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For Local Media, Small Staff Cover Busy Cambridge

By Joshua J. Florence and Samuel Vasquez, Crimson Staff Writers

For a city of just over 100,00 residents, Cambridge boasts a surprising number of media outlets dedicated to covering local news, with little if any paid staff.

Publications like the Cambridge Chronicle, Cambridge Day, and the Cambridge Civic Journal report on the City Council and neighborhood events thanks to a belief in the importance of local news, despite their limited resources and the plethora of news about universities and startups.

“There will always be a need for local news because in a lot of situations the national and international media outlets are kind of chasing the same news story,” Amy Saltzman, editor of the Cambridge Chronicle, said. “The [Boston] Globe covers Cambridge to a limited extent, and the stories they do are great, but they’re not as locally focused on Cambridge as we are.”

The Cambridge Chronicle was founded in 1846 and employs a small staff of two reporters, one of whom also serves as the editor. While the Chronicle is delivered weekly in print, it “serves as a daily” on its partner website Wicked Local, Saltzman said. The small size of the editorial staff has made work difficult for Saltzman, who said she has to make tough choices on which stories to follow.

“The hardest part about doing Cambridge is just that there is so much going on. I think even with more staff it would still be complicated,” Saltzman said. “You really kind of have to pick and choose what stories you chase.”

For Marc H. Levy, the founder and editor of Cambridge Day, an online-only Cambridge news source, balancing a full-time job and reporting can prove even more challenging.

“The way I work is unfortunately limited by having to do a day job,” Levy said. “Being online only doesn’t put you in front of as many eyes automatically.”

However, despite challenges, Levy is optimistic about the staying power of local news.

“Any news medium is going to face the problem of writing about things they think matter versus writing about the things people care about.” Levy said. “The funny thing about news is everyone wants their local news at some point.”

One of the most popular topics among Cambridge residents is the Cambridge City Council, Saltzman and Levy said.

“In Cambridge people are really drawn to the City Council and the city government,” Saltzman said. “They keep their eyes open to what’s happening locally.”

One such person who keeps his eyes locked on the City Council is Robert Winters, a Harvard Extension School mathematics professor. The co-host of the locally broadcast news show Cambridge Inside Out and creator of the Cambridge Civic Journal, Winters is a familiar face for those who follow city politics.

With the motto “Don’t follow leaders. Watch the parking meters,” Winters said the goal of the Cambridge Civic Journal is to be a “central repository as well as a user’s guide to citizenship.” He refuses to accept donations for the site.

For Winters and Levy, Cambridge City politics are ingrained in their memory, which is helpful for covering local government.

“The good news is that I’ve been a part of the community for a while now and I have some context. I have some institutional memory,” Levy said.

Since 1997, Winters has been posting on the Cambridge Civic Journal and even had a brief stint as a City Council candidate. Nowadays he is well-known among councillors and citizens as a source of information during election season. The Civic Journal features detailed candidate pages during Cambridge’s biannual elections.

The Crimson also covers local news, and bills itself as Cambridge's only “breakfast-table daily newspaper.”

Winters said he hopes that in the coming years more people become invested in Cambridge local news to expand the reach of organizations like the Chronicle, Cambridge Day and the Civic Journal, and even The Crimson.

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