Lawmakers: News business needs state help

Call for creation of commission to study the industry

SEN. BRENDAN CRIGHTON OF LYNN is so worried about the state’s shrinking local news coverage that he is pushing legislation to create a commission that would quantify the problem and come up with ways to address it. 

It’s a tall order at a time when the news industry is going through very tough times. It’s also a move by state government into an area that’s usually off-limits. But Crighton says the dire times require aggressive action. 

“My tweets shouldn’t be the main source of information for my constituents,” he said in testimony before the Legislature’s Committee on Community Development and Small Business. Crighton is cosponsoring the legislation with Rep. Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead at the urging of Dan Kennedy, a Northeastern University journalism professor. 

Ehrlich said that many papers have been “shuttered, literally sold for parts, or are merely a shadow of their former selves.” She pointed to Gatehouse Media’s May 31 decision to consolidate 50 weekly newspapers into 18 weeklies as an example of the problem.   

Under the legislative proposal, the commission would have 17 members and meet a minimum of five times. The goal would be for the commission to document the state of the industry in Massachusetts and recommend sustainable local business models for news outlets. 

At the sparsely attended hearing, there was no discussion of whether the state should be involved in trying to resurrect the news business or whether it has the expertise or willpower to do so. Instead, most of the back-and-forth questioning focused on who would serve on the commission. 

Rep. Liz Miranda of Boston asked whether “small papers in different languages,” specifically those with Cape Verdean, Haitian Creole, Vietnamese, and Latino readers would be part of the commission. Ehrlich said she “took diversity into account” by allotting four seats on the commission to members of ethnic media associations.  

Rep. Tommy Vitolo of Brookline also raised concerns about the lack of public universities on the panel, which includes seats designated for officials from Brandeis, Northeastern, and Harvard.  

 “None are from UMass or any other public institution,” Vitolo said. “UMass Amherst does have a school of journalism and I have no idea if they’re interested in thisI would hope we would explore opportunities to include our public universities and colleges in this conversation.” Ehrlich said she was amendable.  

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Only a handful of academics, a publisher of a defunct newspaper, and an editor from the Worcester Business Journal testified on Tuesday. Some say the light attendance might be because of the late posting of the hearing notice on Monday afternoon. To allow more time for testimony, committee co-chair Sen. Diana DiZoglio arranged for a second, special hearing on Wednesday, July 10 at 2 p.m.