On Friday, Feb. 3, a group of about 50 invited guests gathered in the Harvard Square Kiosk—the former site of Out of Town News—to celebrate the beginning of a new decade, the most recent issue of Scout, the magazine’s 11 years in the business, and the people who continue to devote themselves to local media. This was the first of this year’s lineup of Scout events for subscribers, Patreon supporters, contributors, local business advertisers, featured community members, and more. In addition to talking about why local news is something to be celebrated, Scout editor Lilly Milman also drew attention to why it is struggling. Below is the text of her speech from the night. To get updates about future events, magazine deliveries to your door, exclusive merchandise, and more, please consider supporting Scout on Patreon for as little as $5/month.
Thank you all for coming out tonight to support place-based journalism like Scout and Cambridge Day. I’m honored to be working together tonight with Marc Levy from Cambridge Day, Allie from CultureHouse, and Grafton Street, Mike’s Pastry, and Aeronaut, who donated the delicious refreshments we have here.
I’d love to talk a little more about what I do, and why I need your help to keep doing it. First and foremost I want to answer the question: What is place-based journalism?
Until I stumbled into an internship at Scout my senior year of college, I didn’t really know the answer to that. Where I grew up, in Long Island, NY, we didn’t have a dedicated local newspaper. I did not know anything about my local government, or my school system. I lived in a suburb, but in reality, I knew little about anyone in the community outside of my inner circle of friends and family. That was a while ago, and even then, I thought community publications were a thing of the past.
So, let’s take a closer look at Scout. For 11 years, Scout Somerville has been reporting exclusively on the goings-on of the 4.2 square miles of our town for free. For 7, we’ve done the same in our Cambridge magazine. This allows us to dive deeper into issues that larger newspapers with a regional or national reach don’t have time to cover. It allows our staff to get to know the city council, the local business owners, the residents, to historicize events that could otherwise be forgotten.
But it also means, sometimes, we get treated less seriously than publications like the Globe, that cover topics affecting much larger groups of people. Since I started at Scout, I’ve been told many times by friends and family that they’re shocked to find out that our magazines are actually … good. I’ve also been told repeatedly by people older than me that a local publication is a great stepping stone for a young journalist—which also sounds like more of a dig to local news than a compliment, if you really think about it.
Besides the perception of local news as being less important, what are some other things threatening publications like Scout?
In August of 2019, the two media companies Gannett and GateHouse announced a merger that created a monopoly, which owns 1 out of every 6 newspapers in the country. GateHouse was already responsible for consolidating 50 of its local Massachusetts papers into 18 larger, regional papers by last June, and the layoffs in local newsrooms across the country have only continued since the merger. In a few words, community outlets are getting smaller and smaller—usually, until they disappear.
For now, Scout is safe. We are independently and locally owned, and that doesn’t show any signs of changing. But like every small media outlet, we sometimes struggle to fund the type of work we’d like to be doing. We could always use more readers, Patreon subscribers, contributors, and suggestions for how to improve.
We are proud to be fighting this trend of downsizing local news outlets with our fellow community publications, but we could use your help. We need vocal support. We need feedback. We need you to keep going to our boxes and pick-up places and picking up our magazines. We need you to keep coming to events like this, and showing that you care. Because, at the end of the day, as long as you keep reading, we’ll keep writing. It’s as simple as that.
Thank you all, once again. I’m incredibly humbled to be here with you.