Somerville News Garden “Real News” event. Photo by Derek Kouyoumjian
Four and a half years ago, we founded the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism to tell the local stories that weren’t being told anywhere else. We’ve done that by hiring local journalists to investigate their own communities and by sharing their coverage with both regional and national news organizations.
We are the media makers who:
- Exposed law enforcement for unchecked gun and Taser procurement statewide;
- Shed light on Boston’s corrupt and racist system of granting liquor licenses to bars and restaurants;
- Demonstrated how the Cambridge city council and the Massachusetts state government allowed a big real estate concern to convert the publicly-owned Sullivan Courthouse into yet another major commercial property rather than a desperately-needed major affordable housing development;
- Investigated money and influence in the opioid recovery industry.
When we launched, we thought that we’d be supporting existing local news outlets. What we quickly discovered was that we were producing some of the only hard-hitting local reporting left in some communities—and the situation has only gotten worse as time goes by. For example, over the last year alone, Massachusetts lost at least 32 local newspapers as GateHouse Media consolidated 50 papers into 18 in advance of its highly problematic merger with Gannett Co., Inc.
This rolling collapse of news media serving American cities and towns—following their purchase by ever more aggressive giant media conglomerates—now threatens our beleaguered democracy.
It is that crisis that has led us to expand our mission and work. And to do that, we need your support.
This year, we began a ground-breaking pilot project in Somerville, a city with only one full-time paid reporter. There, with our help, community activists have started the Somerville News Garden, a grassroots effort designed to help a city talk to itself again.
In just one year we have:
- Held two significant public events—February’s Somerville Community Summit involving 115 Somervillians, 22 Somerville civic organizations, and 15 area journalists discussing what kind of news is no longer getting covered in the city, and November’s Real News, Fake News, No News: Reviving Local Journalism in Somerville educational forum involving 42 attendees;
- Formed a grassroots research group that is surveying residents to determine what kind of local news media Somervillians want and need;
- Started a Neighborhood Media School that will teach area residents basic journalism skills sufficient to cover their own neighborhoods;
- And recruited over 30 volunteers.
Somerville’s just the start. Once the Somerville News Garden is fully up and running, we will bring the news garden model to cities and towns across Massachusetts.
That’s not all we are doing. We know that local residents can’t be expected to replace an entire industry. That’s why we are also engaged in educating state legislators on the need to pass a bill (H.181) to create a Mass journalism commission that we hope will lead to direct public support for local news production in municipalities like Somerville. Over the summer, we impressed a key legislative committee by organizing 80 journalists, leaders of journalist organizations, student journalists, and journalism professors from public colleges to attend a second hearing on the bill that our reporting caused State House leaders to hold. We’re now meeting with bill sponsors to work with us to improve the bill language before moving on to organize a statewide coalition to push the bill to passage.
All these efforts and many more are only possible with your generous and regular assistance.
So this Giving Tuesday, we’d like to encourage you to support journalism in the public interest in Massachusetts by donating whatever you can to BINJ.
Please click here to back reporting and community organizing that serves our democracy by bringing neighbors together—at a time when anti-democratic forces are doing their damnedest to keep people isolated… and ignorant of news that affects their future.
With your help we can produce strong investigative reporting that “afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted,” and reestablish the local news organizations that can guarantee democracy remains strong in the Commonwealth for decades to come.
Chris Faraone, John Loftus, and Jason Pramas
Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism
P.S. Your support is needed to keep local news alive in Massachusetts. Don’t wait. Please give now.