WELLFLEET – Amidst a history lesson and a warning about a crisis in journalism, there was optimism about the future Friday night at an introductory packed-house fundraiser for a new Outer Cape newspaper, the Provincetown Independent.
Charles Sennott, who is on a mission to save journalism, spoke at Wellfleet Preservation Hall Friday night at the fundraiser for the new paper, which currently exists as a website only. The Provincetown Independent site went live on Friday.
Sennott, who has relatives in Wellfleet, was a longtime foreign correspondent for the Boston Globe and other publications. He is the founder of the GroundTruth Project, a non-profit news organization helping place, and pay for, young journalists in newsrooms across the country. It is making an impact, he said.
Ed Miller, the editor of the new Provincetown Independent, introduced Sennott by describing him as “the most important person working in journalism today.”
“You guys are on the front lines of the intense struggle in this country to save local journalism.” – Charles Sennott, to the audience and the founders of the Provincetown Independent.
Talking to the enthusiastic audience of about 100, Sennott outlined his career as a foreign correspondent, which started by covering a local police story in New York City, the truck bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.
And while Sennott’s life story was fascinating and would certainly be interesting in detail, he was in Wellfleet to talk about The GroundTruth Project and his hopes for the future of journalism. The title of his talk was, “Revitalizing Local Journalism To Save Democracy.”
“The crisis in journalism right now is global and it is local, and it has become a crisis for our democracy,” he said. The country is divided, he said, but it was divided before, such as in the late 1960s.
“The difference between 1968 and now is that then we had a shared set of facts,” he said. Although there were disagreements about what the facts meant should happen, Sennott contended that “it forced us to really talk to each other.”
Sennott said there were limitations and problems with journalism back then. “I don’t want to be too gauzy about it,” he said, before pointing out “it was journalism that helped end the Vietnam War and it was journalism that challenged an out-of-control President.”
But, he said, the decimation of local newsrooms “is a crisis as serious as the collapse of coal or the collapse of steel. This is an erosion of a cornerstone of our democracy.”
In places where the local paper has disappeared, he said, studies have shown that polarization increases as people in those places increasingly get all their news from only cable news sources, which traffic heavily in opinions.
Thirty years ago, Sennott said, there were 475,000 journalists working in America. Today, there are 125,000 journalists working in America. When journalists are not regularly attending civic meetings, he said, it is easier for politicians to do things that go unnoticed by the public.
Thus, he applauded the audience and the creators of the Provincetown Independent, Miller and publisher Teresa Parker, for their support of the cause. “You guys are on the front lines of the intense struggle in this country to save local journalism.”
The new paper will cover Provincetown, Truro, Wellflleet and Eastham said Miller. The work will be done by Miller and freelancers, Miller said. He said he will work with freelancers at first but expects to have a staff of eight to ten people, including all departments.
EDITOR’S NOTE; Cape Cod Wave wishes the Provincetown Independent luck. Cape Cod needs great journalism.
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