State journalism commission in the spotlight

There’s no one more passionate about improving the state of journalism than, well, journalists.

But now legislators like Sen. Brendan Crighton and Reps. Lori Ehrlich and Jim Hawkins are taking note of the problems with their filing of a bill that would create a state journalism commission to assess “communities undeserved by local journalism in Massachusetts.”

The business model undergirding newspapers has imploded, so more power to the legislators who want to take a statewide look at the issue. But DigBoston editor Jason Pramas, who drills into the issue in his latest column, tells readers to not get “too excited,” about the bill and offers some pointed criticism of the composition of the commission.

Six of the 17 seats will be eaten up by legislators, including the House and Senate chairs of the Community Development and Small Businesses committee, one representative chosen by the House speaker, and one representative chosen by the Senate president. Two members will be appointed by the governor, with no stipulation on who those two people are. That brings us to 11 seats remaining.

Four seats will go to academia, with the of those going to Harvard University research centers, and the very random, specific choice of a professor from Northeastern University.

The choice for a Northeastern professor is not too surprising, as Northeastern journalism prof and WGBH contributor Dan Kennedy has publicly said he was involved in talks about the proposed legislation. But Pramas raises the point that if academic institutions are included in all of this, why not open it up to representatives from a public university, or one of the other great journalism programs across the state?

Pramas says places like Framingham “are definitely on their way to becoming news deserts, and regional public colleges like Framingham State University have journalism minors or concentrations.”

The bill states one seat has to go to a member of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

That brings us down to five spots for journalists who are unaffiliated with academic institutions and who hopefully will be representative of the entire Commonwealth’s journalism landscape and audience. In a smart move, three seats go to organizations representing journalists of color.

Of the two remaining seats, one is earmarked for a respected state policy publication, with “an editor at Commonwealth Magazine” specifically designated for the slot. (We’re honored, but no one at CommonWealth actually knew we were being be singled out for a seat.)

That leaves one spot for a member of the New England Newspaper Association, which represents 450 daily, weekly, and specialty publications across six states.

Nonprofit news outlets aren’t mentioned as specific category in the commission membership section.

That seems like an unfortunate oversight, since organizations like the Boston Institute of Nonprofit Journalism repeatedly go out into the community and specifically ask readers what they want to see reported and what issues they face. The organization recently co-hosted an event with community access television station Somerville Media Center, which brought over 100 Somerville residents and 15 local reporters from outlets that have tiny staffs, such as the Somerville Scout. No large media outlets were present. That effort in itself should be rewarded with a seat at the table — how often do you get over 150 people in a room on a Saturday to talk about journalism?

The point of this commission is to review all aspects of local journalism, including the adequacy of press coverage in towns, the ratio of residents to media outlets, digital business models for media outlets, and the potential of nonprofit solutions for some of the problems facing journalists. At the very least, there should be more serious consideration made at who gets to be part of the discussion. There should also be space made for reporters for outlets that cater to immigrant populations, like O Jornal in Fall River.

Ehrlich was on WBUR in February outlining the bill. Pramas offers the first real pushback about the legislation, raising the ante on what should be expected if the measure moves forward.

SARAH BETANCOURT


BEACON HILL

The Progressive Caucus is showing signs of real strength in the Massachusetts House, with 60 of the 127 Democrats on board. (CommonWealth)

Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, chair of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, said he is heartened by a change in prison visitation rules implemented by the Department of Correction. (MassLive)

The long-troubled state medical examiner’s office, which only recently regained accreditation, is in danger of losing it again. (Boston Globe)

Attorney General Maura Healey fires back at a Joan Vennochi column that criticized her for not taking legal action against the leaders of now-shuttered Mt. Ida College, saying it would be a “waste of taxpayer dollars” to go after a broke school that had already closed down. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Somerset Town Planner Nancy Durfee says the town will use a state grant to pay the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District for technical assistance to lay the groundwork to transform the Route 138 corridor to a more vibrant, pedestrian-friendly commercial area. (Herald News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump continues to go to figurative war with dead literal war hero John McCain. (Washington Post)

New Zealand bans military-style rifles six days after a terror attack at two mosques killed 50 worshippers. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

On a per capita basis, Weston residents are the biggest political donors in Massachusetts. (CommonWealth)

Worried about questions about his age, Joe Biden is weighing the idea of jumping into the presidential race but vowing only to serve one term while also naming early an running-mate, who would presumably then look to run for president in 2024. (New York Times) A Herald editorial says a Biden candidacy would be a welcome shift from the “Democratic socialist chorus” taking shape in the party’s primary field.

Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim says he won’t run for a new term this fall. (Boston Globe)

Mayor Marty Walsh says it’s not the right time to discuss doing away with the Electoral College, while some Republican state lawmakers want the state to award electoral votes by congressional district. (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Whole Foods store in Sudbury is talking with town officials about selling beer and wine to customers for consumption while they shop. (MetroWest Daily News)

Merchants and residents are increasingly concerned about the Dudley Square business district in Roxbury, where at least eight businesses have closed over the past year. (Boston Herald)

EDUCATION

Boston teachers rallied yesterday calling for more funding for school nurses, guidance counselors, and psychologists. (Boston Globe)

The Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, a private nonprofit, joins Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s free community college plan. (MassLive)

Rep. Chynah Taylor of Roxbury says it’s time to test innovative strategies to close the student achievement gap. (CommonWealth)

While Hollywood stars and others shell out millions to bribe their kids’ way into college, an even bigger scandal is that thousands of adjunct professors are being paid peanuts to teach them, says author Alissa Quart. (Boston Globe)

The descendants of Renty, a slave whom Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz commissioned daguerreotypes of in 1850 in South Carolina, are suing the university for profiting off the images – through “hefty” licensing fees. The images are believed to be among the earliest photos of American slaves. (Associated Press)

North Andover High School students were outraged to learn that one of their peers was threatened with discipline if she had contact with the fellow student she accused of sexually assaulting her, and hundreds of students walked out of school in protest on Wednesday. (Eagle-Tribune)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

MIT received a $28.6 million donation to launch a research center on Down syndrome. (Boston Globe)

Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson told President Donald Trump on Friday that there are 15 to 20 overdoses on the second shift every day at the hospital in New Bedford, but Dr. Jennifer Pope, the chairwoman of the St. Luke’s Hospital emergency department, said that number is way off. There are two to three overdoses per day. (WGBH)

ARTS/CULTURE

Eileen O’Connor thought the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston would have become more family friendly over the years, but she was disappointed when she attended with her kids on Sunday and saw public drunkenness and “Drunk Lives Matter” t-shirts. (WGBH)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA’s privatized warehouse system is falling short of what was promised. (CommonWealth)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Entergy Corp., which is the current owner of shuttering Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, and prospective owner Holtec International are asking federal regulators to reject requests from state officials and the Pilgrim Watch citizens group to intervene in the review of the plant’s sale and license transfer. (Cape Cod Times

A coalition of environmental groups is urging Gov. Charlie Baker to halt financial support for wood-burning initiatives to produce heat or electricity. (Berkshire Eagle)

Figures in local fishing industries based in Galicia, Spain, and in Gloucester met after a fishery conference and found they have similar gripes about regulators and about cuts to catch limits for cod locally and for blue whiting across the Atlantic. (Gloucester Daily Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft is apparently balking at an offer from prosecutors to drop charges in exchange for him admitting they had evidence to prove his guilt of soliciting sex from prostitutes. (Boston Globe) It’s time for Kraft to come clean, says Yvonne Abraham. (Boston Globe)

The US Supreme Court appears poised to overturn the murder conviction of Curtis Flowers, a black man from Mississippi, based on racial bias in jury selection, and Justice Clarence Thomas asked his first question in three years during oral arguments. (NPR)

A jury convicted former state trooper Robert Sundberg of rape, stalking and other crimes, and immediately afterwards the State Police announced he was fired. He had been suspended without pay right after the victim made the allegations. (Lowell Sun)

MEDIA

Media Nation’s Dan Kennedy argues that Beto O’Rourke has lost his status as the media’s favorite slacker.