BOSTON, Mass. - Dramatic declines in the quantity or quality of local news, and the impact on participatory democracy in New England communities were topics at a daylong collaboration among some 45 public officials, journalists and concerned citizens Sat., March 21.
The conference ran from 9 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Boston University's College of Communication.
Featured speakers were Steve Clift, founder of Publicus.Net, in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Joe Bergantino, director of new New England Center for Investigative Journalism; Jane Stevens, a Donald W. Reynolds fellow at the University of Missouri; Carol Amick, former editor of the Bedford [Mass.] Minuteman weekly, a one-time Massachusetts state senator; and Steve Collins, a reporter with The Bristol Press, a Connecticut daily which nearly closed in January.
A NATIONAL TREND
Across the country many newspapers are closing their doors or reducing the size of staffs as they scramble to stay afloat amid declining revenues. In the last 18 months, some 15,000 U.S. working journalists have lost their jobs through retirement, buyouts or layoffs.
"The impact is greatest at the local and state levels" explains Meredith McCulloch, Interim director of the News Forum. "As the number of reporters declines, the watchdog role of the press is reduced. The information that citizens need to participate in government is less and less available. Who will watch the school board? Check public records before planning, zoning and conservation boards? Champion those in need? Connect the dots on critical regional issues?"
Advertising, and the revenue it brings, is migrating from newspapers to a wide variety of web sites. This creates a revenue shortfall for newspapers, which is compounded by the recent economic downturn. Newspapers simply no longer have the funds required to cover local and state government as in the past. Many are working on a new financial model for the press, but no clear solutions are on the horizon.
ABOUT THE NEW ENGLAND NEWS FORUM
The New England News Forum (NENF) is collaboration among news professionals, citizen journalists, educators and the public to promote vigorous, trusted, accountable journalism - and accountable government. It aims to increase public trust and deepen public understanding of the news media by promoting the practice of trusted, thorough, and accountable journalism.
NENF is a member organization based with the journalism program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and initially funded by a seed grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. NENF is an independent resource which can help define, research, advise -- and hopefully strengthen and expand -- the relationship between news producers and news consumers.
Its website offers journalists, web-news entrepreneurs and active citizens a place to engage in discussion, to share and resolve disagreements over media issues such as privacy, coverage, access, accuracy, bias and emphasis.