Open Media Boston Turns Five, Contemplates Expansion After the Collapse of the Boston Phoenix
Somehow I always took the idea that Open Media Boston would make it five years as a given. As hard as it sometimes is to produce original journalism about grassroots struggles for democracy on the metropolitan level week-in and week-out - getting the necessary technology online, recruiting trained journalists and training new journalists to put in the field, scraping together a gradually growing budget, and building a community of viewers - I knew that all the many people who have walked the road of this project with me would get us to this milestone. And beyond.
So my sincere thanks to everyone that has worked on Open Media Boston in any capacity on this our fifth anniversary. We have taken the idea of a professionally run metro news publication with a left-wing editorial stance and made it go. In doing so, we have served as the chroniclers of many events and actions that would have otherwise gone unnoticed in the Boston area news media. We have also sparked some healthy discussion and debate on issues of the day along the way. Maintaining our journalistic integrity at all times.
An obvious question at this juncture is "what next?" Are we going to keep doing the same thing we've been doing? Are we going to keep doing it on a shoestring budget? Do we have plans to expand? And, if so, how?
As it happens, the surprising events of the last few days have served to impel me to answer that question a bit differently than I might have otherwise done. Last Thursday, the Boston Phoenix went under - apparently forever. The collapse of Boston's flagship alternative news weekly has blown a huge hole in the news ecology of this city. And, as is usual in these situations, I don't think that's a good thing at all.
First, because 40 news industry professionals at the Phoenix have just been laid off. Joining tens of thousands of others that have lost their jobs in the news industry nationwide over the last decade. Second, because I think it's a truism that diversity in any news market is a good thing. The more options people have for their local news, the more information they have at their disposal to make good decisions as members of a democratic society.
Third, because Open Media Boston was launched to help fill the "metropolitan news vacuum" in this city, and that vacuum has just expanded dramatically.
Phoenix Editor Carly Carioli hit the nail on the head in this regard in OMB's Friday interview with him, "I can’t imagine what Boston’s going to be like without the Phoenix. I say that as somebody who treasured it long before I worked here. I just think it’s filled such an important role. It’s really putting such a burden on sites like Open Media [Boston]. It’s really going to bring an awful burden to do a lot of the expensive reporting that we were doing. It’s going to have to fall into other hands."
That is exactly right. The loss of The Phoenix is putting a lot of burden on smaller news outlets at this point. Especially those outlets that are serious about the critical role of news publications in the maintenance of a democracy like the United States. At the moment, it is not possible for any smaller publication to step into the Phoenix's shoes. But that could change with the right kind of community support.
For our part, the Open Media Boston staff very much wants to expand to become at least a much larger weekly - or even daily - news outlet. Which is a tall order in this day and age to be sure.
Over the weeks to come, we're going to be putting some thought into how we can do that. Building on what we've learned over our first five years. We'd also like to have some public conversations about how to improve progressive news media in Boston and beyond - and, more to the point, how to build a general interest news media that can cover all the social movements and disenfranchised communities that are increasingly absent in the mainstream media.
Because even if OMB grows, this isn't just about us. There will need to be more collaboration between existing news publications of all sizes to build the kind of robust news ecology that a city the size of Boston needs and deserves. And there will need to be significant input from the neighborhoods and communities we all cover. So we'll certainly keep you all posted about any event we put together.
But for now, we'd just like to extend our condolences to the staff of the Boston Phoenix, and say that we'd like to be able to hire at least some of you in the years to come. We've made it five years. We're growing - if slowly. We're going to try to take Carly's challenge to heart and figure out how to grow faster. The better to serve Boston's need for grassroots news and to create some real jobs for trained journalists, editors and business staff that should be out there doing their thing instead of collecting unemployment and then taking any random gig they can find to make ends meet.
Any Phoenix refugees that just need a place to hang their hat and want to work with us even a bit are cordially invited to do so.
Because, who knows, maybe by working together we can figure out a way to build a new major Boston news weekly out of the ashes of the old one.
The stakes are high. The need is great.
Here's hoping we can all figure out a solution that works out for at least some of the legions of unemployed news professionals and for the Boston news ecology.