The oldest local weekly newspaper in America could be closing soon

Nieman Lab — Nieman Lab — the institute for the academic study of journalism based out of Harvard University reports that the Cambridge Chronicle has lost its last full-time employee, leaving the paper in a perilous spot after 175 years of business. The Chronicle had been the oldest weekly newspaper left in the country, and had been family-owned until the early 90s before spending three decades getting shuffled between different kinds of corporate ownership.

As the Nieman Lab points out, this leaves Cambridge, Massachusetts — a highly-educated and wealthy city that houses two renowned world-class universities — without a single full-time news reporter committed to covering the goings-on about town.

To be fair, Cambridge isn't exactly a news desert. The Boston Globe pokes its head in every so often, but it's the sort of local coverage you'd expect from a major regional daily hoping to expand its reach across New England— it's sporadic and attuned to stories that will have a wider interest region-wide. By my count, the Globe has mentioned Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui 15 times this year — but of those, only a handful are what I would consider local stories about Cambridge, as opposed to regional stories that mention Cambridge as one example among many. City manager Louis A. DePasquale — arguably the most powerful political figure in town — has been mentioned once in 2021.


If you have any image of Cambridge in your mind, it's probably connected to the two extraordinary universities based here, two subway stops apart, Harvard and MIT. But even beyond them, Cambridge is a city of 118,000, fourth-largest in Massachusetts and ninth-largest in all of New England, a global center for biotech with a surprisingly diverse population. It's also an incredible concentration of money and power.

It's an interesting and important place! Interesting and important enough that it shouldn't be this hard for someone to make a living covering it.

Nieman Lab notes that the gutting of local news organizations after decades of corporatization is hardly new. But if a place like Cambridge can't even sustain local news, how can other, smaller regions manage? And what can kind of stories are those residents missing out on, replaced by corporatized national news?

What happens when the news desert is in your own backyard? [Joshua Benton / Nieman Lab]

Image: Ian Lamont / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)