EDITORIAL: The future of local news is nonprofit

Two weeks ago, some of the Marblehead Current team traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with representatives of hundreds of local news outlets, financially configured like we are, as 501(c)(3) “public good” or charitable organizations. The two-day gathering, convened by the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), was an opportunity to learn from one another. It also was a moment to celebrate how far such efforts have come.

The sold-out event, known as INN Days, was first held in 2016. Then, there were 55 people in the room. This year, organizers had to book overflow space to handle the crowd. There are now more than 425 INN-member news organizations, including the Current, which count more than 2500 journalists working in their ranks. We met folks from Eden Prairie, Minnesota; East Lansing, Michigan; Vallejo, California; El Paso, Texas; Reinbeck, New York and so many others from all corners of the country.

Most told strikingly familiar origin stories. Their newspapers had been bought by hedge funds or media giants. Journalists and editors were laid off, coverage was regionalized, their beloved daily papers were closed or shrunk to half their size and literally not worth, in terms of local community value, the paper they were printed on.

Their stories were depressingly familiar. Each had lived the trajectory told by statistics –  that 7% of the nation’s counties, or 211, now have no local newspaper. That between the pre-pandemic months of late 2019 and the end of May 2022, more than 360 newspapers closed. That since 2005, the country has lost more than one-fourth of its newspapers and is on track to lose a third by 2025. Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University catalogues these losses in an annual report.

Yet we left Washington DC more optimistic than ever that our operating model will ensure that a quality local news source will exist in Marblehead long into the future.

Here’s a partial list of the benefits of being a nonprofit we, and we hope you, see:

  1. We are locally run and decisions for the Current are made locally. Members of our board of directors are all Marbleheaders, united by the idea that quality local news is central to creating community and accountability.
  2. Among our co-founders are three experienced journalists and editors with deep experience covering Marblehead who are committed to practicing ethical, non-partisan, fair and objective journalism.
  3. We emphasize ensuring citizens are fully informed on community issues by developing resources like a comprehensive Town Meeting Guide and an Election Guide, available in print and online.
  4. We deliver our content free, with no barrier to access, to every home and business.
  5. Community members share their creativity and perspective by providing exclusive content to the Current as diverse as providing a look at Marblehead history, cooking tips and important perspectives on health and well-being.
  6. We partner with our community’s businesses to offer competitive rates and quality placements for advertisements.
  7. We support other Marblehead nonprofits with content and partnerships that we hope lift the whole community.
  8. We have built an operating model that is self-sustaining with a carefully chosen mix of revenue from advertising, grants and individual donors. Our future is in our own hands, not a corporate board room hundreds of miles away.

This month marks one year since our first story appeared online. Since then we have launched a print edition that is delivered free every week, significantly grown our following on social media so readers can be informed wherever they consume media and covered stories that matter to how and why we live in this extraordinary community.

We wrote that our future is in our own hands, but it is also true that our future is in your hands. More than one-third of our budget relies on donations. In this week’s print edition, you will find a donation envelope. We need your help to fund year two of the Current’s operations. In year two, we have ambitious plans to grow our coverage and expand our community partnerships.

We are deeply grateful to the donors who have stepped up on behalf of quality journalism. If you’re one of them, we hope you consider doing more, and if you haven’t yet supported the Current we hope you do so now.

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

The Current Editorial Board

The members of the Current’s editorial board are Ed Bell, who serves as chairman, and Virginia Buckingham, both members of the Current’s board of directors; Kris Olson and Will Dowd, members of the Current’s editorial staff; and Robert Peck and Joseph P. Kahn. Peck is an attorney, former chairman of Marblehead’s Finance Committee and a former Select Board member. Kahn is a retired Boston Globe journalist.

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