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The web of life for journalism

Dan Kennedy

Print adver­tising declined for the sixth con­sec­u­tive year in 2012, according to the Pew Research Center’s annual report on Amer­ican Jour­nalism. In response to the finan­cial short­fall, many papers have cut news­room staff, reduced print fre­quency, or moved from opu­lent head­quar­ters to less expen­sive offices. In rare instances, big dailies have ceased publication.

But the news­paper industry’s market set­back has also cleared a space for the bur­geoning world of online jour­nalism, the topic of a new book by Dan Kennedy, an assis­tant pro­fessor of jour­nalism in the Col­lege of Arts, Media, and Design.

“Big dailies played an impor­tant role in com­mu­ni­ties, but they are shrinking,” he told about 100 stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff on Wednesday at a Meet the Author event in Snell Library. “When for-​​profit jour­nalism fails, an entre­pre­neur will move in and fill at least some of the space.”

Kennedy is a nation­ally known media com­men­tator and reg­ular pan­elist on Beat the Press. His new book, The Wired City: Reimag­ining Jour­nalism and Civic Life in the Post-​​Newspaper Age, explores the ecosystem of online jour­nalism through a case study of the New Haven Inde­pen­dent, a non­profit online-​​only news source in the epony­mous Con­necticut town.

Kennedy picked the Inde­pen­dent for three rea­sons: its loca­tion, its editor, and its appetite for exper­i­men­ta­tion in dig­ital jour­nalism. “New Haven is large enough and did serious enough jour­nalism that I thought it was worth fur­ther explo­ration,” he explained. “After writing about the Boston media for so long, it was fun to go to a place I didn’t know any­thing about and then start reporting.”

The project took shape in 2009 at the apogee of the Great Reces­sion. While news­pa­pers threat­ened to fold in fear of the eco­nomic col­lapse, a plethora of Internet news sites rushed to fill the infor­ma­tion void. One of them was the Inde­pen­dent, the non­profit model of which has suc­ceeded where its for-​​profit coun­ter­parts have failed: in having the resources to com­pre­hen­sively cover its neigh­bor­hoods, its gov­ern­ment, and its people.

The Inde­pen­dent is sup­ported by spon­sor­ships and local foun­da­tion grants, Kennedy said, while online-​​only for-​​profit news sources like the Bavarian in Genesee county, N.Y., must rely on ad rev­enue just to stay in business. “It’s easier to raise money in big chunks than to sell ads,” he said.

Fol­lowing his address, Kennedy fielded ques­tions on topics ranging from jour­nal­istic objec­tivity to cit­izen jour­nalism in Africa.

William Kirtz, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of jour­nalism at North­eastern, asked whether aspiring reporters could expect to make a good living in the cur­rent news­paper industry. In response, Kennedy returned to the Inde­pen­dent, where its full-​​time jour­nal­ists are making as much money as their peers at other com­mu­nity papers. “They’re not making finan­cial sac­ri­fices,” he said, “but nobody is get­ting rich in this business.”

This article was originally published by Jason Kornwitz in news@Northeastern.