Small Mass. papers see hope in the future of local news

Small Mass. papers see hope in the future of local news

PROVINCETOWN, Mass. — Earlier this month, the Portland Press Herald, and three other papers in Maine, announced they will no longer print editions on Monday.

It’s tough times to be in the newsprint business. But despite a challenging business environment, many people still believe newspapers are an integral part of a healthy democracy and are trying to come up with ways to keep papers alive.

On Cape Cod, a Wellfleet house has become a makeshift newsroom for the Provincetown Independent, a newspaper that launched last October.

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“We’ve been thinking for a while that there ought to be a more community-oriented, locally owned newspaper here," the paper’s editor, Ed Miller, said.

This new venture focuses on the four towns of the outer Cape: Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown.

Newspapers are printed on a large printing press. Colors are added in four layers: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.
Newspapers are printed on a large printing press. Colors are added in four layers: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. (Bob Dumas/Boston 25 News)

Like herring swimming upstream, Miller and Teresa Parker, the paper’s publisher, are convinced a good newspaper can make it, despite the gloom surrounding the overall industry.

"You’ve got to create something that people think is essential, and look forward to, and want. That doesn’t happen if you’re squeezing out reporters,” said Parker.

“In this week’s issue of the Independent, we have 16 different bylined news and feature articles, for our four towns, so we’re covering a lot more than people have been getting in recent years," Miller added.

What’s been happening in recent years is what worries Massachusetts State Representative Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead).

“A lot of people are talking about news deserts which are sort of the result of the decline of local journalism," Rep. Ehrlich said.

According to a study out of the University of North Carolina, 1 in 5 newspapers in the United States has closed up shop over the last 15 years, and the number of print journalists is down by 50 percent since then.

Newspapers sit neatly stacked and ready to be picked up by readers.
Newspapers sit neatly stacked and ready to be picked up by readers. (Bob Dumas/Boston 25 News)

“I think it boils down to, in order to be an active participant in our democracies, and that’s either national democracies or local democracies, we really have to be informed and the best way to be informed is to really know what the facts are,” said Ehrlich.

Ehrlich is proposing a commission to look into the state of journalism here in Massachusetts.

“There are a lot of experiments going on for different approaches to making sure that people get the news that they need,” explained Ehrlich. “There is a newspaper that went out and got iPads for their print subscribers to get them onto an electronic platform.”

Ehrlich would like to assemble academics, as well as journalists, to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas about how the local press can evolve and survive. Ehrlich says she understands that there should be a healthy tension between the government and the press, however.

The gold dome of the Massachusetts State House towers over the Boston Common along Beacon Street.
The gold dome of the Massachusetts State House towers over the Boston Common along Beacon Street. (Bob Dumas/Boston 25 News)

Some papers, like the Daily Item in Lynn, are surviving. It was taken over by Ted Grant and six partners five years ago.

“It’s a labor of love,” explained Grant, a communications executive in Lynn who started his career as a sports reporter at the Daily Item. “We’re never going to make money owning the Daily Item, and we know it. We started a bunch of magazines that will pay the bills.”

This business approach allows the paper to focus on local news and high school sports, and more importantly, remain a vibrant force in the community.

“We believe in the city. We believe in newspapers. We believe in information,“ said Grant.