By Will Broaddus
---- — If you’re looking for the future of journalism, the New Haven Independent is a good place to start.
That is the finding of media observer Dan Kennedy, whose new book “The Wired City: Reimagining Journalism and Civic Life in the Post-Newspaper Age” was recently published by University of Massachusetts Press.
“I had originally intended on writing a book that would have been a broad survey of all kinds of online journalism projects,” said Kennedy, an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University who lives in Danvers.
But after spending the spring and summer of 2009 “doing a fair amount of reporting,” he realized the Independent “was the sort of project that could hold the bulk of the book better than anything I had looked at.”
The editor of this nonprofit website, Paul Bass, has been able to attract “a decent amount of money in large chunks” from foundations, Kennedy said, at a time when advertising revenue at newspapers has plummeted and for-profit websites have struggled to get traction.
This success lets the Independent hire a sizable staff, especially compared to for-profit websites, and that in turn has allowed them to cover the community closely.
The Independent also hosts forums on topics like school reform, which citizens can monitor and respond to online when they can’t attend in person.
While new technology helps start such conversations, they are often maintained by old-fashioned editorial judgement, which demands a civil tone in comments sections.
“They don’t allow vicious personal attacks,” Kennedy said. “If you’re not going to tend the garden, the weeds are going to grow.”
Kennedy looks at several other website-only news outlets in his book and admits that the nonprofit model has its share of challenges.
But he believes that the future of journalism lies with organizations that, like the Independent, engage people in their communities.
“One of the main points I try to make is, local journalism is suffering in large part because people have become disconnected from their communities,” he said. “If you can use technology to involve people in a conversation about the news in a meaningful way, that, in turn, sparks an interest in civic life.”