CommonWealth changes its name today to CommonWealth Beacon, a move that has been in the works for a long time and signals a shift in attitude at what may be the state’s oldest nonprofit news organization.
We started out in 1996 as a four-times-a-year wonky print magazine. Over time, as the news business changed, we began to change as well. We launched a website, stopped printing our magazine, and focused on news, commentary, and a daily newsletter. As the news ecosystem in Massachusetts continued to shrink, we didn’t buck the tide. Our staff got smaller over the years, not bigger.
But that is changing today. We are adding staff reporters, hiring people for the first time who can hopefully help us grow our readership and our revenues, and raising our sights. As nonprofit local news sites pop up across the state, we want to get in on the action at the state level.
We set off on this journey with Charlie Kravetz, the former general manager at WBUR, who became the philosophical guru of our evolution. We visited other nonprofit news outlets around the country and learned how many of them employ dozens of reporters explaining the workings of government and holding the powerful accountable.
Charlie raised the seed money to launch CommonWealth Beacon from a group of individuals interested in seeing us do more. And now, with MassINC CEO Joe Kriesberg at the helm, we’re getting down to work.
It’s exciting, and something I’ve been waiting a long time to see. We’ve hired the MassINC Polling Group to conduct the first CommonWealth Beacon poll, which will roll out this week starting with a piece from executive editor Michael Jonas.
We’re recommitting to long-form journalism, taking an in-depth look at issues confronting our state.
We’re doubling down on our commentary offerings, publishing more of them and encouraging pieces from those whose voices are not heard as much. We’re even participating in a program where emerging policy leaders learn how to write a solid op-ed and get it published.
Jennifer Smith, one of our reporters, is leading our efforts with The Codcast, a weekly podcast with great potential to discuss issues and explore ideas with people in the news. Jennifer is hosting a special live podcast today about the state of democracy in Massachusetts with Harvard’s Danielle Allen at 3:15 p.m.
One other big change moving forward is that we are sharing our content free of charge with other publications. The hope is that our news and commentary can help local news outlets supplement their coverage and spread our brand. If the approach works, we’d be open to all sorts of other collaborations.
We published a commentary today from Walter Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter from the Boston Globe. (Robinson was played by Michael Keaton in the movie Spotlight.) The commentary is the speech he gave at a recent conference of Massachusetts nonprofit news outlets, where he said state residents are embracing their brand of journalism.
“Not too long ago, philanthropic dollars routinely and reliably flowed to important community institutions, like museums, hospitals, and the local philharmonic,” Robinson said. “After all we’ve been through, it has become increasingly obvious that our civic health needs the sustenance that nonprofit news sites increasingly provide.”
We’re only just beginning this effort. One could say we’re taking baby steps, but what we do and how fast we do it will depend in large part on the support and ideas we receive from our readers. So spread the word, let us know what you’re thinking, and jump aboard.