Survival of Local News Is Subject at Bedford Citizen Event

By Meredith McCulloch

State Representative Ken Gordon (l) and State Senator Mike Barrett flank Dan Kennedy after he spoke to the gathering for The Bedford Citizen's third anniversary - Image (c) JMcCT, 2014
State Representative Ken Gordon (l) and State Senator Mike Barrett flank Dan Kennedy after he spoke at The Bedford Citizen’s third anniversary gathering – Image (c) JMcCT, 2014

The Meeting Room at the Bedford library was filled Saturday morning May 30, when journalist Dan Kennedy spoke about the link between journalism and democracy. Kennedy is a professor of journalism at Northeastern University and author of The Wired City: Reimagining Journalism and Civic Life in the Post-Newspaper Age.

Kennedy described the huge changes in the news business as the Internet provides a new way of delivering news and information to each home.   He compared the shift to the invention of the printing press.  When the first printing press was made, no one anticipated the full effect. But after a few years printed books were everywhere, and there were many printing presses. The consequences were enormous, but unforeseen at the beginning.

In the same way, the Internet is ubiquitous and its impact on journalism is not fully known, he said. But we do know that advertisements, the primary source of revenue for newspapers, have moved to Craig’s List, and other free Internet sites. With loss of that income, many newspapers have disappeared or reduced staff sharply.

The printed newspaper is dying and may not survive, Kennedy said. This brings two challenges to journalism. One, how can the online newspaper bring the older demographic to the web? Second, how can we engage younger people who don’t care where the news is coming from and gather their news from multiple sites on mobile devices?

“We must rebuild communities if journalism is to survive,” Kennedy said, referencing the book Bowling Alone in which Robert Putnam describes the risk to communities as citizens disengage. Part of the success of the online New Haven Independent, described in his book, is its focus on neighborhoods, which encourages civic engagement.

Nonprofit online newspapers, like The Bedford Citizen, must find the necessary revenue needed to be sustainable.  Sources of revenue are advertising, grants or major donations, and subscribers. For local volunteer newspapers to continue, Kennedy advised, they will need paid professional staff. The volunteer model can be very successful, as The Citizen has shown in its three years, he said, but only for a time as volunteers burn out.

Saturday’s event celebrated The Bedford Citizen’s third anniversary and Kennedy’s participation was underwritten by the League of Women Voters of Bedford and the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts’s Lotte E. Scharfman Memorial Fund.

Watch the video of Dan Kennedy’s presentation

Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: or 781-325-8606

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