Gannett, the owner of USA Today and WickedLocal, announced that at least 19 local newspapers across Massachusetts will end their print publications and move to a completely digital format by early May, with nine other local newspapers to be combined to four.
According to the company’s website, “this decision ‘reaffirms’ the [Gannett] commitment to the sustainable future of local news.”
Although Gannett claims that the reason behind the closures is to reduce the cost of printing newspapers and reduce the environmental impact of newspaper sales, many critics of the company’s decision believe that it will limit local news coverage, and downsize the distribution of news to the public.
“For anyone who loves newspapers, it’s just sad, on principle, when a newspaper shuts down,” said Joan Vennochi, a longtime newspaper columnist at The Boston Globe specializing in local and national politics. “I definitely think it will have an impact on local journalism and I definitely think it will have a very negative impact.”
Gannett’s decision to close several WickedLocal newspapers across Massachusetts mirrors overall trends across the United States, where many local newspapers have either downsized, reduced the number of reporters, or shut down altogether.
“There seems to be a current trend across the state that one singular company is closing down all these different newspapers,” Vennochi said. “While they say that it is about sustainability for the future, it is really about cutting costs.”
“When the newspapers cease print publication, not only does it cause reporters to lose their jobs, but it will limit the number of reporters who are available to cover all the local news and meetings in the town,” she added.
This announcement also came as many weekly staff reporters at Gannett newspapers in Massachusetts were being reassigned to cover regional beats, which will reduce the amount of local news coverage for many communities across the state.
“Some of it may have been hastened by the pandemic, but there is still an ongoing decline in local newspapers because there is not enough money in newspapers,” Vennochi said.
“Furthermore, older people are the ones keeping local newspapers funded, and younger people are much less interested in reading local newspapers,” she continued. “It is unfortunate, because the less informed someone is about what is going on in their community, the less they will know about good and bad news in their town. That also means there is less accountability for local officials.”
Although the amount of local newspapers is dwindling, access to independent grassroots digital media has become more widely accessible to Massachusetts communities.
Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University, local journalism expert, and creator of the independent news website Media Nation, recently stated that despite the decline in local newspapers, independent news sources in Massachusetts are on the rise.
“I just hope that as Gannett continues to shrink, more and more people will think about this and say, ‘We could do this in our town,” Kennedy said. “You don’t necessarily need to have gone to journalism school,” he continued. “All you need is the right frame of mind and the dedication and, of course, the time.”
“There are many sources of independently owned local news outlets in Massachusetts,” Kennedy added. “Please support them.”
While there are independent news sites appearing around the state, Vennochi explained that community access television also plays a major role in covering local news and keeping people informed about their communities.
“I hope that community access television will fill the void of declining local newspapers, because they provide people with much more easily accessible news and livestream of town meetings,” Vennochi said.
“I think the exciting part of journalism right now is that there are so many more points of entry for someone who is interested in it to get involved,” Vennochi said. “Even though some of the older ways of reporting news are diminishing, there are so many new ways to keep people informed about what is happening in their community.”
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