Online initiatives promote local coverage


by Lily Zarr, News Editor

graphic by Emily Cheng

In 1979, Newton had four print newspapers. Now, it has none. 

Newton is just one city among many affected by a nationwide decline in local news sources, a trend caused by a decrease in advertising revenue and a shift to online news consumption. 

Residents are working to fill the gap in local news coverage by forming two online news sources: The Newton Beacon and Fig City News. 

In May, Newton Tab owner Gannett, the biggest newspaper publisher in the U.S., terminated the print circulation of numerous local newspapers in Massachusetts, including the Tab. These papers moved online to regional coverage for paying subscribers, making it harder for many Newtonians to learn about local news.

The Newton Beacon set out to counteract the lack of local news. Founded in the spring by a group of residents, the organization plans to hire professional journalists and launch in the first quarter of 2023. In an April 12 memo, the Beacon said that its presence will bolster democracy in Newton and lead to a more knowledgeable citizenry.

“The decline of local news is leading to a decline in our democracy. We can no longer stand by and watch that happen,” the memo said. “We intend that The Newton Beacon will shine a light on issues and activities in this community, enabling it to … move the city toward a brighter, more informed, more equitable and more democratic future.”

The Beacon, which plans to minimize costs through a strictly online presence, will be funded by The Newton News Foundation, a non-profit corporation created earlier this year to raise money for the paper through individual donations, grants and sponsorships. Joe Hunter, the foundation’s president, said he hopes that the Beacon will provide a useful and unbiased source of news.

“The vision for the paper is to provide a trusted, independent, impartial, mean force for the city of Newton that’s professionally run and has no agenda beyond the public service of reporting the news,” he said. “Our role will be to report the facts and help people make decisions on important community issues.”

When the Tab’s print run ended, former City Councilor and mayoral candidate Amy Sangiolo said she saw a way to expand her long-running newsletter covering city government to reach more people. She turned her newsletter into Fig City News, a website covering a broader range of news and community events to which anyone can contribute. Articles, which started being published on July 1, are available on

“As my newsletter audience started to grow, people asked me to put in announcements and other items and asked to keep them up-to-date on specific issues,” she said. “Given the void in local news coverage here in the city, we thought, ‘Hey, why don’t we expand this into a news source?’”

Unlike The Newton Beacon, Fig City News’ only costs are its website and email service — its writers are all volunteers, which editor and website designer Bruce Henderson said alleviates the concern of fundraising.

As Fig City News develops, Henderson said he hopes it will become an open and dependable source of information.

“Right now we are building awareness and we’re building trust,” he said. “What we would like to do is to be trusted by everyone. It’s not a tagline. It’s an aspiration.” 

South parent Lisa Gordon, who works on Fig City News’ social media presence, said that the website will cover school news, which could lead to greater accountability and increased awareness among parents.

“Now that we have a place that’s delivering unbiased news, it’s going to make a huge difference. The schools are on the forefront of that,” she said. “The most important thing for Newton is making sure that we have a really good school system that is diverse and represents a lot of different opinions in a respectful manner.”

Senior and Denebola co-editor-in-chief Abby Hepner said that increased school coverage could bring about change from people who were previously unfamiliar with what goes on at the schools.

“A lot of things regarding the public schools are heard through the grapevine or maybe it’s news that administrators have but the student body or the public doesn’t,” she said. “Knowledge is power. If people had more information, that could lead to more change, even on smaller levels like things at South.”

In a June 16 public meeting discussing the launch of The Newton Beacon, former Tab and Greater Boston newspaper publisher Greg Reibman said that despite any difficulties novel news initiatives may encounter, they will fill a vital need for more news coverage.

“We want somebody at City Hall to tell us what the heck is going on. When it’s a pandemic and schools are closed and you want to know why they’re closed … your only route right now is somebody’s Facebook page that tells you maybe one perspective of it,” he said. “At the end of the day, people want common sense facts of the issues that really matter to our people and that is what this is about. Everything else we can work on.”

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