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[W]e’re asking all journalists, journalism educators, journalism students, media reform activists, and DigBoston readers who agree that the state journalism commission should be created to call your Mass state senator today and ask him/her to tell Sens. Eric Lesser (D – Longmeadow), Michael Rodrigues (D – Somerset), and Patrick O’Connor (D – Weymouth), who are on the conference committee, to keep the journalism commission in the final economic development bill.


[W]e’re asking all readers who are concerned about the collapse of local news media to contact your state representative and ask them to cosponsor Amendment #40 of H. 4879. The more cosponsors the amendment has, the more likely House Ways and Means will pass it. If that happens it has a good chance of making it through the full legislative process for this session. And becoming a law. Which would be a promising outcome for the future of local news in the Commonwealth. 


Lynne Doncaster addresses crowd at Somerville News Garden event. Photo by Derek Kouyoumjian.
Lynne Doncaster addresses crowd at Somerville News Garden event. Photo by Derek Kouyoumjian.


Seeks more participation from Somerville residents


It has been nine months since DigBoston and the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism partnered with the Somerville Media Center to organize an event asking Somervillians what kind of coverage was missing from their city’s remaining news media. The February 2019 Somerville Community Summit ultimately attracted 115 locals—many of whom were members or staff of 22 co-sponsoring civic organizations—to give powerful testimony to 15 professional journalists about six topic areas that they thought were getting short shrift. In an age when the consolidation of news media by a handful of giant corporations and the rise of digital media owned by another handful of big companies have done tremendous damage to local news production… in Somerville, and around the nation. Turning municipalities into what media researchers call “news deserts”—areas that no longer have professionally produced news outlets.


That first event was the result of the lived experience of my Dig and BINJ colleagues—Chris Faraone and John Loftus—and me over the nearly four years to that point during which we tried (with some success) to provide Boston-area communities with reportage that would otherwise be absent from the regional news ecology. We noticed local cities and towns having their newspapers of record (some of them over 100 years old) gobbled up by the huge media conglomerates, squeezed for profit, and then—often as not—discarded like so much refuse. Leaving Mass municipalities without the news that is the lifeblood of our democracy.


And we believed, as we still believe, that the more community news organizations that were forcibly shrunk to a fraction of their former capacity or shut down outright, the more that democracy is in danger.


So, we decided that it was important that we initiate a community organizing effort in the wake of the February summit to help Somerville rebuild its news infrastructure—strengthening the independent news outlets that remained, and possibly creating new news media to replace what was lost. All with the goal of helping a community talk to itself about issues of the day. In the way that it and communities around the nation had done for over two centuries since the founding of our republic.


As I said in my Dig editorial on the first event, Somerville Community Summit: Convening a City to Improve Its News Media, such a grassroots effort could not be primarily led by paid organizers from an organization like the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. The effort could be sparked by a group like BINJ, but its success or failure would lie with local volunteers who would either step forward to help improve news production in Somerville in their own interest… or not.


Which is why it has been great to see the positive response we’ve gotten to the community organizing campaign—the Somerville News Garden—that we launched via BINJ in late June. Twenty-five Somerville residents stepped up at the first meeting, and about 15 of those folks have become very active with the garden in the intervening months. With the result that the role of BINJ staff has started getting less central to the endeavor.


All to the good given that the news garden already has four projects in progress: the Somerville PR Wire that is almost ready to launch a volunteer-curated website that will put a feed of pitches and event listings from community members in front of all the area journalists interested in covering Somerville on a regular basis, a quarterly volunteer-run PR Clinic that will train Somervillians on how to talk to local journalists about issues and happenings they’d like to see covered, a Research Group that has just begun deploying its first survey instrument to Somerville residents to find out what kind of news they consume about the city and where they get it from, and a Neighborhood Media School that has already recruited educators to teach our first batch of inexpensive courses on journalism and news analysis starting this winter.


Everything the Somerville News Garden does is meant to be transparent and replicable. So whether our experiments succeed or fail, communities around the country will be able to follow our roadmap and create their own news gardens wherever a news desert is threatening democracy.


In that spirit, I am pleased to give a quick report about the news garden’s first public event—held last Saturday at the ever-fabulous and community-spirited club ONCE Somerville—Real News, Fake News, No News: Reviving Local Journalism in Somerville. But I’d like to set a precedent for truth-telling from the get-go. Because as both a journalist and a longtime labor and community activist, I have noted a tendency for otherwise well-meaning nonprofit community organizing efforts to ever and always “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” when discussing their progress.


And I’ve stated previously that I don’t think it helps anyone—least of all people interested in duplicating our effort elsewhere—to hear nothing about the news garden but happy-talk of the the type too many nonprofits often aim at major funders. Due, in the main, to the fear of losing big donations by failing to succeed at every turn. An unrealistic expectation at the best of times.


As such, I will start by saying that I thought Real News, Fake News, No News was a qualified success. The main aims of the event were—having already solidified the commitment of the first group of Somerville News Garden volunteers—to attract more Somerville residents to become active with the effort, to provide some public education on the crisis in journalism at the national and local levels, to have a good discussion with community members about specific issues and happenings that they think need more coverage in area news media, and to let attendees be the first people to take our survey.


I think news garden volunteers had varying turnout targets on their minds as they put posters up around the city and activated various social networks, but I was hoping for 40-60 people—given that we knew in advance that some community activists would be working on the Nov 5 municipal elections and that Real News was happening on a nice sunny Saturday, Nov 2. 


We ended up with 42 participants. About 25 of whom were new. So that was good. Though not as good as we were hoping. We had enough people to have an acceptably large audience for the excellent presentations by Professor Gino Canella of Emerson College and lifelong Somerville resident and sometime journalist Lynne Doncaster (followed by some great comments by audience members who had worked with the Somerville Journal, Somerville News, and Somerville Times back in the day), and two breakout groups with nice conversations—led by Jane Regan of the newly revived Somerville Neighborhood News at Somerville Media Center—about “Headlines We’ve Never Seen” (resulting in several new article ideas for local journalists to cover). Which then ensured that a reasonable number of participants (led by our Research Group convener Leanne Fan) took our new Somerville Media Consumption Survey (which has already given us some great data and inspired us to start to disseminate the survey instrument widely around the city).


My concerns about the event, however, are twofold. First, although we did direct outreach to the same civic groups that turned out for the Somerville Community Summit, most of them did not respond to our call to attend the Real News event. Which makes sense. Because, a) we were reaching out to staff and active members of those groups who are already busy with their own work, and b) we did not have an audience of journalists on hand this time for those groups to pitch article ideas to. Lessening their desire to attend. But it’s going to be difficult to solve Somerville’s accelerating news crisis without active community groups involved. So the Somerville News Garden needs to find ways to partner with them going forward that are more obviously and directly beneficial to all sides.


Second, it’s hard to expect volunteers (no matter how committed) to handle community organizing campaigns—or serious public events like Real News—while going to school, holding down jobs, and taking care of kids and grandkids. The news garden has one paid staff person, me, attached to it from the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Yet, again, staff can never substitute for a growing number of engaged volunteers when it comes to organizing a community like Somerville to better talk to itself. Fortunately, news garden volunteers did indeed conceive of the Real News event basically from soup to nuts, and did much of the work to put it together. But I still had to step in and nudge things along from time to time. Something else we need to work on.


Now that the event is over and we have interest from over a dozen of the new attendees in starting to work with the news garden, everyone has to try hard to shore up the commitment of the initial volunteers, integrate the new volunteers, and make sure that all those folks can handle work on our four projects without everything devolving into a staff-driven endeavor. Which I think would be the end of the news garden initiative. Because staff-driven campaigns are all too often “astroturf” efforts (fake grassroots) rather than the actual grassroots efforts that are needed to effect long-lasting positive change at the community level.


Genuine community commitment will be critical if we’re going to do more public events in all of Somerville’s neighborhoods and get more buy-in from all the different populations that make up the city. Right now, the news garden is primarily reaching white, educated homeowners with a habit of reading newspapers—most of whom are older and have lived in Somerville for a long time. We need to reach younger people, immigrants, and a variety of other folks if the news garden is going to truly represent the community it’s aiming to assist. Each of those groups has different interests and consumes different kinds of news in different media. One solution on the journalism front will decidedly not fit all.


These are the challenges the Somerville News Garden currently faces. And at the end of the proverbial day, our new organization will only succeed if significant numbers of Somervillians think that local news is important enough to put volunteer time into saving. We’re getting a fine response in our first few months of organizing. But 42 people at a well-advertised public event is not 60 people. Or the 115 we got at the last February’s community summit. 


All of which is to say that Somerville residents reading this are cordially invited to join the Somerville News Garden and work with us to strengthen local journalism in the interest of democracy. Interested? Our email is Let’s talk.


Click here to sign up for Community Journalism Crash Course workshop sessions with journalist and educator Jane Regan at Somerville Media Center, Nov 12 or Nov 14.


Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston—and executive director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.


Official Dig Baby


A reader’s guide to building a better news weekly


April 19, 2018



What does it mean to support a news outlet? Clearly the answer to that question varies widely depending on whether the outlet is big or small, nonprofit or for profit, subscription- or advertising-based.


But in an era when news organizations of all sizes are having a great deal of difficulty keeping their doors open, it’s an important one to consider.


For DigBoston, the answer to that question must be based on how we organize our operation. As we’ve said in past editorials, our organization is very porous to the world around us. We don’t cut ourselves off from the communities we serve. Quite the reverse. We’re always working to connect more strongly to those communities. To serve them better.


In fact, we are part of many Boston-area communities. You can view our staff, freelance talent, interns, contractors, and advertisers as a network of personal networks—all of which pay close attention to the news we produce together. Everyone in this primary network then connects to the broad spectrum of local communities that make up our overall audience.


The better a job we do as journalists, the more that audience becomes part of our primary network—becomes, in short, directly connected to us.


The more that happens, the better our news is. Because people who know us personally, naturally come to trust us. We then hear about community developments faster and faster, and the information we communicate gets concomitantly more accurate and more relevant.


So to support DigBoston, the most important thing that you can do as an audience member is to reach out to us the way we’re reaching out to you. To become part of our primary network.


And here are eight ways you can do that.


Read the paper

This seems like the most obvious suggestion, but it is not. Because reading us doesn’t mean reading us every now and then. It means actively looking for us every week. Making it a habit to check out every issue we produce… and making Dig a part of your life, and therefore more strongly part of the culture that makes our city unique. Which is easy enough to do—especially for people living in and around Boston. We typically start putting new articles online on every Tuesday, and our print edition hits the stands in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and busy parts of Brookline on Thursdays.


Show it to your friends

Don’t keep us to yourself. Pass around our articles on email and social media. And, more importantly, keep a paper copy on hand and physically pass it around to friends and family. Remember that stuff about networks above? By reading us often and sharing our work with your personal network, you’re helping build a fan base that interacts more strongly with us over the long term. Which is a recipe for ensuring DigBoston continues to produce good journalism for many years to come.


Use our information

We like it when we make people think about issues of the day. That’s definitely part of why we do what we do. But we love it when people act on the news we put out. If we write about a concert or play or art show, go check it out. If we introduce you to a political activist campaign that you agree with, plug in. Get involved. There’s little point in outlets like DigBoston producing news if no one acts on the stories we report.


Talk to us

We say this regularly, but we’ll say it again: You like one of our articles? Don’t like one? A fan of one of our writers, photographers, or artists? Drop us a line. Say hi. It might take us a day or three to get back to you, but we do our best to talk to readers that want to talk to us. For most purposes, emailing us at is the best way to connect.


Frequent our advertisers

Another seemingly obvious thing, but we make the money that enables us to put out our newsweekly through advertising. And what’s the best way to keep the ad money flowing? Giving your business to institutions that advertise with us. And making it known that you heard about them from DigBoston. Know a similar enterprise? Spread the word that we’re a great place to advertise and that we’re helping a number of industries grow locally. Consider yourself part of our sales force. Like seriously, because we’re actually hiring a salesperson. Interested in selling for us? Send us a resume and cover letter by email to


Advertise with us

Are you a decision maker who’s looking to drum up business in Boston? Then how about buying an ad? You can start with a four- to six-week run, see how your campaign does, and if you’re happy then make it a long-term contract. Drop us an email to to get started. Mention that you read this editorial, and we’ll give you a nice discount. Because of course we will.



Donate?! Yeah, we know it’s kind of counterintuitive. A for-profit company asking for donations through crowdfunding or at least simple, unobtrusive pop-ups on the new website we’re building this year. But even large news outlets like the Guardian are doing it. Because news production is expensive and profit margins for newspapers like DigBoston are razor-thin. We put out a fine product every week with a handful of (shall we say) modestly paid regular staffers and dozens of “stringers” (freelancers). No one is making big bucks. We’re all doing it because we believe in the importance of good community journalism to the democratic society we’re trying to help save. If you’d like to see us expanding our news operation and bringing you more and more news you can’t find anywhere else, definitely toss us a few bucks when we ask for it. Because donations help us pay for the kind of longer-form hard news that a weekly paper like ours couldn’t afford to produce regularly without some extra cash.


Give us credit

This one applies to a very specific subset of our audience. We understand our role in the metro news ecology includes acting as an early warning system for larger outlets like the Boston Globe. But that doesn’t mean we think it’s cool when our colleagues at the “bigs” get “inspired” by our work and basically replicate it without granting us the simple courtesy of listing us as a source. We may kick such outlets around from time to time on political and journalistic grounds, but we still mention them as sources all the time. Some reciprocity would be nice. For real.


So that’s our list. What’s the takeaway? It’s not “data” or “algorithms” or certainly not robots that are going to keep journalism relevant in 21st-century America.


It’s people. Working together to make sure that DigBoston, and other news outlets like us all over the nation, can keep doing what we’re doing… in the public interest.


And it all starts with each of you, taking the time to read our work. Every week.


Thank you.


Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston.