Why We Need Non-profit, Local News
It can be pretty hard to find out what’s going on in Brookline. That’s why we are launching Brookline.News.
2500 newspapers shuttered
Brookline is far from unique in its lack of local news coverage. In the last 15 years, more than 2500 newspapers have shuttered across the country, and thousands of journalists who used to cover local news have lost their jobs.
The cause of this rapid decline? Cheap digital advertising and websites like Craigslist and eBay which make it easy for advertisers to target their audiences for pennies a click — or less. Classified ads, which were at one time as much as 40% of revenue for many newspapers, have been decimated. And without that revenue, dollars to fund quality for-profit journalism have disappeared.
“Ghost” news outlets offer only regional reporting
News outlets that haven’t completely closed are now shadows of their former selves. They operate with skeleton reporting staffs, combining into groups that cover news regionally rather than town by town. These “ghost” news outlets no longer have the resources to report on town government, schools, business openings and closings, and features in a comprehensive or in-depth way.
Brookline deserves more
In Brookline, a wide range of solutions have appeared to help fill the void. Facebook groups. Newsletters from town and school officials, PTOs, and local organizations. Neighborhood listservs and email lists. All are valuable and important efforts.
But last summer, a group of former journalists and business people pictured below concluded that we needed something more. Brookline needs — and deserves — a weekly, independent, professionally-reported news outlet that helps everyone better understand what a tax override will pay for, who we are voting for at the polls, and what the triumphs and struggles are of everyday people from all walks of life. We also need a better way to know what new restaurants and stores are opening in town, where we can enjoy a good local concert, and who the up-and coming artists, business people, entrepreneurs and experts of all sorts are who live in our community.
Thank you to our 400+ donors
Apparently, many Brookline residents agreed. In April, thanks to support from more than 400 donors, we hired an experienced reporter and editor, Sam Mintz, to lead the Brookline.News editorial effort. We launched a series of e-newsletters under the Brookline.News banner to inform people about the upcoming elections. Readers responded, signing up at a rapid pace and opening our newsletters at an amazing rate of 60%-80% each issue. We like to think we had at least a small impact on the fact that a record number of people voted in the Town elections May 5.
How will we provide news?
On May 23, we launched a full digital news site. There is no paywall. Our content is free. We will send a weekly e-newsletter summarizing the prior week’s news free of charge to anyone who signs up for it. Our website will be updated weekly, and more frequently when possible. We will also post regularly on social media. We believe that anyone who lives in town should be able to find out what’s going regardless of their ability to pay.
How will this all be paid for?
Brookline.News is a non-profit news outlet. This means we will only be successful if people in town believe it is important to our local community and our local democracy to support quality journalism — and believe we are doing a good job delivering that journalism.
Our funding model is similar to that of public radio or public TV. It will include a mix of individual donors/members at varying dollar levels, grants from foundations, and sponsorships and advertising from local individuals and businesses. We hope to also schedule special events and programming that will be of interest to the community while generating revenue to help support our newsgathering operation. Perhaps down the road we will offer a print product with advertising, if we can make the finances work for that.
This is a new trend in journalism
What we are doing in Brookline is happening all across Massachusetts and across the U.S. Small news outlets — many of them non-profits — are springing up in Newton, Marblehead, Lexington, New Bedford, and elsewhere locally. The Institute for Nonprofit News — of which we are a members — boasts more than 400 non-profit newsrooms across the country.
At Brookline.News and all these non-profits, readers aren’t paying a fee to get a product. Rather, they choose to freely donate because they believe in the important role good journalism plays in a functioning local democracy and a wonderful local community.
Lowering the temperature
Journalism is the only non-governmental entity mentioned in the US Constitution. Our Founding Fathers saw journalism — the Fourth Estate — as pivotal to preserving democracy.
More recently, research has demonstrated that an increased availability of local news can decrease the political tensions and hostilities we are seeing in many communities where people are chiefly only able to get national news.
That’s why we have started Brookline.News. So people know what’s going on. To (hopefully) lower the temperature in our sometimes fractured society. And to ensure that our local democracy and all the people and organizations that make Brookline a great place to live are something we all know more about.
We hope you will join us in supporting Brookline.News by donating and signing up to receive our newsletter.
Founders (left to right): Fred Perry, Ellen Clegg, Irene Sege, Julie Rafferty, Iris Adler, Colette Phillips.
Read more on our About page.