Mass Journalism Disaster – Working Journalists describe low pay, long hours during Bill 181 2nd State House hearing
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SARAH BETANCOURT reports 7.10.2019 – Boston, MA:
Journalists describe low pay, long hours.
Bill to create commission on journalism gets a 2nd hearing.
TURNING DOWN a $28,000 a year job. Taking the $28,000 a year job but working a second job on top of it. Working 70 hour weeks as the sole staffer of a weekly paper. Not knowing what to tell students about where to look for jobs as they prepare to graduate. Important town meetings going uncovered.
These were the stories mentioned by reporters and professors who testified Wednesday at the State House in favor of a bill filed by state Rep. Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead that would create a 17-member commission to study the state of the media industry in Massachusetts and recommend sustainable local business models for news outlets. It was the second hearing before the Joint Committee for Community Development, and it was packed, a stark difference from an initial hearing where mostly academics testified.
Freelancer Laura Kiesel said she turned down a job with a Gatehouse Media-run publication in Arlington. “I couldn’t afford to take a $28,000-a-year job for a 60-hour-a week position,” she said. Instead, she writes stories for publications such as the Washington Post, Politico, and DigBoston.
Cambridge Day editor Marc Levy, the sole employee of his publication, spoke of his concerns over the shrinking coverage of a city in Boston’s own backyard. He said the Cambridge Chronicle is now down to one reporter who is operating out of an office in Lexington. According to freelancers present, the publication is now paying $50 a story.
Members of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society of Professional Journalists were present and spoke in favor of changing the composition of the commission to include a representative of their organizations.
Robert Ambrogi, executive director of the publishers association, said that talk of a commission made him want to “recoil” over the thought of government being involved in journalism. But, after a meeting with Erlich, he said he’s on board. He wants his association to have a seat at the table.
One reporter for a Greater Boston publication described no longer having an office, working “out of my car, benches at city hall, and out of libraries.” She works two jobs to supplement her salary, she said.
One of her suggestions? Research funding possibilities. Erlich later said that bill language around funding was left out on purpose but would most likely have to be part of the conversation.
Jason Pramas, the executive director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, pointed out that Ehrlich had given a seat on the commission to the shuttered Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, and asked that the seat be given to his own organization.
He called for the size of the commission to double. He wanted the number of appointees of the governor to be reduced from two seats to one and the number of seats for working journalists significantly expanded.
Pramas said funding sources needed to be a part of the discussion to find “the best possible model for state government to fund community journalism–without creating state-funded propaganda outlets of the type that nobody wants.”
David Jacobs, publisher of the Boston Guardian weekly, said he was wary of including too many academics. Newspaper owners and publishers have to be represented – “people who know where the money is coming from, who have to sit down with advertisers,” he said. “My fear is that although a commission to study journalism is worthwhile, we’re gonna’ end up with GiGo. Garbage in, Garbage out.”