Dark Days for Newspapers See a New Light in Provincetown
Small newspapers are having a tough time now, with decreasing profits and staff layoffs across the country. But in Provincetown, a new weekly paper is looking to reverse this trend and rejuvenate local coverage on the Outer Cape.
Editorial meetings for the newly created Provincetown Independent are still a little casual. One day in mid-August, before the paper is set to launch its online website, a number of reporters sit around editor Ed Miller’s kitchen. Miller and his partner, Theresa Parker, who is also the paper's publisher, sit at the center of the table. They have a white board to one side, and they run through stories.
"So just a little update on where things stand," Miller said, addressing the staff. "Our website is just about to go live, and it looks like we will have a total of seventeen different pieces in the first preview edition."
Miller is formerly the associate editor at the Provincetown Banner, but he left that job about a month ago. He says he’d been thinking for many years about starting a paper to serve the Outer Cape communities of Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet and Eastham. He’s no stranger to doing something like this, back in the 1970s, he launched a community paper in Harvard, Massachusetts. But he sees this as his biggest venture yet.
"It was just kind of inevitable that we started thinking about, 'Well, what if we had a different newspaper here, that worked in a different way?'" he said.
His goal is to make the Independent a paper that is clearly written by and for the Outer Cape. In its online edition, there are items like a metaphysics column, and a profile about a Provincetown storyteller, that give it an unmistakable Outer Cape flair. Kaimi Rose Lum is one of the paper’s freelance reporters and a former editor at the Provincetown Banner, and she said there’s a need for a paper to cover the Outer Cape communities from a local angle.
"It's so essential to the community's identity," she said. "You want to see your community reflected in the newspaper, and you want to feel connected."
And one of the benefits of the paper being started from the ground up, without the backing of a larger company, is that there’s more freedom to create a funding model.
"One of the things about the local approach is you can just say, 'Guess what, we're not going to be generating 25 percent or 20 percent in profits,'" Teresa Parker, the paper's publisher said. "We're going to build a business on the expectation of modest profits, let's see what we can do with that."
Even still, finances for newspapers can be tricky. But one thing Parker and Miller have done is to consult with a law firm that’s dealt with funding community-based organizations. They reached out to Cutting Edge Capital, a California-based firm that's advised other successful community papers.
"From our perspective, the strength in these types of enterprises is how they're able to connect and network the community," said Kim Arnone, a lawyer at Cutting Edge Capital. "It seems like this may be a way to turn the tide and allow communities to maintain a community-focused newspaper for their region."
One of her suggestions was to create a division of the Independent that operates like a non-profit. The paper will also take on investors from the community, giving locals a chance to own a stake in the paper. People will also be able to buy subscriptions for about $60 a year. And the newspaper will be hosting live events.
With all these revenue-generating ideas, Miller says he's confident.
"We live in a very anxious time," Miller said. "There's a lot of things to worry about now, and a lot of them are things we can't do much about. But this is something we can do something about. In a way, it's a feeling that we're doing the right thing, whether it works or not."
He's hoping eventually to hire a staff of about 8 full-time reporters and editors. There are plans to launch the first printed paper in October. The Independent is already available online.
*A previous version of this piece misstated Ed Miller's position at the Provincetown Banner. He was the paper's associate editor, not the editor.