How BINJ trains reporters via historical "Throwback" coverage

With Greater Boston being an exceptionally transient region to begin with, plus as longtime natives are increasingly pushed out due to gentrification, there is a significant gap in the city’s newsrooms between young writers from out of town and those with institutional memories. Despite being home to America’s first newspaper and innumerable groundbreaking reportorial developments since, in 2017, far too many journalists in these parts operate with no foundational knowledge.

Since history repeats itself and past occurrences should be heavily considered when covering everything from public policy to neighborhood development, our intention is to develop an official program through which up-and-coming journalists learn research and reporting skills by making media that connects old headlines with contemporary news.

The following is excerpted from:

BINJworthy: Rethinking Truth Through Authenticity at a Boston Alternative News Organization, a thesis presented by Cole Edick to the Department of Anthropology in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree with honors of Bachelor of Arts.

Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass, March 2017

Despite the fuzzy nature of how “alternative” came to be, the history that BINJ imagines independent journalism to have is a history that is specific to Boston and one that is important in cultivating who they are as alternative newsmakers. It is for this reason that Chris invented “BINJ Throwbacks,” assignments that he gives to young writers at BINJ, many of whom are new to the city. “Cause it’s a real problem,” he told me: “we lose this institutional memory because Boston is such a transient city.”

The way throwbacks work is one of BINJ’s more inexperienced writers will get an old Boston news headline, a major topic in the news, or an historic Boston news outlet. They then take a look at where that news is today. Chris says that “this is really for the community,” to train the young writers and get them to connect with the place that they are supposed to be reporting on. But it also constructs the history of Boston and independent journalism as one that is particularly forward thinking.

This is enshrined in the first BINJ Throwback article, “Throwback: Major Changes at the ‘Boston Daily Evening Transcript.’”:

      • From the beginning of our BINJ adventure, we noted that history is central to our plans for the future. As was recently acknowledged by the Society of Professional Journalists, which placed the first and only plaque of its kind on Boston City Hall last year, the Hub is the birthplace of American journalism. Among countless noteworthy feats: five of the first seven newspapers in North America were published here (starting with Publick Occurrences, 1690); a woman first edited a major daily newspaper in this city (Christian Science Monitor, 1908); the country’s most important abolitionist newspaper was headquartered on the current site of City Hall Plaza (The Liberator, 1831).

The throwbacks thus connect readers and writers with this noble history of American journalism. In what the article calls “spelunking missions,” BINJ Throwbacks are meant not only to educate and entertain readership, but implicate BINJ contributors in a historical tradition of journalism in a city that they may not always be familiar with.

This inaugural article simply introduces the Throwbacks and provides readers with a slice of the history that these articles are meant to cover, a letter to the readership from the Boston Daily Evening Transcript dating back to 1866. The letter ends: we have been neutral in nothing... Independent, in the sense of not being under any restraint from owing fealty to its politicians. The Transcript will continue to be, as it always has been, a Boston paper, paying special attention to the affairs of the city.

The Transcript’s description of what it has done and endeavors to be is very similar to BINJ’s mission and the definitions of alternative journalism that BINJ contributors offered me. It is about being beholden to no one and nothing but a responsibility to the community. In letting the excerpt from the Boston Daily Evening Transcript stand on its own without analysis, BINJ attempts to draw a direct parallel between the Transcript’s words and BINJ’s stated goals. The Transcript’s mission, as an independent paper and a Boston paper, is meant to index that of BINJ’s mission. BINJ argues that, while much has likely changed since 1886, this is one thing that they are fighting to maintain.

We are currently operationalizing the BINJ history project, establishing a workflow and marketing machine that on one hand serves to train reporters, and on the business side generates revenue by driving sustaining membership sign-ups. Our nonprofit is fortunate to have recently been gifted one of the most popular Facebook fan pages about our region, a beloved trading post for yellowing neighborhood photos called Dirty Old Boston.

In order to fully harness the attention of 140,000 DOB followers, our program is helping produce both compelling ongoing social media content as well as regular installments of historical journalism. As a fully conceptualized program with dedicated staffers for specific tasks, the BINJ history initiative, like many of our other projects thus far, will also yield various multimedia assets, all of which will point to ways that readers can support BINJ.