STATE OF JOURNALISM.

Editor’s note: NJ Governor MURPHY has cut $7.5 million from the Montclair University ( innovation host of The Center for Cooperative Media ) state budget on Monday and $1 million in funding to the Civic Media bill signed into law during 2018. The 2018 budget funded big media NJTV, and no new media innovation.

NEWS STRONG news – Boston, MA: A herd of 80+ journalist migrated to the Massachusetts Statehouse for Bill 181 hearing 7.10.2019. The General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts “Journalism Commission” will form to study the ongoing Mass Journalism Disaster. The 17 seat commission bill primarily relies on participants that are involved in the cause and unknown appointments by the current Governor.

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Boston local news DIG BOSTON funded DigBoston editor Jason Pramas participation to the public hearing and reports:

GIVE MA JOURNALISM COMMISSION SEATS TO WORKING JOURNALISTS

This week, I joined fellow journalists, journalism educators, and members of the public at large in testifying on a bill to form a Mass journalism commission that is currently before the state legislature. In view of the potential importance of the initiative, my column this week is simply the text of my testimony. For more background, please read my two previous columns on the bill.

Senator DiZoglio, Representative Coppinger, and honorable members of the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Businesses,

For the record, I am Jason Pramas, executive editor and associate publisher of the weekly metropolitan commercial newspaper DigBoston and executive director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. I am here to testify on An Act Establishing a Commission to Study Journalism in Underserved Communities (S.80/H.181).

While I am generally in favor of the bill, and I’m glad to hear that state government is considering forming a commission to take a serious look at the crises facing the Massachusetts news industry—particularly at the municipal level—I must voice my concern that there are problems with it as drafted.

I enumerated my specific criticisms in two columns published in DigBoston on March 20 and June 19 respectively—which I am submitting with my written testimony. 

But, in brief, my main concern is that working journalists, the growing number of journalists being laid off by major news corporations across Massachusetts, key journalist organizations, and a diverse array of college journalism departments are not properly represented in the proposed membership of the journalism commission that the bill will create if enacted. I also take issue with some of the picks for that commission.

So today, I’d like to offer my recommendations for changes to the bill’s language.

First, the composition of the proposed commission is too narrow in my estimation and needs to be significantly expanded as follows: 

  • A) Unless the committee is willing to scrap its initial picks and start from scratch along the lines I will now propound, the number of seats on the commission should be doubled from 17 to 34.
  • B) The number of seats given to appointees of the governor should be reduced from two to one.
  • C) The number of seats given to Harvard University should be reduced from three to one, and that seat should go to the Ida B. Wells Society—which is “a news trade organization dedicated to increasing and retaining reporters and editors of color in the field of investigative reporting” and a project of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
  • D) The seat that was to be given to the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University—which was closed by the Brandeis administration on Dec. 31 of last year—should be given to the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism that I run with my partners Chris Faraone and John Loftus (alongside DigBoston, the commercial newspaper I run with those same partners). Naturally, my colleagues and I are happy to make a full case for our inclusion in writing anytime upon request by the legislature.
  • E) Four seats should be given to organizations representing journalists, including one to the NewsGuild—Communication Workers of America, one to the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, one to the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians—Communications Workers of America, and one to the Society of Professional Journalists.
  • F) Six seats should be given to professors from the journalism departments of six colleges representing every region of the Commonwealth (for a total of seven, including the seat already provided to a professor from the Northeastern University journalism department—at least four of which should be from the Massachusetts public colleges that educate the majority of college students from this state).
  • G) The remaining 10 seats should go to working journalists, editors, and producers from independent community news outlets representing every region of the Commonwealth.

Second, while I didn’t challenge the focus of the proposed commission’s research mandate in my columns on the bill, upon further discussion with my partner Chris Faraone (who has submitted written testimony to this effect) I believe that its research should mainly be concentrated on figuring out the best possible model for state government to fund community journalism in Massachusetts—without creating state-funded propaganda outlets of the type that nobody wants. Least of all me. 

In closing, the forces destroying local news media are already known to us, and don’t require further study. Especially after millions in foundation money have already been dumped on elite academic institutes to research questions that working journalists can answer in our sleep.

Thank you.

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Free Press Action Mass reports:

July 10, 2019 Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Businesses Massachusetts Legislature Testimony of Free Press Action’s Heather Franklin on Bill H.181/S.80 and Efforts to Address Journalism in Underserved Communities Chairwoman DiZoglio, Chairman Coppinger, members of the committee, thank you for giving me this opportunity to testify. My name is Heather Franklin, and I am a digital campaigner at Free Press Action, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 2003 to give people a voice in the crucial decisions that shape our media. I am testifying today on Bill H.181, which would establish a 17-member commission to study journalism in underserved communities across the commonwealth. While Free Press Action is a national organization, Massachusetts is our home, with the organization’s headquarters and a third of our staff based in Florence. In 2011, we organized a National Conference on Media Reform in Boston, bringing together hundreds of journalists, media makers, and media-justice advocates from the commonwealth and across the country. Free Press Action has been active in the Western Massachusetts Media Justice Network, made up of media practitioners, educators and activists in the Pioneer Valley who discuss media advocacy and media policy. Many of our staff are involved in local efforts here to strengthen media and journalism where they live, and have started local radio stations, sit on boards of community-access stations, and have led efforts to deliver broadband internet to rural communities. Over the last two decades, runaway media consolidation has shuttered newsrooms and led to thousands of journalist layoffs around the country, leaving many communities without any local-news coverage. Since 2015, Free Press Action has worked to address the local-journalism crisis through our News Voices project, which activates the public to strengthen local news through policy change and collaborations with media outlets. So it is with great interest that we are now seeing similar efforts to address the local-news crisis in our home state of Massachusetts. We applaud Representative Ehrlich and Senator Crighton for taking action to address this crisis — action that is urgently needed. Despite the work of many talented journalists across Massachusetts, media coverage around the commonwealth has declined rapidly. Since 2004, 15 percent of newspapers in Massachusetts have closed down, while newspaper circulation has declined by 39 percent. For the remaining media outlets, 1 years of mergers and cuts have left newsrooms unable to conduct accountability journalism and public-interest reporting. According to a recent nationwide study, only 17 percent of stories published in local-media outlets are about local issues and events. 2 This isn’t just bad news for the journalism industry. It’s bad news for the future of our communities. Studies have shown that when local news is deficient or disappears altogether, the public suffers. In communities where local news has vanished, government costs have increased due to a lack of scrutiny over deals and contracts. When local-media outlets shut down, civic engagement plummets. 3 4 And let’s be clear: The crisis in local news is not affecting all communities equally. While national outlets and large metropolitan dailies have been better situated to weather the news industry’s changing economics, mid-size papers have been hardest hit with newsroom cuts. Meanwhile, new online outlets have been largely concentrated in affluent communities. As a recent Wall Street Journal analysis of the news business put it, “The result is that rural areas and poor neighborhoods are fast becoming news deserts.” 5 Studying how the crisis in local journalism is playing out in Massachusetts — and how it disproportionately impacts low-income communities — is a vital first step to building local news and information that Massachusetts communities need and deserve. While government intervention is necessary to ensure an informed and engaged citizenry — indeed, favorable policies to support a thriving press date back to the start of the republic — we believe Bill H.181 could be strengthened in two critical ways. First, the commission established by H.181 would benefit from the perspectives of people who are working with communities impacted by the dearth of local reporting. There are many innovators leading efforts to fill local-news gaps using new business models and reporting practices. These practitioners are on the frontlines of efforts to invigorate local news. They possess expertise on the challenges that emerging sustainability models pose and insights on new ways to serve immigrants, working-class communities, and communities of color with public-interest 1 “The Expanding News Desert,” Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, November 2018: https://www.usnewsdeserts.com/states/massachusetts/ 2 “What Communities Are at Risk of Becoming News Deserts?” Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Oct. 4, 2018: https://www.usnewsdeserts.com/spotlight-research/phil-napoli-two/ 3 “The Hidden Costs of Losing Your City’s Newspaper,” CityLab, May 30, 2018: https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/05/study-when-local-newspaper-close-city-bond-finances-suffer/561422/ 4 “Dead Newspapers and Citizens’ Civic Engagement,” Jan. 30, 2014: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10584609.2012.762817 5 “In News Industry, a Stark Divide Between the Haves and Have-Nots,” The Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2019: https://www.wsj.com/graphics/local-newspapers-stark-divide/ journalism. We believe the commission would be well-served by including these media innovators, and would be better able to capture the possibilities and challenges that exist in creating sustainable media for underserved communities. Second, we urge policymakers and others working to strengthen local news to engage the public in conversations around the kinds of reporting their communities need. In New Jersey, for example, Free Press Action collaborated with community organizations across the state to hear from residents about how the local-news crisis is impacting them, and what sorts of reporting and information would help them become more informed and engaged. We held a series of community forums about these issues, and thousands of residents attended and weighed in. Free Press Action engaged the public and worked closely alongside state lawmakers, public universities and media partners to develop and ultimately pass the Civic Information Bill — groundbreaking legislation to fund local news-and-information initiatives across New Jersey. What that process showed is that local communities — particularly those lacking local-news media — are eager to take part in conversations about how to build sustainable, trustworthy local news, and are brimming with ideas on what that would look like in their communities. To limit the discussion on the future of local news to academics, journalists and policymakers leaves the most important constituents out of the room. With more community involvement and participation from emerging media innovators, Bill H.181 would allow Massachusetts to play a leading role in addressing the local-news crisis. Free Press Action looks forward to supporting efforts to strengthen local journalism across the commonwealth. We thank you again for your action on this important issue, and for considering our testimony. Sincerely, Heather Franklin Digital Campaigner Free Press Action

https://www.freepress.net 

https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/H181