Jobs cuts and consolidation have local news — especially newspapers — in crisis across the country and here in Massachusetts. It's a problem for communities that lose news coverage.
But there’s a side of the story that is less-covered: The people who see the news gap and are doing everything they can for their communities to fill it.
One of them is Nicci Kadilak, founder of theBurlington Buzz, an online publication that covers local government and current events in Burlington. Kadilak came up with the idea about a year ago, during local elections.
“What I noticed was a couple things,” she said. “One: the turnout was terrible. But also, a lot of people don’t have any idea what goes on in local government.”
She saw an opportunity to learn more about what happens in local government and share her learnings with her community.
“I started it by writing Facebook posts every day, and sharing them with local resident Facebook groups,” Kadilak said. “And people liked them so much that I decided to turn it into an everyday thing.”
Kadilak writes the Burlington Buzz on top of her day job in education, caring for her kids at home and self-publishing a novel. In a community that’s seen its paper consolidated into regional coverage by Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain by circulation, she says it’s necessary.
“It’s important for people to know who their neighbors are, to know who’s representing them at the local level and at the state level, to know what kind of voice they have,” Kadilak said. “It’s also important for people to get together and realize they do actually have what it takes to be involved, and why it’s important to them.”
Since launching the Buzz, Kadilak has seen her subscriber base grow significantly, and she says she made some money off of it, and will occasionally get recognized around town.
Being a journalist is new to Kadilak, but there are other people who’ve been in it for decades also venturing into the local news frontier — like Susan Petroni.
When I meet Petroni, who launched the Framingham Source,at a coffee shop in Framingham she was busy breaking news on her gold Macbook, a familiar routine.
“I’ve been a journalist since I was 16. Now, we’re going on four decades,” Petroni said.
Her first layoff came when she was 22, at her first job as a journalist.
“When I got laid off for the fifth time, when I turned just about 50, I decided to launch my own news site,” she said. “I had been in the business for years and I just decided that corporate journalism wasn’t really working for me.”
So in 2016, she launched the Framingham Source.
“Framingham Source is basically a one-woman newsroom,” she said. “I do have interns during some semesters. But I basically cover everything in the community, from the schools to the businesses to community events to high school sports to college sports to city council meetings. I’m basically out 24/7, 365 days a year.”
Petroni has been successful in her online venture — though she notes that work is nonstop. Residents are grateful to have a local news source in their community, she said.
Over on the North Shore, Marblehead, a town of about 20,000 people, became the home of three new journalism upstarts.
One of them, the Marblehead Beacon, was founded by three residents with no former journalism experience including a high school senior, Jared Lederman.
“The Beacon is sort of a culmination of a lot of different things I’m interested in,” said Lederman, the Beacon’s founding editor and web designer. “There’s the business side of things, which is actually what I’m going to be studying in college. There’s the writing piece. And there’s the technology piece, that’s another thing I’ve always been interested in.”
Lederman said he hopes the news organization can serve as a beacon of hope in the dark local journalism landscape.
“As far as the future of journalism, I’d say as much as possible, I’d like to see it run by people like us: People who are members of a town and really have a vested interest in the well-being of that town, because it removes any true profit motive from the equation,” he said. “It makes it so that we’re truly dedicated to the town, and making sure that people of the town, who we’re friends with and who are our colleagues, are getting the information they deserve.”
Northeastern journalism professor Dan Kennedy says these new, hyperlocal organizations represent a shift in the right direction for journalism — but an unequal one.
“We’ve seen a lot of this in the affluent suburbs around Boston,” Kennedy said. “We’re seeing less of it in some of the medium-sized cities around Boston that aren’t quite as affluent.”
That can be a problem for communities of color that have lost — or historically lacked — coverage, Kennedy said.
But it’s a void that some outlets are working to fill.
"I think a lot of people do not trust their local news. And people trust us."-Ron Bell, Boston Black News
Ron Bell, is a broadcaster at Boston Black News, which started as a nonprofit internet and satellite radio station in 2010 and has since expanded to include an FM station, covering current events for the Black community.
“Many of our community members do not know who their elected officials are. So we interview them, they get to know who they are, so they can make educated decisions at the polling locations,” Bell said. “I think a lot of people do not trust their local news. And people trust us.”
Another independently-owned local outlet that has defied the odds: The Bay State Banner, a Black-owned local newspaper which recently saw a passing of the torch to new owners, but local ones, not a big conglomerate like Gannet — a move that Kennedy says is also cause for optimism.
“I’m very hopeful about the future for local journalism,” Kennedy said. “That said, local news outlets are closing at a much faster rate than new ones are opening.”