Who will make the checks at City [Town] Hall? Who — among America’s great din of flackery and cant — will tell us in plain language what’s actually going on?” –John Carroll, former editor of the Baltimore Sun and the Los Angeles Times
The MV Times is an invaluable asset to the Island. Accurate community reporting of the news, “in plain language,” is the very basis of democracy: Citizens must know “what’s actually going on” if they are to make solid decisions in choosing candidates and understanding the issues. And finding out what public officials are doing, or not doing.
Last month, The Times and the M.V. Film Society co-sponsored a screening of the documentary “Storm Lake,” which tells the story of a small-town newspaper (circulation 3,000) and the perseverance of the publisher, editors, and staff to keep the paper going in an era of internet and social media news, and the decline of print journalism.
MV Times editor George Brennan noted that like the newspaper depicted in the film, “the pandemic put a crater-size dent in our advertising revenue. An already difficult business got tougher. How to keep a robust reporting staff chasing stories with even less cash on hand. How to keep the lights on and the presses running.”
While spending part of the Thanksgiving holiday in Baltimore, where I taught for over 40 years, I read the Baltimore Sun, only to be reminded of how it has become a shadow of its former self. Founded in 1837 and once a national newspaper of record, as of May of this year, its new owner is Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund with no background in the news business except to starve its estimated 250 papers, including the Boston Herald.
Writing in the Washington Post recently, Margaret Sullivan noted that Alden is “one of the most ruthless of the corporate strip miners seemingly intent on destroying local journalism.”
McKay Coppins wrote in an Atlantic piece that Alden is “a vulture hedge fund … The model is simple: Gut the staff, sell the real estate, jack up subscription prices, and wring out as much cash as possible.”
Steve Broening, founding editor of the Sun’s op-ed page in 1978, and a former Associated Press foreign correspondent, noted in his book “The Life of Kings” that the most important aspect of reporting is to inform readers about local news. Sun beat reporters once covered every major Maryland county and Baltimore City. They reported on, says Broening, “city courts, state courts, federal court, labor, poverty/social services, state politics,. housing, transportation, aviation, the police districts, zoning/planning, regulatory agencies, the environment, medicine, science, education (lower), education (higher), investigative,” and the list goes on and on.
He wryly comments, “It didn’t always make for a lively read, but it sure was thorough.” The Sun no longer has the resources to do this broad reporting.
The Times reporters do, and they reveal “what’s actually going on.” We all cannot attend meetings of select boards, planning boards, conservation commissions, or zoning boards. How many of us go to meetings of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission? Or the Land Bank? Or the Dukes County Commission? Or the Steamship Authority?
The Times covers them all, and does it extremely well. This past October, The Times was named a Distinguished Newspaper in the Newspaper of the Year contest for the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA), the fifth year in a row that it has been so honored. In 2020, reporter Rich Saltzberg was named Reporter of the Year by NENPA for his stories about the Steamship Authority and toxic lead in U.S. Coast Guard housing. In 2019, The Times and its publications won 13 association awards.
In his comments at the end of the “Storm Lake” screening, Times editor George Brennan stated the obvious: “We will need more subscribers or more supporters.” Or both, if our community is to ensure we have access to local news, the very basis of a democratic order. In this way, we will know “what’s actually going on.”
Jack Fruchtman, who lives in Aquinnah, wrote over 100 op-ed commentaries for the Baltimore Sun, beginning in 1972.