(Somerville Wire) – Aside from the brief introduction at the top of our somervillewire.news web page, we haven’t really explained what the Somerville Wire is and why we’ve just launched it. So I thought it was worth giving readers a more in-depth explanation.
The Wire is an initiative of the Somerville News Garden project—which has been organized together with a dozen active volunteers in partnership with our 501(c)3 charity, the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.
The mission of the project is to work with volunteers from around Somerville to help rebuild the city’s news infrastructure—which has gradually fallen into hard times since the 1990s. Due to a combination of the rise of the Internet and the consolidation of the American news industry by a handful of multinational corporations. Which created a crisis now besetting thousands of cities and towns nationwide: a growing information vacuum at the municipal level.
So the purpose of the Somerville Wire is to produce news articles like a local version of the Associated Press and make them available for republication by any independent news organization in the city for free. News organizations owned by major corporations can also reprint our work, but will have to pay market rates to do so. And, of course, the reading public can always read our stories at somervillewire.news.
BINJ staff and Somerville News Garden volunteers have not undertaken this effort to compete with existing or future news outlets in Somerville. We are simply working on creating a replicable model that cities and towns around Massachusetts and the US can use to stop their municipalities from turning into “news deserts,” in the parlance of journalism academics. After working with Somerville residents for two years to figure out the best ways to do that, we decided it was important to both train working people from all walks of life in basic journalism skills through our Neighborhood Media School and to give those people somewhere to publish news articles about their own neighborhoods. Which led us to create the Wire.
This news service, then, will feature articles by both professional journalists that are recruited by BINJ and community journalists that we help train at the Neighborhood Media School—which we are running in partnership with the Somerville Media Center. We will also train Somerville High School students with SMC who will also be invited to publish their journalism in the Wire. And we will constantly invite community members to publish opinion articles and event announcements with us. Additionally, we are looking into translating our articles into commonly-spoken languages in Somerville other than English. In this way, we strive to help one small American city to start to “talk to itself” better than it has since the 1990s. Which we think is a prerequisite for keeping our democracy functioning reasonably smoothly at the local level in these difficult times.
BINJ and our Somerville volunteers (we call them “gardeners,” since we’re trying to turn a news desert into an information “garden”) will endeavor to track the relative success or failure of our efforts with a series of short reports. It is these documents that we think will help other municipalities to follow in our footsteps, while allowing us to improve our work based on facts on the ground.
There’s much more to say about the Somerville Wire, but that’s the basic rundown of the initiative. Anyone who would like to get involved or just have a conversation about our plans, should feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subscribe to the Somerville Wire Weekly Newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/hpBYPv/.
Jason Pramas is executive director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.