‘A Timely Issue’


The front page of the newspaper has yellowed into a sepia tone in the frame that hangs in my office overlooking Vineyard Haven Harbor, but the words feel like they are still unusually current. That piece of our archive, preserved behind glass, holds the inaugural edition of The Martha’s Vineyard Times, dated May 3, 1984. 

Forty years ago to the day, the lead editorial that heralded the launch of this newspaper was featured under the headline “A Timely Issue.” 

It begins 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, take the side of the Island and its residents, and will be as interested in the conservation of the Vineyarders as we are in the conservation of bird, beast, and plant.” 

It was a manifesto of sorts, a poke to the other newspaper on the Island, which has the look of a majestic sailing ship, and a lyrical approach to conservation and rural life. The inaugural MV Times editorial goes out of its way to establish a different tone, and to state a new commitment to focus on the “comings and goings of the common people.” 

This editorial approach is still a “timely” one, which remains relevant and perhaps more resonant than ever in this deeply divided time we live in, when local newspapers are dying at a distressing rate across the country. It is a time to be very clearly focused on one’s mission, and how we choose to serve our communities. 

Every week since 2005, more than two local newspapers have shut down in America, according to a recent study by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. And, as I have learned in recent years, this stunning decline is also occurring at a rapid pace around the world. The death of local, trusted news locally and globally is largely caused by shifting business models in the digital age, and a dramatic change in the way people consume their information. It seems this decline, no matter how we explain it, has much 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 corresponds with World Press Freedom Day, which was first proclaimed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1993, is an interesting quirk of history. 

Many of our readers will know that most of my 40 years in journalism has been spent covering international news. I was the Boston Globe Middle East bureau chief, and covered Israel-Palestine as well as the post 9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. More recently, I have been reporting in Ukraine. I launched an international, online news organization in 2009 called GlobalPost, and then founded the GroundTruth Project in 2014, as a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the next generation of journalists. GroundTruth is the nonprofit home of the public service programs Report for America and Report for the World. We match host 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 Teach for America or the Peace Corps, but for journalism.

This week I am in Washington, D.C., at the National Press Club, where I will accept the World Press Freedom Award from the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation for the work of GroundTruth. It is a profound honor to receive this prize in the name of Jim Foley, a brave and talented field correspondent who worked with us at GlobalPost, and in the nascent days of GroundTruth. He was taken hostage while reporting in Syria in 2012. He was held for more than two years before being publicly executed by ISIS in 2014. He was my colleague, and a friend, and someone I admired greatly. To receive this award in his name on the 10th anniversary of his death and the launch of the family foundation that supports his legacy is the honor of a lifetime. It caps four decades of international reporting, covering wars, counterinsurgencies, revolutions, and upheavals in scores of countries around the world. We were doing what we could to help inspire and support a new generation to go into the undercovered corners of the world and be of service.

But I began my career in local news in 1984, the same year The MV Times was being launched, as a reporter for a local public radio station in Western Massachusetts, right after graduating from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. I covered floods and factory closings and county fairs. After that, I covered cops and courts for the New York Daily News. And I am now entering a wide turn in life that has arced out through international stories and then brought me full circle, back to local news right 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 we remain dedicated to this same idea of writing directly to the people who live on the Island year-round, and who represent, as the editorial puts it, “a community that is tight-knit despite the splendid variety of the six towns.”

I have been writing a column to you in this space on a monthly basis to give you my own personal take on the state of journalism, and to keep you apprised of our efforts to reinvigorate The MV Times under the ownership of Steve Bernier. Steve, a longtime proprietor of Cronig’s Markets, and a person who gives back to this community in quiet ways that often go overlooked, asked me to step up to be publisher of The MV Times in January this year. It was a moment when its previous owners, Barbara and Peter Oberfest, shared that they were unable to sustain the business against the strong economic headwinds that are pounding down on local news. It was hard to say no to Steve’s offer to work with him to save the paper, and to try to reinvigorate The MV Times, as we both share a genuine commitment to its original mission. And we both understand the answer to that question framed on day one: “Why another newspaper?” 

We share a certainty in the bottom of our hearts that this Island needs two newspapers to successfully serve the community as a watchdog. If the Island were to become a one-newspaper community, we would all be lesser for it. Equally important is that you will only rarely hear me call The MV Times a newspaper: It is a digital news organization that publishes stories that keep you up-to-date on what is happening on a daily basis. Yes, we offer a print edition weekly, and several other print publications, including Vineyard Visitor and Edible Vineyard, and we are proud of the tradition and journalistic craft that go into them. But “The Minute,” our daily email newsletter, is perhaps our most robust delivery of news to our community. We invite you to subscribe to “The Minute” for free, and jump into coverage by our awardwinning reporters at The MV Times. 

As I am quickly realizing, it is a challenging equation to make a local news organization sustainable these days. Still, we are giving it our best effort, and we will need you, our community, to support this effort by subscribing, if you haven’t already — and if you own a business, by advertising with us (learn more at mvtimes.com/advertise). You can also pledge your support through a donation that can help us to keep providing the public service of journalism that enlightens and informs our increasingly diverse community. 

The crisis in local news is not only an American crisis; it is happening around the world, in Brazil, a place deeply connected to our Island today, as well as in India, Nigeria, and Ukraine. Around the world, local independent journalism is perishing. And in the places where that happens, democracy is receding. I am thinking about all of this on World Press Freedom Day as I prepare to go from D.C. to Ukraine to speak about press freedom at the second annual Bucha conference, in a city which was brutally attacked in the first phase of the war. Bucha will almost certainly be the lead article in the indictment that is being prepared in the International Criminal Court in The Hague against President Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Ukraine’s existential struggle is all a very long way away from the Island, and very far from our local concerns around affordable housing, the relentless force of climate change, and a staggering inequality of wealth. 

So how should we understand the unlikely symmetry in the fact that this news organization launched on the very day that would come to mark World Press Freedom Day? I feel the question reverberating: “Why another newspaper?” 

An answer to that question goes right to the heart of why we need to be vigilant about keeping a healthy media landscape in our community and in all communities across America, and around the world. A local newspaper is a binding agent of sorts; it is what holds a community together around a shared set of facts emanating from a trusted source. A local newspaper helps us come together to make good decisions. Our reporters serve as a watchdog over local government, and if we cover the 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 across the country, we see what is left behind in their wake: a more polarized community, a place where corruption can take root, and where voter apathy inevitably sets in. The crisis in local news has everything to do with the crisis in our democracy. And so what is our answer to the question framed in the founding editorial of this news organization, “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 csennott@mvtimes.com.




  1. Charlie: The Vineyard is SO fortunate to have you helming the MV Times. Your Letters FROM the Editor really elevate the connection between the local press and the People. There is so much to learn, such a breadth of perspective offered, from your missives to the community. Thank you!

  2. Rarely does an editorial bring tears of joy, gratitude and appreciation. Some gave all. Thank you.

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