‘A Timely Issue’ – The Martha’s Vineyard Times

The front page of the newspaper has yellowed to a sepia tone in the frame hanging in my office overlooking Vineyard Haven Harbor, but the words still feel unusually current. That piece of our archives, kept behind glass, contains the first edition of The Martha’s Vineyard Times, dated May 3, 1984.

To this day, forty years ago, the editorial announcing the launch of this newspaper ran under the headline “A Timely Issue.”

It starts with these words: “The question: ‘Why another newspaper?’ has been asked a number of times since the decision to publish The Martha’s Vineyard Times was announced… The Times will at all times side with the island and its residents, and will be as interested in the preservation of its vineyards as we are in the conservation of birds, animals and plants.”

It was a kind of manifesto, a nod to the other newspaper on the island, which has the appearance of a majestic sailing ship, and a lyrical approach to nature conservation and rural life. The MV Times’ inaugural editorial goes out of its way to strike a different tone and express a new commitment to focusing on the “comings and goings of the common people.”

This editorial approach remains timely and relevant and perhaps more resonant than ever in these deeply divided times we live in, when local newspapers across the country are dying at a disturbing rate. It is a time to focus very clearly on our mission and how we choose to serve our communities.

Since 2005, more than two local newspapers in America have closed every week a recent study from Northwestern The university’s Medill School of Journalism. And as I’ve learned in recent years, this stunning decline is also happening at a rapid pace around the world. The death of local, trusted news, local and global, is largely driven by changing business models in the digital age and a dramatic change in the way people consume their information. It seems that this decline, however we explain it, has a lot to do with the erosion of democracy, and in some ways the erosion of truth itself.

The fact that the first issue of The MV Times was published on a date that today coincides with World Press Freedom Day, first proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993, is an interesting quirk of history.

Many of our readers will know that I have spent most of my four decades in journalism covering international news. I was the Boston Globe Middle East bureau chief covering Israel-Palestine and the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. More recently I reported in Ukraine. I launched an international, online news organization called GlobalPost in 2009, and then founded the GroundTruth Project in 2014, as a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the next generation of journalists. GroundTruth is the nonprofit arm of the Report for America and Report for the World public service programs. We match guest newsrooms in distressed corners of America with talented young journalists, or “corps” members, as we call them. They work as staff for the local newsroom, and we fund their salaries for two years so they can serve the local community. Think of Teach for America or the Peace Corps, but for journalism.

This week I’m in Washington, DC, at the National Press Club, where I will receive the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation’s World Press Freedom Award for the work of GroundTruth. It is a great honor to receive this award on behalf of Jim Foley, a brave and talented field correspondent who worked with us at GlobalPost, and in the early days of GroundTruth. He was taken hostage while reporting in Syria in 2012. He was held captive for more than two years before being publicly executed by ISIS in 2014. He was my colleague and a friend, and someone I admired immensely. It is an honor of a lifetime to receive this award in his name on the tenth anniversary of his death and the establishment of the family foundation that supports his legacy. It covers four decades of international reporting, covering wars, counter-insurgencies, revolutions and upheavals in dozens of countries around the world. We did what we could to inspire and support a new generation to go to the hidden corners of the world and serve.

But I started my career in local news in 1984, the same year The MV Times launched, as a reporter for a local public radio station in Western Massachusetts, just after graduating from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. I’ve covered floods, factory closures and county fairs. Then I covered police and courts for the New York Daily News. And I am now entering a major turn in my life that has developed through international stories and then brought me full circle, back to local news here in a community where my wife and I have family. We became year-round residents about two and a half years ago, after more than 30 years as summer residents.

Amid the challenges of publishing a daily newspaper, it is important to remind ourselves of the commitment this newspaper made to this community when it launched, and it is important for our readers to know that we remain committed to the same idea of ​​writing directly to the people. who live on the island year-round and who, as the editors put it, “represent a community that is close-knit despite the beautiful diversity of its six cities.”

I have been writing a monthly column for you here to give you my own personal perspective on the state of journalism, and to keep you informed of our efforts to revitalize The MV Times under Steve’s leadership Bernier. Steve, longtime owner of Cronig’s Markets, and someone who gives back to this community in quiet ways that are often overlooked, asked me to become publisher of The MV Times in January of this year. It was a moment when previous owners, Barbara and Peter Oberfest, shared that they were unable to keep the business afloat despite the strong economic headwinds hitting the local news. It was difficult to say no to Steve’s offer to work with him to save the newspaper, and to try to revive The MV Times, because we both share a genuine commitment to the original mission. And we both understand the answer to the question asked on day one: “Why another newspaper?”

Deep in our hearts we share the certainty that this island needs two newspapers to successfully serve as watchdogs to the community. If the island became a one-newspaper community, we would all lose out. Just as importantly, you’ll rarely hear me call The MV Times a newspaper: it’s a digital news organization that publishes stories that keep you informed of what’s happening every day. Yes, we offer a weekly print edition, as well as several other print publications, including Vineyard Visitor and Edible Vineyard, and we are proud of the tradition and journalistic craft that lies within. But The Minute, our daily email newsletter, is perhaps our most robust news delivery to our community. We invite you to subscribe “The minute” for free, and dive into reporting from our award-winning reporters at The MV Times.

As I’m quickly realizing, making a local news organization sustainable these days is quite a challenge. Still, we are doing our best, and we need you, our community, to support it effort by subscribingif you haven’t already — and if you have a business, by advertising with us (learn more at mvtimes.com/advertise). You can also pledge your support via a contribution that can help us continue to provide public journalism services that illuminate and inform our increasingly diverse community.

The crisis in local news is not just an American crisis; it happens all over the world, in Brazil, a place that today is closely linked to our island, but also in India, Nigeria and Ukraine. Local, independent journalism is dying all over the world. And in the places where that is happening, democracy is in decline. I’m thinking about all this on World Press Freedom Day as I prepare to go from DC to Ukraine to speak about press freedom at the second annual Bucha Conference, in a city that was brutally brutalized in the first phase of the war. was attacked. Bucha will almost certainly be the lead article in the indictment being prepared at the International Criminal Court in The Hague against President Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Ukraine’s existential struggle lies far away from the island, and far from our local concerns about affordable housing, the brutal force of climate change and staggering wealth inequality.

So how are we to understand the unlikely symmetry in the fact that this news organization was launched on the day that would have marked World Press Freedom Day? I feel the question echoing: “Why another newspaper?”

An answer to that question goes to the heart of why we must be vigilant about maintaining a healthy media landscape in our community and in all communities across America and around the world. A local newspaper is a kind of binding agent; it is what holds a community together around a shared set of facts that come from a trusted source. A local newspaper helps us make good decisions together. Our reporters act as a watchdog over local government, and if we report stories fairly and independently, we can help guide important discussions about our future. Our writers can also reveal and celebrate the amazing depth, talent and diversity of our island.

As we watch local newspapers die out across the country, we see what is left in their wake: a more polarized community, a place where corruption can take root and where voter apathy inevitably rears its ugly head. The crisis in local news has everything to do with the crisis in our democracy. And so what is our answer to the question posed in this news organization’s editorial: “Why another newspaper?”

The answer: our democracy depends on it.

Founder and editor-in-chief of GroundTruth Project, Charles M. Sennott is also the publisher of The MV Times. He can be reached at [email protected].