BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS — About five years ago, Jason Pramas identified what he calls a “metropolitan news vacuum” in Boston. He noticed that local news outlets were focusing more on beats like entertainment and sports than on local issues like labor strikes, social injustice, and community news. At the time, Pramas was a Ph.D candidate in public policy at the University of Massachusetts-Boston with an acute interest in activism and social media. He decided to fill the void.
“It seemed like I could kill two birds with one stone. I could extemporize about social media, and fill the need in coverage,” Pramas says.
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In 2008, Pramas founded Open Media Boston as a nonprofit news outlet to serve the city of Boston and surrounding communities like Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline. The publication provides news and editorial commentary, both from its pool of about thirty volunteer writers and from content submitted by readers.
In addition to breaking news stories, Pramas says he also started the site to voice his opinions about local politics and social issues. The site’s mission statement says that it maintains a “progressive editorial stance,” but that it strives to maintain professional and objective journalistic standards at all times.
“If you’re a straight left publication, you’re going to come off like a cheap partisan and nobody’s going to take you seriously,” Pramas says. “A bunch of opinion is not going to be enough for people to be informed citizens. They need to know what’s going on, and need to trust that the reporting is good information.”
Pramas had previous experience as a journalist before he began Open Media Boston. He spent time running a progressive political magazine in the early 1990s. He also wrote for Vermont’s Vanguard Press, and was a columnist for the Tab newspaper syndicate in Boston.
Pramas recruited a few people he knew from the journalism business to write for him before he launched his own website. He gave the reporters different beats, some with topics like “protests and screwed communities,” and others like rallies, community issues, local arts events, and restaurants.
The website’s weekly publication schedule includes at least one news article and one editorial per week, although updates tend to be less frequent during the summer months. The weekly news cycle ends on Thursdays, and updates are posted online on Fridays. The site’s main competition includes other Boston neighborhood news publications, such as the Fenway News, the Jamaica Plain Gazette and the Dorchester Reporter. Eventually, he says, he hopes to grow Open Media Boston to the size of the city’s major alternative news source, The Boston Phoenix.
Pramas says he’s particularly enjoyed covering labor unions and other areas he says don’t get enough coverage in mainstream media. In early September 2011, for example, Open Media Boston covered the Labor Day March in Cambridge, in which 500 union members took to the streets to promote worker’s rights. He also highlighted the site’s coverage of Chuck Turner, the Boston city councilor who was ousted from his seat after he was found guilty of accepting bribes by a federal grand jury—Pramas believed Turner was unfairly targeted in the federal investigation.
One of Open Media Boston’s primary challenges, like many online news outlets, is funding. Initially, Pramas decided to run the website for a year before seeking donations as a nonprofit, because he wanted to fill the news vacuum he had identified right away, and knew it would be difficult to secure funding without a product. The strategy proved effective, and now Open Media Boston receives donations from The Grassroots Infrastructure Trust, the Haymarket People’s Fund, the Solidago Foundation, and its own readers.
But money is still tight, and Pramas is the only writer who is paid regularly. A few labor unions have offered funding, but Pramas worries that if he accepted, it could create the perception of an editorial bias. Pramas isn’t opposed to hosting advertisements on the website; Open Media Boston hosts a few ads, but he’d rather have an advertising professional handle the sale of advertisements—he doesn’t want to find out he’s sold advertising to a company that “produces nerve gas, or whatever.”
Ultimately, Pramas says, it will be important to secure a new stream of revenue to keep Open Media Boston running. “We’re able to keep doing it because we think it’s important, but at the same time, we can’t keep doing it like this forever,” he says. “We need for revenue streams to come through.”
Pramas, like many of his writers, also has interests outside of the website. He’s currently working toward an MFA in Visual Arts at The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. For the time being, though, Pramas says he’ll continue to report by the old journalistic adage, attributed to “Mr. Dooley” author F.P. Dunne: “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
“Most publications don’t think covering grassroots protests, especially coming from the political left, are worth covering, but we do,” he says. “It’s an expression of democracy and the freedoms that we have.”
Open Media Boston Data
Name: Open Media Boston
Principal Staff: Jason Pramas, editor and publisher.
Affiliations: Google News, Solidago Foundation - Frances Fund, Grassroots Infrastructure Trust, Haymarket People’s Fund
CMS: Drupal 5
CJR on Open Media Boston:
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