Dot’s Reading Room: The Bedford Citizen Featured in Kennedy Book

March 14, 2024

Journalism Professor Dan Kennedy’s new book, of “What Works in Community News: Media Startups, News Deserts, and the Future of the Fourth Estate,” has received a lot of play in the media recently. In the book, Dan and his co-author Ellen Clegg are extremely complementary to The Bedford Citizen – for which we are appreciative.

Kennedy spent hours interviewing the founders of The Citizen – Meredith McCullough, Kim Siebert (who now lives in Maine), and Julie Turner, who was Managing Editor for many years. His latest article, “Community-based entrepreneurs are leading the way in solving the local news crisis,” was published in The Conversation on March 4 and you can read it here: https://theconversation.com/community-based-entrepreneurs-are-leading-the-way-in-solving-the-local-news-crisis-224589

The Citizen is ranked very highly among those community-based entrepreneurs.  Here is what Kennedy had to say about us:

So how might a community without an adequate news outlet go about meeting the needs of its residents?

“Entrepreneurs step up.

“What happened in Bedford, Massachusetts, is instructive. A suburb of about 14,000 people located northwest of Boston, the town was at one time home to a weekly newspaper called the Bedford Minuteman. That once-robust weekly had by 2012 been downsized by its corporate owner, GateHouse Media, which later merged into Gannett, the U.S.’s largest newspaper chain.

Three members of the League of Women Voters who had been monitoring local government and reporting back to the membership asked themselves: ‘Why not write this up for the benefit of the public?

Thus was born The Bedford Citizen, one of the projects that we feature in our book. Over the years, the nonprofit website has grown from an all-volunteer operation into a professional news organization, funded through initiatives ranging from voluntary membership fees to an annual glossy guide that’s filled with advertising and mailed to every household in town.

Today, The Citizen has a full-time editor, a part-time reporter and paid freelancers alongside a contingent of unpaid contributors. The Minuteman, meanwhile, faded away and was shut down in 2022 under Gannett’s ownership.

In recent years, hundreds of such projects have sprung up, both nonprofit and for-profit. Are there enough to offset the several thousand papers that have closed and continue to close? No. But Clegg and I are optimistic about the continued growth of independent local news.

The Kennedy-Clegg book has received national attention, with its case studies of  projects similar to The Citizen across the U.S., in which local volunteers have stepped up to replace once local weekly newspapers. As the authors say, they are optimistic about the future of hyperlocal journalism. This is the spirit that has kept and still keeps The Bedford Citizen’s paid employees and volunteers from writers and reporters on the job!

And lest you think the decline of local news coverage is limited to the United States, here is a headline from The Times of London on Monday, March 11: 

“Death of local papers threatens democracy In much of Britain; regional news is hollowed out or close to extinction but it is vital in holding politicians to account.”

Attention, Brits: you can take a lesson from Dan Kennedy’s book.

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