“Realistically, we cannot replace professional journalism, but we do fill in some of the gaps and provide local coverage that isn’t getting covered.”
In addition to investigative and feature reporting, the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism is committed to keeping tabs on the local media infrastructure that our team supports in various ways. For example, the recent profile of one of the last working journalists in Somerville for the Somerville Wire initiative. Below is a look at hyperlocal media in Malden over the past several months.
When Amanda Hurley first moved to Malden in 2019, she wanted to learn more about her new community, so she started reporting for Neighborhood View, a citizens reporting news source for Malden. Among the tasks that she took on was interviewing families in the city about their responses to the pandemic.
“I feel a responsibility toward the people I was interviewing, because I wanted to represent them correctly,” Hurley said. “I really wanted them to feel that their voices were being heard, and that the community cares about them and cares about what’s happening.”
Hurley is among a handful of citizen journalists working in news deserts like Malden. The decline of local news is nothing new, in Massachusetts and everywhere else. According to Pew Research, just one resource that documents the carnage, newsroom employment across the nation dropped by 51% between 2008 and 2019. As other studies show, however, there’s been an uptick in the need for local coverage, especially due to the pandemic.
Anne D’Urso-Rose is the associated director of Urban Media Arts (UMA), which was formerly known as MATV, Malden’s Media Center, and was rebranded this past January of 2021. With so much political polarization, she stresses the role of local news makers.
“Since the pandemic, it has been more challenging for the traditional local news outlets, so people who live in cities and towns outside of Boston don’t have sources for local news,” D’Urso-Rose said. Responding to that need, the team behind Neighborhood View pursues local coverage, even through financially hard times, and aims to build a sustainable model that continues to train locals in reporting.
So far, the initiative has worked. Malden residents have stepped up to fill the news void, and to document their community’s response to the pandemic, with Neighborhood View staying active through the past year. Since the launch of Neighborhood View in 2014, many reporters have cycled through the program, and there is currently a core team of about 10 participants. Reporters are either volunteers, or offered a stipend based on level of experience.
On the print and online journalism front, the city still has a legacy newspaper, the Malden Observer, which is owned by the Gannett Corporation, and the Advocate, a free community weekly that has been publishing for more than 28 years. Both serve various reader needs, such as providing basic information and keeping people abreast of happenings at City Hall, but neither does investigative journalism, and the latter maintains a minimal online presence. In years past, there was also the Malden Evening News, which ceased operation in 2017 after 130 years due to financial pressure.
Dan Kennedy, a professor of journalism at Northeastern University, said that corporate-owned local papers are among the biggest problems for communities like Malden. “Almost every community paper and news source is owned by a corporate chain that has reduced coverage to the point where they’re not meeting the information needs of the community that they were to be serving,” Kennedy said.
A community access station MATV/UMA, Kennedy noted, is in a very different situation than a newspaper or even an online-only news source, but it also has unique modern concerns. “Since local access revenues are based on the number of people subscribed to cable in the community,” he said, “people who cut the cord and go with just the internet are no longer paying a fee that goes to local access.”
The rebranding of MATV to UMA, D’Urso-Rose said, should be seen as more of a move toward becoming a media and arts entity, which can attract grants and sponsorships beyond cable funding. Currently, Neighborhood View receives its funding under the umbrella of UMA, including some targeted grant funding. Neighborhood View will be experimenting with limited local advertising in the future.
Stephanie Schorow is a working journalist and the coordinator of the citizens journalism program in Malden. “What’s really gratifying is we find people really motivated to do this work, and interested in the process,” Schorow said.
“Realistically, we cannot replace professional journalism, but we do fill in some of the gaps and provide local coverage that isn’t getting covered,” D’Urso-Rose said. In the process, she added, “They become more engaged as citizens.”
After Hurley interviewed families during the pandemic for Neighborhood View, she went on to cover other topics, like a student-led community BLM movement.
“It was really cool to help with the voices that needed to be heard out there and echo it back into the community,” Hurley said. “I can be of service, which is a good feeling to feel useful.”