Newspaper Staff In Western Massachusetts Organizing To Preserve Local News
Updated at 10:59 a.m.
As one of western Massachusetts' major newspapers operates on bare bones, its staff hosted a public forum this week.
After a series of job cuts last year, the Daily Hampshire Gazette now employs seven reporters and two photographers to cover all of Hampshire County plus the city of Holyoke, according to a member of management. The union says only four of them are currently “active news reporters.”
Union leaders say they lost about half the staff and the remaining reporters are overwhelmed.
"Unfortunately, last year was part of a larger trend," said Gazette reporter Bera Dunau, unit council chair for the Pioneer Valley News Guild. "Some 200 U.S. counties now have no local paper, and experts are warning of an extinction level event for many local newspapers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Dunau said studies have shown that communities without a local newspaper face higher levels of corruption and higher costs for local governments.
U.S. Representative Jim McGovern of Worcester, who spoke at the virtual forum said democracy relies on robust local reporting.
"I want people to cover what we're doing here in Washington, but equally—and probably even more important—is that you cover what's going on in the school committees and the city councils, the board of select meetings," he said. "Giving people knowledge about that is essential for them to be informed citizens, to be able to participate in the political process."
McGovern has tried unsuccessfully to pass national laws that would shore up local newspapers, though he said new congressional members might be more receptive.
Last year, the printing of the Daily Hampshire Gazette was outsourced and the main building in Northampton was put up for sale. Union members said they're concerned the newspaper could eventually be sold.
They're inviting the public to join a "working group" that would come up with ways to remain viable, like holding subscription drives or incorporating elements of nonprofit news models.
Newspapers of New England, the company that owns the Gazette, did not return requests for comment.
Correction: The Daily Hampshire Gazette has seven reporters, according to a member of management who did not wish to be identified. Our original report on-air and online incorrectly stated the number as four, but it does not include three reporters who are either on leave or covering arts and sports.