I am submitting the following to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Businesses in regard to An Act Establishing a Commission to Study Journalism in Underserved Communities. There is a second hearing on the bill this Wednesday, July 10 at 2pm in State House Hearing Room B1, and we encourage readers as well as media makers of all types to attend and/or testify themselves. I also encourage people to read and share these two previous columns by my colleague Jason Pramas about the proposed commission:
My name is Chris Faraone and I am the editor-in-chief of DigBoston, as well as the editorial director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ) which is currently an innovator-in-residence with the Roxbury-based Transformative Culture Project, a youth media 501(c)3 organization.
Dear legislators, aides, other officials, and of course fellow reporters in the room. I submit this testimony on An Act Establishing a Commission to Study Journalism in Underserved Communities as a reminder that practitioners need to be part of this discussion, and to offer a snapshot of just how bad things are around here. Four years ago, my partners and I started our nonprofit to address the very issues that a state commission would study. In the time since, we have discovered far more new deserts right here in Mass than we are able to water, and way more holes in coverage than we could possibly plug with our small budget.
Still, we try our best, and currently provide investigative journalism for multiple outlets in the Commonwealth. We do transit coverage for the Boston Metro, and our reporters are impugning state and county prisons for publications in central and western Mass. We are doing this kind of arduous work because outlets we are helping can’t afford to do such critical reporting on their own, and because television journalists are busy sharing videos of singing cops and water skiing squirrels. Many local journos, meanwhile, don’t even have newsrooms these days; the lone reporter for the legacy newspaper in Somerville, as one example, works out of coffee shops and the BINJ office. If that’s the case in booming Greater Boston, just imagine what it’s like across the state in places that are far worse off.
While I understand that there will have to be a study of some kind in order to possibly improve this barren landscape via legislative measures, and especially in order to determine the most effective ways to free up funding from the state to help the industry, I will nevertheless offer a pragmatic voice and note that between the countless white papers already in existence and the obvious reality on the ground that any reporter who has been in the game for more than a year can tell you about, there is already more than enough information to start planning ways to reverse the destruction that the likes of leeches such as Gatehouse Media have wrought in Mass. What’s needed is money, plain and simple. Subsidies, grants, however it gets packaged.
I also want to stress that the proposed makeup of the special commission is absurd. Whereas no spots are designated for working reporters, the authors of these bills have made room for appointees of the governor, the speaker of the House of Representatives, the Senate president, and the Mass Municipal Association—all of which should be the subjects of reporting, not arbiters of it. My partners and I realize that such a commission is unlikely to be greenlighted without such picks, still the hostility of Speaker DeLeo and the MMA in particular to journalists must be noted, as the latter in particular has fought hard against sensible public information laws.
As for the academics who are being called for duty, if they know and care so much about the plight of media in Mass, what have they done about it up to this point? What change have they sought that warrants their prescribed inclusion in the solution? And how did the bill’s authors come up with this list? I’d find out through a Freedom of Information Act request, but the legislature is conveniently exempt from disclosure. Whoever it was, please inform them that the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, which the proposal assigns one seat on the commission, literally doesn’t exist anymore.
Finally, regarding my aggressive response to these matters, both on Twitter and in this letter … Please understand that at this point in my career, I represent a lot more than myself, and even than my immediate colleagues and team. For the Dig, and many of the outlets that we support at no cost to them, BINJ is a lifeline. When you block, resist, or limit access to and input from us, you cut off the grassroots, the community reporters, and the people you are purportedly trying to help. As I hope I have made clear, we will not sit back and let that happen.
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF