Amendment creating state journalism commission passes
Body would be charged with proposing solutions to local news crisis
AN AMENDMENT CALLING for a study of the rapidly shrinking landscape of local news in Massachusetts passed the House Tuesday night as part of an economic development bill and now heads to the Senate for action.
The amendment, patterned after a bill filed by Rep. Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead, would create the Commission to Study Journalism in Underserved Communities with the charge to conduct “research and propose policy solutions.”
It’s a very tall order, given the desperate situation local news finds itself in. Over the last decade and a half, corporate acquisitions and layoffs have caused one in five newspapers nationwide to shutter, while numerous others have been hollowed out. A report from the University of North Carolina found that since 2004 there has been a net loss of 1,800 local newspapers.
The Boston Herald, MassLive, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and other publications have had layoffs and furloughs throughout the coronavirus emergency. But the issue of gutting newsrooms to mere carcasses hasn’t been exclusive to the pandemic. Newspapers have been shrinking for over a decade, and as large conglomerates like Media News Group buy more small enterprises and pile on more debt, the cuts keep coming.
Jason Pramas, executive editor of DigBoston and executive director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, said a commission is needed. “Establishing a journalism commission will mean that state government is taking the crisis of the collapse of local news media—and the threat it poses to democracy—seriously enough to look into the problem with an eye to taking concerted action,” he said.Methuen Sen. Diana DiZoglio and Boston Rep. Ed Coppinger, who co-filed the amendment, would serve as members of the commission as the chairs of the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Businesses. Described by Coppinger as “urgent and overdue,” the 23-person body would eventually offer solutions on the issue.
The size of the commission grew from 17 people to 23 following testimony from journalists seeking more well-rounded representation, including that of academics from a public university journalism program. The commission would meet at least five times to review and analyze data about journalism in the Commonwealth, and submit recommendations for legislation to the governor, House, and Senate no later than a year after the commission launches.