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BOSTON — On Wednesday, Free Press Action’s Heather Franklin testified about Massachusetts’ local-news crisis before a hearing of the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Businesses. The committee was convened to consider Bill H.181, which would establish a 17-member commission to study journalism in underserved communities across the state.

“Despite the work of many talented journalists across Massachusetts, media coverage around the commonwealth has declined rapidly,” Franklin told lawmakers. “Since 2004, 15 percent of newspapers in Massachusetts have closed down, while newspaper circulation has declined by 39 percent. For the remaining media outlets, years of mergers and cuts have left newsrooms unable to conduct accountability journalism and public-interest reporting.”

According to the legislation under consideration, the commission would consist of academics, elected officials and members of press associations, including members of organizations representing African American, Hispanic and Asian American journalists.

“Studying how the crisis in local journalism is playing out in Massachusetts — and how it disproportionately impacts low-income communities — is a vital first step to building local news and information that Massachusetts communities need and deserve,” Franklin testified.

She also called on lawmakers to strengthen the legislation in two critical ways:

“First, the commission established by H.181 would benefit from the perspectives of people who are working with communities impacted by the dearth of local reporting,” Franklin said. “Second, we urge policymakers and others working to strengthen local news to engage the public in conversations around the kinds of reporting their communities need.”

Through its News Voices initiative, Free Press Action has led efforts to deeply engage newsrooms with the communities they serve in New Jersey, North Carolina and Philadelphia. In 2018, Free Press Action helped develop and ultimately pass the New Jersey Civic Information Bill — groundbreaking legislation to fund local news-and-information initiatives across the state.

Franklin’s full written testimony is available here (PDF).

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