A Pair of Online News Organizations: the ‘New Bedford Light’ and ‘The Bedford Citizen’

 

A recent story in the New York Times about the New Bedford Light, a new local newspaper in Massachusetts, may sound familiar to readers of The Bedford Citizen. In both cases, local residents, frustrated by the shrinking availability of local news and its impact on their communities, decided to start an online town newspaper.

The loss of local news is not a rare phenomenon. Many communities are seeing sharply reduced or disappearing newspapers. Some newspapers become such a hollow version of their former selves that they are referred to as ‘ghost papers’”. They raise some revenue for their owners through advertising, but do not provide resources for a strong reporting staff. Too many such losses have been so dramatic that the term “news deserts,” signifying communities with no local or regional news sources, has become common.

According to the Poynter Institute,  “at least 1,800 communities that had a local news outlet in 2004 were without one at the beginning of 2020.”

Studies show that readers trust their local news sources more than national outlets. They rely on local information, local government and schools, sports, and cultural affairs. By providing a base of common information, a newspaper helps communities come together for oversight of government, problem-solving, and shared celebrations.

Both newspapers are following a nonprofit model. The Bedford Citizen‘s first issue was 9, going on 10, years ago on July 1, 2012. The Citizen achieved 501(c)3, non-profit status in 2014, and now has some paid staff who work alongside many volunteers. The New Bedford Light is seeking its 501(c)3 status.

The impact of shrinking local news outlets has ramifications beyond the lack of scrutiny of local government and the loss of community information. It also leads to the “nationalization of news” and re-enforcement of polarization. Local stories get picked up by social media and quickly spread nationwide, often without fact-checking.

On June 27, 2021, David French, a conservative commentator and for many years a writer for National Review and now the senior editor at The Dispatch, was interviewed by “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter on CNN, where they discussed the issue.

“Because we’re fueled so much by animosity, there’s an enormous market for justification for that animosity,” French explained. “There’s always somebody doing something crazy somewhere,” so there’s always fuel for the grievance fire.”  But these outrage cycles often end up communicating “inaccurate information about your political opponent,” he adds.

Stelter agreed,  “Small local stories get blown up into nationalized outrage cycles, which inflame tensions and drive people apart.”

Former President Obama expressed similar concerns in a recent interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN. “Part of it is the nationalization of media, the nationalization of politics,” Obama said… “You know, you used to have a bunch of local newspapers, local TV stations. People weren’t having these highly ideological debates, but they were kinda more focused on what’s happening day today.”

Conversely, local news has been shredded, which frays the bonds between people in communities. On last Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” Steven Waldman made the case for including local news aid in the infrastructure bill. “It’s the infrastructure for democracy,” he said, “and it’s crumbling also.

As The Bedford Citizen begins its tenth year, Teri Morrow, who just completed her term as President of The Citizen, reflected on the anniversary, “We’ve grown and changed, but we remain focused on bringing informative, relevant local news to Bedford (for free). We strive to ensure that readers have the information they need to fully participate as members of the community.”

To learn more about the dearth of local news, click the following links

The New York Times

The Poynter Institute


Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: editor@thebedfordcitizen.org or 781-430-8827

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