Starting in early May, at least 19 weekly newspapers across Massachusetts will shutter their print publications and go completely digital. Nine other weeklies will be merged into four papers.
According to notices posted on the papers’ websites, this decision “reaffirms” the commitment to the “sustainable future of local news.” The papers are all owned by Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the country whose headlining newspaper is USA Today.
“Now, more than ever, it’s critical to support local journalism through subscriptions and advertising,” reads the statement posted by each newspaper to their Wicked Local sites.
Dan Kennedy, a Northeastern University professor of journalism and close observer of local news, said in theory the closures make sense. But instead of just lowering printing costs for local papers, Kennedy said recent changes are also limiting news coverage.
“What they claim they’re doing, which is getting rid of the legacy costs of print while maintaining and even increasing their commitment to local coverage, I’d say is terrific,” Kennedy said in an interview with Boston.com. “But that’s not what they’re doing. They are eliminating print papers, even as they continue to downsize their news coverage.”
In a statement, Bernie Szachara, the president of Gannett US Publishing Operations, said the changes are designed to “better align our portfolio of products with our on-going digital transformation.”
“Strategies for reaching our audiences have evolved significantly, as well as the capabilities of our enhanced digital marketing solutions,” Szachara said. “We remain committed to the future of local journalism, and encourage our readers to continue supporting our reliable, accurate, and community-focused news sources across all of our platforms.”
Gannett also said subscribers would be notified of the change via mail.
The recent announcement comes on the heels of another change in many Gannett papers in Massachusetts — almost all weekly staff reporters at Gannett papers in the state were being resigned to regional beats. For example, a reporter initially assigned to cover a community like Bedford or Burlington may be reassigned to cover public safety or education in the region.
Many of the print papers soon to be shuttered have been what Kennedy described as “zombie papers” in recent years, meaning they produced very little local content. Still, Kennedy said, recent moves by Gannett are a hit on local journalism.
“We may be intensely interested in national news — certainly these days we’re intensely interested in international news — but our lives are lived in our communities,” Kennedy said. “If we don’t know what’s going on at city or town hall and the school committee and that sort of thing, then we don’t have the information we need to govern ourselves.”
The newspapers will distribute their last print issues the first week of May, according to the statements. While these sources of local news are shrinking, Kennedy noted there is no shortage of independent news sites in Massachusetts.
“I just hope that as Gannett continues to shrink, more and more people will think about this and say, ‘We could do this in our town,’” Kennedy said. “You don’t necessarily need to have gone to journalism school, … I think all you need is the right frame of mind and the dedication and, of course, the time.”
Here are the papers ending print publication:
- Bedford Minuteman
- Beacon (Acton and Boxborough)
- Beacon Villager (Maynard and Stow)
- Billerica Minuteman
- Brookline Tab
- Burlington Union
- Carver Reporter
- Country Gazette (Bellingham)
- Eagle-Independent (Chelmsford, Littleton and Westford)
- Kingston Reporter
- Needham Times
- Newton Tab
- Sudbury Town Crier
- Waltham News Tribune
- Watertown Tab
- Wayland Town Shout
- Weston Town Scream
- Transcript & Bulletin (Dedham, Westwood and Norwood)
- Times Advocate (Walpole and Sharon)
Here are the weekly papers merging:
- Advocate & Star (Arlington Advocate and Winchester Star)
- Coastal Mariner (Marshfield Mariner, Scituate Mariner and Cohasset Mariner)
- Free Press & Advertiser (Saugus Advertiser and Melrose Free Press & Observer)
- Transcript & Journal (Medford Transcript and Somerville Journal)
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