By NANCY WEST, founder of New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism
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March is Membership Month at InDepthNH.org. Why? Because it’s time for all of us to do something about the loss of excellent journalism that we should be grieving.
It’s obvious to anyone who picks up a local newspaper that journalism in New Hampshire has lost its vibrant, competitive edge, the essence of good community news reporting that brings us the information we need as well as the investigative reports that hold our public officials accountable. Seldom these days do readers experience the hard, in-depth work of talented reporters.
New Hampshire is not alone. Local news is now an endangered species. We’ve seen the layoffs and changes in New Hampshire newspapers, so deep that there are now 60 percent fewer news jobs in New Hampshire than there were 20 years ago.
The estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) in 2017 was 31 million for weekday and 34 million for Sunday, down 11% and 10%, respectively, from the previous year. Declines were highest in print circulation: Weekday print circulation decreased 11% and Sunday circulation decreased 10%, according to the Pew Research Center.
OK, we all know it’s bad. So what are we all going to do about it?
What I did after working 30 years at the New Hampshire Union Leader was to start the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, a 501C3 nonprofit online news outlet.
Every day, our website InDepthNH.org is dedicated to reporting the stories that matter to New Hampshire. We focus on important stories that help New Hampshire people better understand complex issues. We are not afraid to take on stories that are labor intensive to report, but because of their impact and importance to our state, we put in the time and effort reporting such stories.
InDepthNH.org is often the only media outlet covering important issues, including 70 adjudicative hearing on the Northern Pass project. Our focused reporting on the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the men’s prison is being credited with bringing an important issue to light, resulting in action that will improve the lives of many mentally ill men and women who need help, not punishment.
We have expanded our State House news coverage, and that means paying more reporters-journalists of the caliber of Garry Rayno, Paula Tracy, Mike Marland and Gail Ober. We can’t afford to hire full-time journalists yet, so we rely on a team of experienced reporters who work freelance for modest wages. And journalists like Bob Charest who works hard for us all behind the scenes.
Right now on my list, I have three important stories that require reporting. These stories will have to wait for time and money.
We have come this far because of generous grants from the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund through the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and from underwriting by Northeast Delta Dental as well as from you, our readers and supporters.
This past November and December, you folks really came through for us with donations that were doubled through the NewsMatch program.
We need more money to report more news. It’s that simple and we need your support. If you can’t afford to give, please share our stories on Facebook and Twitter.
If you can afford $5 or $10 a month or like Lancaster Realtor Peter Powell, $88 a month, please do so right now. We must grow and fill these outrageous gaps in news reporting.
It’s harder now than at any time in my long career to obtain public information. For example, a woman’s death while receiving treatment at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center Jan. 27 was deemed suspicious. More than one month has passed and although public funds are being expended on this investigation, the authorities still haven’t released her name or any information as to why it was considered suspicious.
Gov. Chris Sununu often puts out a schedule for his work day. Some say these events are open to the press, but there will be “no availability.”
We chose March as our Membership Month because Sunshine Week is March 10-16, 2019. Sunshine Week draws attention to the public’s right to know, celebrates victories of the past year and explores hurdles that prevent access to public records.
This year we celebrate the lawsuit filed by the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, ACLU-NH, et al vs. the Department of Justice. Our organization, along with the Nashua Telegraph, New Hampshire Union Leader, Concord Monitor/Valley News, Portsmouth Herald/Foster’s Daily Democrat, and Keene Sentinel are fighting together to publicly disclose the names of about 260 police officers whose names are kept on a secret list of those with records that must be disclosed to the prosecution before a trial.
Please invest in your local newspaper because we think it is important to support the good work that local journalists do. We need all of us to thrive once again.