FROM THE FOUNDERS: A year of fostering civic engagement

Every time the Select Board mentions letters from residents who are stepping forward to fill board vacancies they discovered through the Marblehead Current, I know, in some small way, we have been helpful.

Similarly, when I sit on the stage in Veterans Middle School’s auditorium during Town Meeting and voters cite a Current article that helped them understand a warrant article, I feel a fulfillment of our purpose. When a resident sends a letter to the editor in response to another letter writer, I get a sense of humble satisfaction.

These are gentle nods at the civic role that we play and the public service that we offer at the Current. In carrying out this crucial role over the past year, we have had the privilege of informing Marbleheaders about important issues and decision-making processes. Our nonprofit newspaper, both online and print, has aimed to encourage residents to become more civically engaged in their community.

This brings us to an important point: An informed citizenry is vital to a functioning democracy. Independent and local journalism plays a key role in a community’s fiscal, civic and political health. Several studies reveal that a local newspaper’s death erodes broader civic engagement, voter turnout and competition in state and local elections. Newspaper closures literally cost taxpayers, too, research has found.

The founding of the Current was principally driven by the goal of nurturing civic engagement. This action was a direct response to the whittling down of the Marblehead Reporter to a shadow of its former self in 2022, following Gannett’s decision to cease local reporting.

To cultivate civic engagement, we have sat through countless hours of public meetings, serving as residents’ eyes and ears. Staffed by journalists and editors with years of Marblehead-specific reporting and institutional memory, the Current offers readers context and nuance, two attributes that are so often missing from news stories these days.

And our efforts seem to be making a difference. For example, the June 20 municipal election saw a 40.5% turnout out of approximately 16,330 registered voters, which is the largest turnout for a municipal election in a decade and nearly five percentage points higher than last year.

In the weeks before Town Meeting and Election Day, we published comprehensive guides to help prepare voters before they headed out the door. Our election guide featured responses from all 27 candidates in contested races. With the help of a member of the community, we offered a custom calculator for property owners to see the impact the $2.5 million override would have had on their tax bill.

Each of our guides leveraged partnerships that we’ve forged with civic groups and fellow news organizations, like the Marblehead League of Women Voters and MHTV, bolstering our collective ability to serve the community. These collaborations allow us to bring a wider array of perspectives and insights to our readers.

Apart from news reporting, our efforts extend to fostering civil, productive dialogue. The Current’s opinion page has blossomed into a proper public square. In the penultimate edition before Election Day, we published nearly two full pages of letters, and that doesn’t include those that ran online and in the weeks prior. Between the regular columns of Court Merrigan and Virginia Buckingham to guest contributors and a cornucopia of letters, this section has stimulated dialogue and encouraged the exchange of diverse perspectives.

Meanwhile, our Editorial Board’s recommendations on warrant articles mirrored how residents voted on the Town Meeting floor, an indication that some may have found our advice sound — or at least that the board had its finger on the town’s pulse.

Marblehead is changing fast, and so are we. Together, we can create a more connected and informed town. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Current relies on support from readers to make our journalism possible. We hope you will consider giving because donations of any size help advance this essential public service.

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