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Image by Jason Pramas. Copyright 2024 Jason Pramas
Image by Jason Pramas. Copyright 2024 Jason Pramas

A biweekly roundup of articles from the Massachusetts independent press

Commentary: Talking in One Publication About Shutting Down Another

This time out, I’m getting kind of “meta” and spotlighting my own editorial in a local news outlet my nonprofit founded three years ago … to announce ending its run. However, I don’t bring up that “Somerville Wire Shutting Down” piece to do my typical “woe betide local news” thing. 

My reasons for closing the Somerville Wire are actually more positive than they might seem at first blush. Because I’ve been running the Wire as a volunteer for a year under another nonprofit called the Somerville Media Fund that my colleagues and I spun off of our main charity, the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, in 2022. And now I’m shutting it down because I’m so busy running the outlet you’re reading now, HorizonMass, which we started under BINJ in August, that I don’t have time to keep the Wire going. 

More to the point, I totally don’t have time to raise BINJ’s budget while ramping up the Somerville Wire’s budget enough to pay anyone to replace me. Or even to hold onto the quarter-time staff reporters I’ve been relying on to write feature articles for the Wire week-to-week. 

But I actually view this as ok because BINJ accomplished what we set out to do in starting the Wire. To quote myself, “From the perspective of my main nonprofit, BINJ, the Somerville News Garden project—of which the Wire was an integral part—accomplished the task we set for it between its launch in 2019 and its conclusion in 2023: To demonstrate that it was possible for a community in danger of becoming a news desert to organize to provide professionally-produced news on its own behalf and to create a replicable model that other communities could use toward the same goal. After community meetings of up to 130 people  and much discussion with over 30 volunteers in 2019 and 2020, the Somerville News Garden launched a community news outlet that produced over 300 original news articles, Somerville Wire, and a community foundation, Somerville Media Fund, to act as its fiscal sponsor.”

This is one key mission of BINJ as a statewide organization that we now feel better prepared to handle: Advising concerned community members from municipalities that are incipient news deserts or already news deserts how they might revive local journalism in the public interest. After the completion of our Somerville News Garden project, my colleagues and I have very concrete, “battle”-tested suggestions for how they can provide themselves with professionally-produced news going forward. Which is all to the good given our entering what looks like the terminal phase of the collapse of local news media in the US.  

You can check out my editorial here for all the details.

Independent Journalism from Around the Commonwealth

Ballet, Hollywood Dance, Soca and More: BalletRox Offers Dance Programs for Anyone of Any Age
Jamaica Plain News 
Nice interview with BalletRox Program Manager Lisa Kelleher. 

Book Review / Jazz Essay: A Complicated Matter — Stephen Provizer’s “As Long as They Can Blow”
The Arts Fuse (Somerville)
I haven’t been seeing my friend Steve Provizer around much since he moved from the Boston area to a more distant suburb a few years ago. Then the pandemic hit and I fell out of regular touch with many friends, including him. So, I had no idea he wrote a cool book on racism in the jazz scene a century back. But here’s a review that makes me want to get a copy. I had better check in with him, too.

City councilors’ dispute with vocal critics escalates to court hearing
New Bedford Light 
Things are getting wild down in New Bedford over … um … let’s call it the right to be boisterous in city council meetings (as well as whether a subsequent clerk magistrate hearing should be open to the public and the press) … and the Light is jumping in with both feet, it seems. 

Morrissey Commission meeting focused on climate resiliency
Dorchester Reporter (Boston)
If there’s one area of Boston that’s absolutely doomed from rising oceans due to global heating, it’s Morrissey Blvd. in the city’s Dorchester neighborhood. The state recently called a public meeting with one week’s notice to discuss “resiliency” (one of the worst weasel words I’ve encountered in the last decade) options for the area. Then it turns out that the Mass Department of Transportation team responsible for dealing with the crisis in question is behind schedule on deciding which course of action to take. Which I suspect means that state government will be forced to either shut down the lowest-lying section of Morrissey Blvd. permanently or perhaps build some kind of skyway over it (which wasn’t one of the options presented). Considering the hundreds of miles of coastal infrastructure under threat from sea level rise over the next few decades, this situation doesn’t bode well for Massachusetts. Written by a former BINJ intern!

Pesticide Reduction Advocates Bug Regulators Over Apparent Lack of Compliance
The Shoestring (Western Mass) 
Regeneration Massachusetts fights with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources to force it to really enforce state pesticide laws—particularly the “Act to Protect the Health of Children and Families from Harmful Pesticides” passed in 2000.

City’s community garden program supports fresh food, environmental benefits
Bay State Banner (Boston)
Solid explainer on “food forests” in Boston.

Two stalled lab developments stand over reimagining of Somerville’s Davis Square
Cambridge Day
Popular businesses were forced out in a busy commercial district because developers planned to replace them with lucrative lab spaces … then the bottom fell out of the lab market in the Boston area. Residents, local business owners ask “now what?”

Economic Development Efforts Gain Momentum In Sudbury
Sudbury Weekly
In which we discover that three of the richest towns in the state (and the country and the world), Sudbury, Weston, and Carlisle, don’t have economic development committees. We also hear about the usual concerns such communities have to balance the desire for a robust local economy (and commercial tax base) with their “rural character and feel.” Read into that sentiment what you will (d’oh!).

MCI-Concord is closing. How will that change the town?
Concord Bridge
The state is shutting down a prison soon—freeing up 50 acres of prime land in Concord. What should the town do with it? More housing development or more business development? 

20 Takeaways From the FY 2025 Budget Presentation
Tewksbury Carnation 
A very well done presentation of a town budget.

Wellesley welcomes new Municipal Light Plant director
The Swellesley Report (Wellesley)
Believe it or not, 41 Massachusetts cities and towns are allowed to have publicly-owned municipal power utilities. Unfortunately, the early electricity industry got legislation passed to stop any more municipalities from being able to set up their own, a bit of state history I’ve covered before. So, in this piece, readers will learn that Wellesley and Concord are two of the towns that still benefit from cheap public power. And I invite readers to consider why every community in the Commonwealth can’t have muni power? 

Invasion of the Groyper Callers
Worcester Sucks and I Love It
Bill Shaner’s usual grab bag of Worcester weirdness, starting with some hijinks by people he believes are fans of a certain cartoon frog.

FinCom May Consider Additional Police, with Offsetting Savings
Bedford Citizen
Bedford may get more cops and support staff, after cutting stuff like “free public access to the electric vehicle charging stations near town and school buildings” … which makes me go “hmmm.”

Planning Board adds affordability requirements to MBTA zoning plan
Marblehead Current 
Good call by the Marblehead Planning Board “to mandate that 10% of any new developments with six or more units in the new MBTA zoning districts … be set aside for those meeting the area median income (AMI) threshold.” Now it goes to a vote by town meeting. Here’s hoping they support it.

RLF shares ideas for future of mall
Lincoln Squirrel 
Big changes may be afoot for the Lincoln Mall if the Rural Land Foundation manages to develop 40 units of housing (small condos and apartments) there. Check out the comments after the article, too, to get a better sense of some of the local fault lines.

2 citizen warrant articles for Town Meeting brought to Redevelopment Board 
I don’t know … pushing for changing zoning to allow for three-family housing within single-family-sized home dimensions doesn’t seem as good as allowing significantly larger triple-deckers from the perspective of future tenants.

HONE reaches for compromise on MBTA Law zoning
Needham Observer
Another suburb attempts to meet state mandates for more multifamily housing while placating residents that, you know, don’t want more housing at all.

No taxation without representation!
Lexington Observer 
Interesting interview with a Lexington immigrant resident pushing for the town to allow Green Card holders to vote in municipal elections.

Somerville Wire Shutting Down
Somerville Wire
See my comments at the top of this column.

All aboard: There was a time when Plymouth had three train stations
Plymouth Independent
A South Shore community that lost its only train station in 2021 due to pandemic-driven budget cuts once had three that were much more attractive than the currently unused MBTA Commuter Rail stop. Fascinating history given our dire need for more mass transit options in the Bay State. 

IndyMass is produced for HorizonMass, the independent, student-driven, news outlet of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, by Jason Pramas and is syndicated by BINJ’s MassWire news service. Copyright 2024 Jason Pramas.

Jason Pramas is executive director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and editor-in-chief of HorizonMass.

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