This week, I joined fellow journalists, journalism educators, and members of the public at large in testifying on a bill to form a Mass journalism commission that is currently before the state legislature. In view of the potential importance of the initiative, my column this week is simply the text of my testimony. For more background, please read my two previous columns on the bill—Proposed State Journalism Commission Needs Broader Membership (DigBoston, March 21, 2019) and Second Hearing Called on MA Journalism Bill (DigBoston, June 20, 2019). Also check out Chris Faraone’s testimony No Mass Commission to Study Journalism Without Reporter Input in this week’s DigBoston.
Senator DiZoglio, Representative Coppinger, and honorable members of the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Businesses,
For the record, I am Jason Pramas, executive editor and associate publisher of the weekly metropolitan commercial newspaper DigBoston and executive director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. I am here to testify on An Act Establishing a Commission to Study Journalism in Underserved Communities (S.80/H.181).
While I am generally in favor of the bill, and I’m glad to hear that state government is considering forming a commission to take a serious look at the crises facing the Massachusetts news industry—particularly at the municipal level—I must voice my concern that there are problems with it as drafted.
I enumerated my specific criticisms in two columns published in DigBoston on March 20 and June 19 respectively—which I am submitting with my written testimony.
But, in brief, my main concern is that working journalists, the growing number of journalists being laid off by major news corporations across Massachusetts, key journalist organizations, and a diverse array of college journalism departments are not properly represented in the proposed membership of the journalism commission that the bill will create if enacted. I also take issue with some of the picks for that commission.
So today, I’d like to offer my recommendations for changes to the bill’s language.
First, the composition of the proposed commission is too narrow in my estimation and needs to be significantly expanded as follows:
- A) Unless the committee is willing to scrap its initial picks and start from scratch along the lines I will now propound, the number of seats on the commission should be doubled from 17 to 34.
- B) The number of seats given to appointees of the governor should be reduced from two to one.
- C) The number of seats given to Harvard University should be reduced from three to one, and that seat should go to the Ida B. Wells Society—which is “a news trade organization dedicated to increasing and retaining reporters and editors of color in the field of investigative reporting” and a project of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
- D) The seat that was to be given to the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University—which was closed by the Brandeis administration on Dec. 31 of last year—should be given to the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism that I run with my partners Chris Faraone and John Loftus (alongside DigBoston, the commercial newspaper I run with those same partners). Naturally, my colleagues and I are happy to make a full case for our inclusion in writing anytime upon request by the legislature.
- E) Four seats should be given to organizations representing journalists, including one to the NewsGuild—Communication Workers of America, one to the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, one to the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians—Communications Workers of America, and one to the Society of Professional Journalists.
- F) Six seats should be given to professors from the journalism departments of six colleges representing every region of the Commonwealth (for a total of seven, including the seat already provided to a professor from the Northeastern University journalism department—at least four of which should be from the Massachusetts public colleges that educate the majority of college students from this state).
- G) The remaining 10 seats should go to working journalists, editors, and producers from independent community news outlets representing every region of the Commonwealth.
Second, while I didn’t challenge the focus of the proposed commission’s research mandate in my columns on the bill, upon further discussion with my partner Chris Faraone (who has submitted written testimony to this effect) I believe that its research should mainly be concentrated on figuring out the best possible model for state government to fund community journalism in Massachusetts—without creating state-funded propaganda outlets of the type that nobody wants. Least of all me.
In closing, the forces destroying local news media are already known to us, and don’t require further study. Especially after millions in foundation money have already been dumped on elite academic institutes to research questions that working journalists can answer in our sleep.
Apparent Horizon—winner of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 2018 Best Political Column award—is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s executive director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2019 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.