Decline in local news spells trouble for cities

The Gateway Cities Journal

Decline in local news spells trouble for cities

Decline in local news spells trouble for cities

A recent MassINC report highlighted the declining local news media as one of four advanced threats to our Commonwealth’s democracy. When local news coverage dwindles, citizens stop voting, serving on boards and commissions, and running for public office. They also become far less aware of where elected leaders and candidates stand on issues. The current pandemic of misinformation underscores the more immediate consequences of lost access to reliable news sources.

With the economy on pause, ad revenues are dropping precipitously, placing extremely fragile newspapers in even greater jeopardy. Some are already calling the coronavirus a media extinction event. Yesterday, Gannett announced company-wide furloughs and pay cuts. One of the nation’s largest media companies, Gannett operates the Brockton Enterprise, the Fall River Herald News and the New Bedford Standard-Times, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Worcester Magazine, and dozens more community papers in Massachusetts. To balance budgets, publishers at Gannett’s holdings have been instructed to take reporters off the job one-week per month.

News industry advocates lobbied hard for provisions in the federal stimulus package to keep journalists working at a time when their skills are crucial to the effort to save lives. Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, called for a $25,000 emergency subsidy per reporter retained and a $40,000 tax credit for each new reporter hired.

It’s not clear whether leaders in Washington heard these pleas. The $2 trillion federal stimulus package does not have any specific provisions for local news providers. Smaller papers with fewer than 500 employees might be able to take advantage of the package’s SBA loan program. But this isn’t going to help any of the Gateway City papers owned by Gannett. It also won’t help the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune owned by Community Newspaper Holdings or the Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise and Lowell Sun, which are part of Media News Group. According to an analysis published last Friday by the Neiman Lab, the only potential backstop the bill offers these papers is discretionary dollars from Treasury Secretary Munchin’s $454 billion unrestricted fund.

Leaving institutions vital to democracy flapping in the wind is a recipe for disaster. Many journalists instinctively loath the idea of intertwining government and the free press, and many politicians aren’t exactly missing the daily scrutiny local news reporters provided. Civic leaders must break this vacuum and ensure that this crisis compels action.

Lisa Macpherson, a Senior Fellow at Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative, says the next stimulus bill should target distressed local journalism. She proposes a mechanism modeled on the environmental Superfund. Facebook, Google, and other “big polluters” would pay in to help address the devastation their business models have inflicted on the common good.  While big tech lobbyists in Washington chew over that one, Gateway City leaders should start coalescing around their own solutions.

Covid-19 News

Two sisters in Brockton sew masks for employees at Signature Healthcare, the Brockton Housing Authority, and local families in need.

A Fitchburg organization distributing meals to elderly clients addresses a volunteer shortage by partnering with local high schools.

A Haverhill elementary school principal maintains structure for her students by sending out a daily pledge of allegiance message, complete with shout outs for students celebrating birthdays. 

For the first installment in a series on Massachusetts mayors, CommonWealth looks at how Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse adapts to the challenges he sees daily during the coronavirus epidemic.

Baystate Health gets approval to use its Holyoke lab to process COVID-19 tests.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera and those affected by the Merrimack Valley gas explosions feel a sense of deja vudealing with the pandemic.

New Balance shifts from making footwear to making face masks in Lawrence.

The Lowell Department of Planning and Development encourages local businesses to fill out a business impact survey. Acting on the initial results, they’ve built a creative marketing webinar for restaurants.

New Bedford’s Retired Apparel makes thousands of masks for first responders.

Nurses at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield set up a coronavirus hotline to help prevent the spread and allow low-risk patients to access care from home. Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyedesignates a former Catholic school as a homeless shelter.

The Springfield Public Schools distribute laptops to students who don’t have computers at home.

Worcester develops plans to use the DCU Center for overflow hospital beds. A new online platform in Worcester connects unemployed, low-risk residents with essential employers who are hiring. Worcester Magazine looks at what the COVID-19 means for the local Census push.

The National League of Cities summarizes what’s in the federal stimulus bill for cities.

Housing & Economic Development

A Leominster nonprofit launches a mobile market initiative aiming to bring locally sourced, fresh produce to residents in a safe, low-risk way.

The Greater Haverhill Chamber launches a Go Fund Me campaign to support local restaurants.

Amazon is hiring in Holyoke.

New Bedford delivery service, GotChew, experiences an uptick in business as it brings food from local restaurants to residents at home.

Pittsfield native Rep. William Pignatelli urges the Baker administration to crack down on Airbnb and other short-term rental operators who he believes are renting to people wanting to escape cities for the Berkshires.

The owner of the Woo Sox is buying more Worcester property.

Workers who don’t speak English are having trouble applying for unemployment benefits online.

Extrapolating from poll data, MassINC research director Ben Forman estimates Gateway City residents lost at least $120 million in wages last week.

The Department of Housing and Community Development temporarily suspends termination of federal and state rental vouchers and sets up a $5 million rental assistance fund for families in transitional housing program.


The Greater Attleboro Taunton Regional Transit Authority launches fare optional bus rides.

The MBTA adds earlier commuter rail trains to Lowell and other lines to accommodate the schedules of medical professionals and emergency responders.

The Worcester City Council approves plans to integrate the new Polar Park with surrounding streets, as well as to make the area safer for pedestrians.


Fall River Superintendent Matthew Malone confirmed to Herald News that construction of the $263 million new B.M.C. Durfee High School is “moving forward as planned.”

An elementary school in Haverhill welcomes an educational consultant as interim principal.

The Buttonwood Park Zoo in New Bedford hosts daily Virtual Keeper Chats, allowing viewers to interact with zoo animals and ask questions of zookeepers online.

Worcester school officials release their plan to spend SOA funds by expanding pre-kindergarten and Early College and hiring more diverse teachers.

Creative Placemaking

Haverhill students at the Northern Essex Community College are honored with awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum lights up its cupola as a beacon of solidarity and hope for the future.

Families quarantining together in Quincy are getting family portraits taken as part of The Front Steps Project founded by a resident. All proceeds are donated to local organizations.

Arts and culture institutions across New England have established emergency relief funds to provide workers in the arts sector with financial support.

Communities and People 

Tony Nguyen, a Worcester resident who emigrated from Vietnam, donates $400,000 worth of medical supplies to local hospitals.

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