an “emerging news and storytelling organization centering Black voices from the Mountain State.” She wants to provide a more nuanced portrayal of Black residents in the Appalachian region.
Dan and Northeastern graduate student Dakotah Kennedy first heard Crystal Good speak in September at the Radically Rural conference in Keene, New Hampshire — not from the stage but from the audience. Dan and Dakotah wished she had been onstage, invited her onto the podcast, and she graciously agreed. Black by God has a lively website, and publishes periodic print editions. Which Crystal seems to deliver herself.
Dan has a Quick Take on social media. It’s in free fall. Is that good for local news? Bad? Or does it just mean a changed environment that they’re all going to have to navigate? Ellen’s Quick Take is on a hyperlocal mogul named Mark Adams. He’s expanding his empire into Montana.
Episode 48: Mary Margaret White
November 12, 2022
Dan and Ellen talk with Mary Margaret White, the CEO of Mississippi Today, a nonprofit digital news outlet that has been covering the state for more than six years. The staff has a robust presence at the statehouse in Jackson, and provides cultural and sports coverage, as well.
Mary Margaret is a Mississippi native. She has a bachelor’s in English and journalism and a master’s in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi. She also spent almost 10 years working for the state, with jobs in arts and tourism. Her work has appeared in The Listening Post Collective, The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture and on Mississippi Public Broadcasting radio.
Dan has a Quick Take on a major transition at the New Haven Independent. Last week the indefatigable founder, Paul Bass, announced he was stepping aside as editor of the Independent. The new editor will be Tom Breen, currently the managing editor. Luckily, Bass isn’t going anywhere but will continue to play a role. Ellen’s Quick Take is on another big transition at the Texas Tribune. Economist Sonal Shah is becoming CEO at the Tribune in January. Shah, who has had leadership roles at Google, the White House, and other high-impact nonprofits, replaces co-founder Evan Smith, who is taking a role as senior adviser to the Emerson Collective. It’s a big transition at a pioneering nonprofit newsroom. Smith says he’ll continue to spread the local news gospel in his new role.
Episode 47: Nancy West
November 3, 2022
Nancy was an investigative reporter during her 30-year career at the New Hampshire Union Leader. Nancy founded the nonprofit New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism in 2015. She has also taught investigative reporting at a summer program for students at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.
Ellen has a Quick Take on a recent article by Dan Froomkin in Washington Monthly. Froomkin, who is now editor of Press Watch, used to work for The Washington Post. He has been critical of owner Jeff Bezos. Froomkin is taking aim at the content management system developed by The Post under Bezos. The Post licenses this system to other news outlets around the country. That kind of market power worries Froomkin.
Dan’s Quick Take is on the state of journalism in Vermont, a subject we’ve talked about on a recent podcast. And about a good piece of media criticism. Bill Schubart, a journalist who writes a column for VTDigger, wrote a column critiquing a recent New Yorker piece by Bill McKibben on Vermont journalism. But Schubart also looked inward and wrote that Digger itself is having problems.
Episode 46: Jeff Jacoby
October 27, 2022
Jeff holds degrees from George Washington University and from Boston University Law School, and before entering journalism, he briefly practiced law. He was also an assistant to Dr. John Silber, the prickly president of Boston University.
Prompted by a column Jeff wrote in June, and spurred on by the impending midterm elections, the podcast features a free-form discussion of whether newspaper editorial pages should endorse candidates in presidential races.
Dan has a Quick Take on a big story out of Woburn, a suburb north of Boston. Woburn has an independent newspaper and is covered by The Globe and other outlets. But this story wasn’t broken by any of the usual suspects. Ellen’s Quick Take is on an opinion column in The Washington Post by Perry Bacon, who calls for $10 billion in government funding to support a news outlet in every congressional district in the country.
Episode 45: David Cicilline
October 20, 2022
Dan and Ellen talk with U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, who represents the First District of Rhode Island in Congress. Cicilline, who is a Democrat, is part of a bipartisan group of U.S. representatives and senators sponsoring the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. Co-sponsors include Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota; Republican Sen. John Kennedy from Louisiana; Republican Rep. Ken Buck from Colorado; and Senate and House Judiciary Committee chairs Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat.
The JCPA would remove legal obstacles to news organizations’ ability to negotiate collectively and secure fair terms from gatekeeper platforms that proponents say use news content without paying for it. Critics counter that it’s more complicated than that. The legislation also allows news publishers to demand arbitration if they reach an impasse in those negotiations.
Ellen has a Quick Take on new research being done by the Institute for Nonprofit News. The INN just released 2022 fact sheets on three types of nonprofit newsrooms: local news, state and regional news, and national and global news. While each group shares some similarities, INN found that geography matters in terms of revenue models and audience development.
Dan takes a few more whacks at Gannett because newsrooms are being hit with unpaid furloughs, buyouts, a freeze on their pension benefits and more.
Episode 44: David Dahl
October 13, 2022
Dan and Ellen talk with David Dahl, editor of The Maine Monitor. David was most recently a deputy managing editor at The Boston Globe. Among his jobs at The Globe: directing hyperlocal Your Town coverage. The pull of Maine was strong, however. He and his wife, Kathy, have a home in Friendship, Maine. When he decided that he was ready to turn the page, he looked Down East.
Dan has a Quick Take on Bulletin, a feature developed by Facebook to compete with Substack. Sarah Scire has the scoop: Bulletin is shutting down. Ellen has a Quick Take is on a new kind of media audit by the Alliance for Audited Media, which has been verifying newspaper circulation for 108 years. The organization says it’s branching out, to audit standards of ethics in journalism. Ellen asks: Why?
Dakotah Kennedy, a graduate student at Northeastern University, contributes on-the-ground interviews from attendees at the recent Radically Rural conference in New Hampshire. Our podcast with Terry Williams, creator of the conference, can be found here.
Episode 43: Anne Galloway
October 8, 2022
Dan and Ellen talk with Anne Galloway, the founder and editor-at-large of VTDigger in Vermont. Like many journalists, she was laid off in 2009 from her job as Sunday editor of the Rutland Herald and Times Argus. VTDigger, which is a nonprofit, started with a $16,000 budget with no employees. As she put it in a recent letter to readers, it has grown beyond her wildest dreams. It’s the largest newsroom in Vermont. It has dozens of employees and more than 550,000 monthly readers. Galloway not only built the organization, she also wrote notable investigative pieces. Among other issues, she broke open a fraudulent scheme that involve developers at Jay Peak. Dan visited Galloway and wrote about the newsroom in his book, “The Return of the Moguls.”
Ellen has a quick take on a study about the state of U.S. democracy from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The study says it’s critical to fight disinformation, and advocates rebuilding trusted local news sources. Dan reports on a promising merger between public radio station KERA and the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily newspaper that covers the suburbs north of Dallas. This move was facilitated by the National Trust for Local News, which raises money and connects legacy newspaper owners with possible buyers in order to keep them from either shutting down or falling into the hands of corporate chain owners. Our podcast with Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, CEO and co-founder of the trust, can be found here.
Episode 42: David Greising
September 29, 2022
Dan and Ellen talk with David Greising, the president and chief executive of the Better Government Association, a century-old civic nonprofit organization that is also home to a Pulitzer Prize-winning newsroom as part of a new collaboration with the Illinois Solutions Partnership.
The new partnership is funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. The BGA separates its investigations team and policy team, in order to wall off its journalism from its advocacy work. In May of 2022, Madison Hopkins of the BGA and Cecilia Reyes of the Chicago Tribune won the Pulitzer Prize in Local Reporting for an investigation of the city’s history of failed building and fire-safety code enforcement, which proved lethal many times over.
Dan has a Quick Take on a new development at The Provincetown Independent. Co-founder and editor Ed Miller was a guest on the What Works podcast earlier this year. The Indie is trying something really interesting: A direct public offering, or DPO.
Ellen has a Quick Take on the INNYs — the Institute for Nonprofit News Awards. A reporter named Sally Kestin won for best investigative journalism in a small newsroom. We’re talking really small: She works for the Asheville Watchdog, a nonprofit news outlet in North Carolina with only one paid employee. The rest are retired journalists, many of them quite well-known. Kestin won the 2013 Pulitzer for Public Service at the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Episode 41: Hermione Malone
September 22, 2022
On this week’s podcast, Ellen and Dan talk with Hermione Malone, vice president of strategy and startups for the American Journalism Project. The AJP describes itself as a nonprofit venture philanthropy organization that focuses on supporting the future of local news. The organization makes grants to nonprofit news organizations, partners with communities to launch new outlets, and coaches leaders as they grow and sustain their newsrooms.
Hermione oversees local philanthropy partnerships. In that role, she helps nonprofit news startups get launched and nurtures coalitions of community stakeholders and local philanthropies. Her career has included work in diversity and inclusion and in community outreach. As executive director of Go.Be, a New Orleans-based nonprofit, she coached businesses owned by people of color and women, helping them figure out how to grow.
Dan has a Quick Take on new research by Josh Stearns, senior director of the Public Square Program at the Democracy Fund. Josh has fresh evidence that shows that local news is vital for democracy. Ellen’s Quick Take is on Permian Proud, a pink-slime site put up by Chevron that provides a gusher of one-sided PR spin.
Finally, don’t miss the Masterman Lecture at Suffolk University on Sept. 29. Dan is moderating the panel, discussing “The Decline of Local News and the Rise of Polarization.” He promises to inject some optimism into the proceedings.
Episode 40: Ethan Zuckerman
September 15, 2022
Dan and Ellen talk with Ethan Zuckerman, associate professor of public policy, communication and information at UMass-Amherst. He’s also founder of the Initiative for Digital Public Infrastructure, which is studying how to build alternatives to the commercial internet. And Ethan co-founded a local news initiative with global reach, a blogging community called Global Voices.
An alum of the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard and the MIT Media Lab, he is the author of two books. The latest is titled “Mistrust: Why Losing Faith in Institutions Provides the Tools to Transform Them.” It’s a powerful look at the rise of mistrust in institutions, especially media, and how that mistrust is provoking a crisis for representative democracy.
Dan has a Quick Take on Brian McGrory’s announcement that he will step down as editor of The Boston Globe to become director of the journalism program at Boston University. Ellen checks out The Daily Catch, a hyperlocal news outlook covering Red Hook, New York.
Episode 39: Terry Williams
September 8, 2022
Dan and Ellen talk with Terrence Williams, president and COO of The Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, one of the oldest newspapers in the country. Terry and The Sentinel are the creators of the Radically Rural conference, now in its fifth year, which will be held later in September. The conference looks at issues such as housing, farming, the environment and — most important to us — community journalism. Dan has a Quick Take on The Salt Lake Tribune’snew venture, called Mormon Land. Ellen highlights a podcast called Shevotes, which recounts the battle for suffrage and recounts historic efforts at voter suppression. Award-winning journalists Ellen Goodman and Lynn Sherr cohost, and actress Christine Baranski makes a contribution, too.
Episode 38: Emptying our notebooks
August 10, 2022
Dan and Ellen dive into their reporter’s notebooks, catching up with NJ Spotlight News, The Lexington Observer, the transition at The Texas Tribune, and the turmoil at The Graphic-Advocate (both of them!) of Lake City, Iowa. Dan recaps Gannett’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, and Ellen has a rave for Emily Rooney’s “Beat The Press” podcast and her interview with legendary WCVB-TV news anchor Natalie Jacobson.
Episode 37: Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro
August 4, 2022
Dan and Ellen talk with Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, CEO and co-founder of the National Trust for Local News. She is also a senior research fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School in New York. At the Tow Center, Dr. Hansen Shapiro’s work focuses on the future of local journalism and the policies needed to assure that future. Her research involves audience engagement and revenue strategies, as well as the relationship between news and social platforms. She holds a PhD in organizational behavior from Harvard Business School.
The National Trust for Local News is a nonprofit that is dedicated to “keeping local news in local hands.” The Trust works with local news publishers, philanthropists, and socially conscious investors, and as Dan has reported, worked with other collaborators to buy 24 weekly and monthly newspapers in Colorado, perhaps saving them from hedge fund ownership.
Dan has a Quick Take on local media people who are starting to fight back against the abuse they’re receiving from some of the more sociopathic members of their audience. Ellen weighs in on the death of Tim Giago, the founder of the first independently owned Native American newspaper in the United States, and dives back in to the Dumpster fire in the newsroom of the Aspen Times in Colorado.
Episode 36: Tim Coco
July 19, 2022
Dan and Ellen talk with Tim Coco, president and general manager of Public Media of New England. Coco is known for his work as a journalist and advertising executive. He oversees day-to-day operations at the low-power FM station WHAV, which can be found at 97.9 on the radio dial if you happen to be in the Haverhill area. The station also streams at WHAV.net.
WHAV was launched in 1947 by the Haverhill Gazette newspaper under the auspices of a publisher who was distantly related to the Taylor family, which then owned The Boston Globe. Coco revived the station about 15 years ago and converted it to a nonprofit, low-power FM station in 2014.
Ellen has a Quick Take on $2 million in grants awarded to seven nonpartisan news outlets in Georgia. All are led by people of color, and all serve diverse audiences. The money, which comes from The Pivot Fund, could be transformational.
Dan’s Quick Take is on The Herald-Tribune. No, not that Herald-Tribune. This is the Herald-Tribune of Sarasota, Florida, which had to apologize after publishing a guest op-ed in praise of the Proud Boys, the far-right group that was part of the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. It’s a doozy.
Episode 35: Steve Waldman
July 13, 2022
Dan and Ellen talk with Steve Waldman, the president and co-founder of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on undercovered communities. Steve came up with the concept in 2014 and joined forces with The Ground Truth Project to launch RFA in 2017. In the projects we’re reporting on for this podcast and for our book, “What Works: The Future of Local News,” we’ve run across a number of RFA corps members. They usually have a couple of years of experience but are relatively new to the business, although there are a few near retirement age, too.
Steve has a deep background in magazine journalism. He was national editor of U.S. News & World Report, and national correspondent for Newsweek. He went on to co-found a multi-faith religion website, Beliefnet.com, which won a National Magazine Award. He is also founder and coordinator of the Rebuild Local News Coalition, and he’s crafted some interesting proposals for how government can help revitalize local journalism while preserving editorial independence.
Dan has a Quick Take on the happy conclusion to a bizarre situation involving a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Last fall, Josh Renaud reported that a flaw in a database maintained by the state of Missouri allowed for public access to thousands of Social Security numbers. Incredibly, the state’s governor, Mike Parson, denounced Renaud as a “hacker,” and a criminal investigation was begun. It was absolutely outrageous, and now Renaud has been recognized with a national freedom-of-the-press award. And Ellen takes it all back about Ogden Newspapers, which purchased The Aspen Times late last year but has surpressed coverage and prompted a number of staff resignations.
Episode 34: John Garrett
July 6, 2022
Dan and Ellen talk with John Garrett, who, along with his wife, Jennifer, started the monthly Community Impact Newspaper in 2005 in Texas. They had three full-time employees and covered two towns in Texas, Round Rock and Pflugerville.
Community Impact expanded into Arizona and Tennessee, and by 2018, Forbes reported, the Garretts had 220 employees and annual revenue of $27 million. They have an online presence, of course, but they also believe in print: their newspapers are distributed by mail every month. They even opened their own printing plant to handle their newspaper and other jobs. They have a sign out front that says: “Print Ain’t Dead.” But as we prepared for this podcast, John told us they’ve just made some tough decisions. They sold their Phoenix operations and closed their small Nashville outlet. They’ve decided to focus on Texas, where their business is doing well, and they have fresh plans for the future there.
Dan and Ellen devote the entire Quick Takes segment of the podcast to the Muzzle Awards, a Fourth of July roundup of outrages against freedom of speech and of the press in the six New England states. The awards were conceived of by Dan’s friend and occasional collaborator Harvey Silverglate, the noted Boston civil liberties lawyer.For many years, they were published by the late, lamented Boston Phoenix. They’ve been hosted by GBH News since 2013, and this year marks the 25th anniversary.
Episode 33: Mike Deehan
June 29, 2022
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, whether the MBTA is running or not.
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.
Episode 32: Hanna Raskin
June 22, 2022
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.
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.
Episode 31: Dr. Meredith Clark
June 15, 2022
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.
Episode 30: Steve Rosenberg and Linda Matchan
June 8, 2022
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 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 US Senator 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 NiemanLab.) Ellen reached out to longtime science journalist Judy Foreman to get her perspective.
Episode 29: Otis Sanford
June 1, 2022
Dan and Ellen 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 Citizen’s 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, another Commercial Appeal veteran, to cover income inequality, race and justice issues.
Ellen looks at the new Votebeat site, a Chalkbeat spinoff that just might help election integrity.
Episode 28: Kara Meyberg Guzman
May 25, 2022
Kara Meyberg Guzman is CEO and co-founder of Santa Cruz Local in California. Before the Local, she was managing editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel. She left her job at the Sentinel, which is owned by Alden Global Capital’s Media News Group, in 2018, citing differences with the company’s management. Kara connected with another former Sentinel reporter, Stephen Baxter, and the two of them hatched a plan for the Local. They focus on public policy issues that affect the whole county, like housing, development and public health. The Local is a private company, owned by the co-founders. The revenue model is a mix of memberships, business sponsorships, grants, and advertising. But the mission is simple. As the website puts it: We strive to understand Santa Cruz in all of its complexity.
Dan has a Quick Take on a new report by LION Publishers that has some really positive findings about funding and sustainability for local news startups. Anyone who’s thinking about starting a community news project ought to take a look at it. Ellen highlights the work of Katherine Massey, a columnist who was killed in the racist massacre at the Tops grocery store in Buffalo.
Dan tips the hat to Anne Galloway, the founder and executive editor of VTDigger, who has announced that she’s giving up the editor’s position and is returning to the reporting ranks. She’ll be an editor-at-large focusing on investigative reporting. Anne started Digger 13 years ago as a one-woman operation after she was laid off by the Rutland Herald. Today, Digger has 32 full-time employees and is regarded as one of the leading digital sources of regional news in the country.
Episode 27: Encore Edition with Julie Reynolds
May 18, 2022
In this Encore Edition of What Works, freelance investigative journalist Julie Reynolds 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.
Dan and Ellen interviewed Julie in October 2021 but her research is still valid today, an unfortunate circumstance for the future of independent local journalism.
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.
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.com, usatoday.com, msn.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.
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.”
Episode 14: Lincoln Millstein
Feb. 16, 2022
Lincoln Millstein played a critical role in launching The Boston Globe’s free digital site, boston.com. Boston.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.
- “How Many Palm Beach Mansions Does a Wall Street Tycoon Need?,” by Julie Reynolds, The Nation, Sept. 27, 2017
- “Alden Global Capital and Tribune’s Board Are Dancing at the Edge of the Law,” by Julie Reynolds, Nieman Lab, June 22, 2022
- “The ‘Shadow Bank’ That — with the Help of Public Pension Funds — Is Aiding the Destruction of Local News,” by Julie Reynolds, Nieman Lab, Sept. 1, 2021
- “The Metric Media Network Runs More Than 1,200 Local News Sites. Here Are Some of the Non-Profits Funding Them,” by Priyanjana Bengani,” Columbia Journalism Review, Oct. 14, 2021
- “Small-Market Newspapers: The View on the Ground,” by Lauren Harris, Columbia Journalism Review, Oct. 20, 2021
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.”