By Meredith McCulloch, Co-Founder, The Bedford Citizen
“We may not know what local journalism will look like in the mid-twenty-first century but it will survive. And it just may be better than what appears in the newspapers whose demise we lament today,” wrote Dan Kennedy, guest speaker at an upcoming program sponsored by The Bedford Citizen. The program, “Local News, Local Democracy, Local Initiative,” is about the necessity of journalism for good local government. The program will be in the Bedford Free Public Library meeting room on May 30 at 10 a.m. The program is free, fully accessible, and the public is invited.
With reduced local news citizens’ access to information about issues in their town is sharply reduced. Newer residents are less likely to participate in local government, if they do not understand how it works and how to engage. Town boards operate outside the watchful eye of the press. This loss is subtle, but growing and has long-term serious consequences for democracy.
Kennedy’s book, The Wired City: Reimagining Journalism and Civic Life in the Post-Newspaper Age, was published in 2013. It tells the story of the beginnings of the New Haven Independent online news site amid a crisis in corporate-owned newspapers in New Haven, Connecticut. Though not entirely about the Independent, it is a case study on possible models for funding of community news. Kennedy wrote, “What we are living through now is not the death of journalism but, rather, the uncertain and sometimes painful early stages of rebirth.”
Over the last decade many newspapers have struggled financially, as the Internet has captured the advertising that had been their primary source of revenue. Newspapers have shed staff, reduced costs and struggled to find a business model that will sustain their operations. As a result the number of staff reporters covering the news has been reduced, heavily impacting local and regional news. Local issues and even state houses often go uncovered by the major newspapers. To fill this gap, independent local news organizations have emerged in some communities across the country.
Dan Kennedy is a journalist with wide-ranging experience. He is an Associate Professor and Interim Director of Journalism at Northeastern University and a panelist on WGBH’s Beat the Press, a weekly program about press standards and journalism ethics. In addition to his teaching, he also writes for WGBH, the Nieman Journalism Lab and occasionally for the Huffington Post.
The Citizen is one of a number of locally-based news organizations nationwide that have risen to fill the gap left by cutbacks in the mainstream media. The Kennedy program is in celebration of the anniversary of The Bedford Citizen as it completes its third year of operation in June. It is supported by the work of volunteers and donations from the community.
Kim Siebert, Meredith McCulloch and Julie Turner founded The Bedford Citizen in 2012 with the goal of providing a place for local government and other community news. They saw journalism as a cornerstone of democracy and feared that without a well-informed citizenry, participation in Bedford government would shrink over time.
The Bedford Citizen is grateful to the League of Women Voters of Bedford and to the League of Women Voters Lotte E. Scharfman Memorial Fund for their support of this program.