Amendment creating state journalism commission passes

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.

The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan has a book out on the subject called Ghosting the News and two former newspaper editors with the MetroWest Daily News and the Standard-
Times
of New Bedford laid out what’s at stake on the most recent edition of the Codcast.

In a congratulatory tweet, Ehrlich touted the Lynn Daily Item and Berkshire Eagle, saying that their ownership models would show “us a new way forward.”

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.

SARAH BETANCOURT


FROM COMMONWEALTH

Costly connections: A bill moving out of committee on Beacon Hill would make prison phone calls free, eliminating $11 million in revenue for jails and prisons.

Lawmakers keep their options open for this fall by passing a three-month budget and deciding to come back later in the year to do a final budget.

Step therapy legislation is on the move on Beacon Hill.

Opinion: Lucas Guerra and Scott Zoback say it’s time to scrap the offensive state seal….Baker’s Housing Choice bill is short on choice, by David Robinson….. Paul Hattis asks: What’s the Health Policy Commission going to do now that health care spending is expected to fall 10 percent.


FROM AROUND THE WEB

BEACON HILL

Immigrant driver’s license bill stalls in the House. (State House News)

Brockton’s state representatives – Democrats Michelle DuBois, Gerard Cassidy and Claire Cronin – voted against an amendment empowering municipalities to lift rent control bans. (The Enterprise)

A story from DigBoston takes a look at whether required peer intervention for cops— something proposed in the policing reform package making its way through Beacon Hill—is effective.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer urges the City Council to reconsider their nine-month ban on new apartment construction. (MetroWest Daily News)

Giant milk bottle at the Boston Children’s Museum to get a facelift. (Press release published by MetroWest Daily News)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

After a COVID-19 outbreak is traced to an employee at Baystate Medical Center, the hospital reconfigures its break room, imposes travel restrictions and allows for discipline if an employee violates rules on masks and distancing. (MassLive)

More on the veteran living at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home thought to have recovered from COVID-19 who tests positive again – even though medical experts say it is unlikely for someone to become reinfected with the virus. (Boston Globe)

New research led by scientists at Harvard University Medical School explains one of the many mysteries of COVID-19: why people infected with the virus temporarily lose their sense of smell. (WGBH)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The Trump administration refuses to accept new DACA applicants despite court rulings requiring it to do so. (NPR)

Civil rights and immigrant groups in Massachusetts file a federal lawsuit to overturn President Donald Trump’s decision not to count immigrants without legal status when it comes to reapportioning congressional districts. (Associated Press)

Massachusetts’ all-Democrat congressional delegation slams the Republicans’ $1 trillion coronavirus stimulus package as irresponsible. (MassLive)

Minneapolis police officials may be getting close to identifying the mysterious “umbrella man” who broke store windows and spurred looting in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

Thousands of applications for mail-in ballots have been returned to Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin’s office because they were sent to voters who no longer live at that address – raising anew concerns about voter fraud. (The Salem News)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A second Cape Cod retail marijuana shop hopes to open in Provincetown later this summer, pending final approvals from the state. (Cape Cod Times)

Marshfield Chinese food restaurant The Ming Dynasty received a one-day suspension of operations from the Board of Health following “very serious” violations of the state’s COVID-19 safety regulations, officials said. (Norwell Mariner) 

EDUCATION

The national union American Federation of Teachers says it will support any local chapter that decides to strike because it does not feel a school reopening plan is safe. (Associated Press)

The Boston Globe chronicles the tumultuous first year of Boston School Superintendent Brenda Cassellius’ tenure.

The New Bedford High School graduation ceremony planned for August 13 has been cancelled,  over concerns of social distancing for 1500 people. (Standard-Times)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA pension fund, a major drag on the authority’s finances, continues to operate secretively, offering no explanation for why it continues to resist transferring assets to the state pension fund. (WBUR) 

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Unsolicited packages of seeds are arriving at homes around the country, including in Massachusetts, prompting state agriculture officials to warn people not to plant them. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Berkshire County DA Andrea Harrington establishes a formal policy requiring prosecutors to share exculpatory evidence with defense attorneys and has staff go back through 10 years of cases to make sure that was done in the past. (Berkshire Eagle)

The Boston Herald’s Howie Carr seems convinced that an ex-Massachusetts State Police trooper who was charged with lewd and lascivious conduct at a 2019 Foxboro concert will be eventually receiving a pension.