The origins of BINJ

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

The journalism industry is vexed with a financial crisis. The financial decline and general reach of print journalism in the United States is well-documented; the number of newspapers per hundred million people in the United States fell from 1,200 in 1945 to 400 in 2014, and the number of newspaper journalists in the United States has decreased from 43,000 to 33,000 (Kamarck and Gabriele 2015). The causes of these trends are subject to debate and academic inquiry across disciplines, but most recognize that technological changes (the rise of television in the 1950’s and the Internet in the 1990’s) led to a wealth of options for both news consumers and advertisers that has sucked away print readership and ad revenues.

These changes in the market hit alternative news, defined here as news that strives to represent ignored and overlooked viewpoints, particularly hard. In 2015, only four of the top twenty alternative weeklies (weekly papers are the traditional format for alternative news) saw an increase in circulation, and The Village Voice, New York City’s symbolic paragon of alternative media, saw its circulation drop by 36% (Pew Research Center 2016) [and in 2017 terminated its print edition entirely]. The alternative media is forced to work within a deeply constrained market, where it must demonstrate that it is well-adapted to the digital era and has fresh quirks worth reading.

The two largest alternative media conglomerates in the United States, The Media Consortium (TMC) and the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) are working hard to adapt to these changes, and think that their brands are uniquely suited to deal with the perceived crisis in news. In a report titled “The Demise of the Dailies—And the Rise of the Independents” (TMC 2015), executive director of TMC Jo Ellen Green Kaiser has proposed that “independent, alternative, hyperlocal and community news” outlets should network and partner their high-quality investigative reporting with the resources of the kinds of national outlets represented by TMC.

Approximately a year before that report was filed, Chris Faraone, a career alternative journalist from Boston, attended a joint TMC-AAN conference in San Francisco and was inspired to start this kind of networking in his home city. Boston is an American city with a wounded alternative media market. Its reputable Boston Phoenix, described in Green Kaiser’s report as “much-mourned,” and where Chris used to work, closed in 2013. It’s only remaining alternative weekly is the far less prolific DigBoston (where Chris is now the editor and co-publisher). Now, alternative newsmakers in the city like Chris and his partners, [longtime alternative media makers Jason Pramas and John Loftus], not content to lie down and roll over, are undertaking what they see as new and exciting initiatives to keep their work alive in the digital era that continues to wear on news outlets of all shapes and sizes. The solution that Chris offers is called the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, or BINJ (pronounced “binge”), for short.

BINJ “supports independent publications in various reportorial and organizational capacities, collaborates with partners on sustainable journalism and civic engagement initiatives, and aims to empower promising muckrakers with training and professional compensation” (BINJ 2017). It seeks to bind the alternative media landscape of the Greater Boston area together through a network of content-sharing, training, and resources in order to prop up already-established and functional alternative media outlets, while at the same time amplifying their reach and cultivating both new and old talent. BINJ focuses on writing investigative features articles, which are syndicated in three local publications and have reached in excess of 100,000 readers between print and online. It serves as the publisher for three regular columns by local journalists, and hosts events ranging from networking for freelancers, public forums on local issues and its annual holiday bash.