Paul Bass – New Haven Independent

Posted on 25. Sep, 2007 by in New News Organization, Not-For-Profit

NOTE: As of September 24th, Bass is no longer able to attend the conference. The New Haven Independent’s managing editor, Melissa Bailey, will take his place.

Introduction and Narrative: Paul Bass was a reporter at the New Haven Advocate for 15 years when he took a year off to write a book. Upon finishing Bass decided not to return to the Tribune owned paper, at the time awash in layoffs and budget cuts. Unhappy in corporate media, Bass began the Online Journalism Project, promoting not-for-profit business models for journalism. Through the Online Journalism Project Bass was promoting journalism done as a social utility, not as the product of a company. Touring the state, Bass was able to raise $80,000 to start the New Haven Independent, a five day a week online paper that just celebrated its two year anniversary this September. Today the New Haven Independent has three staff writers and others on contract.

Main Goal of New Haven Independent: “To cover the communities in New Haven that aren’t already covered by the media,” says Bass. The New Haven Independent has become a place where people from all walks of life come to discuss civic issues. Bass wanted to create a journalistic commons, where the public sets, or helps to set, the news agenda. To give the people of New Haven the raw material for Democracy and “let them run with it.”

Notable Achievements: From the traditional journalism perspective, the New Haven Independent has covered everything from a police raid of undocumented workers, zoning board decisions that were taking place in secret and the local board of education’s horrible attendance record. Their coverage has had a real impact on city policy says Bass.

For the community, the New Haven Independent has become a forum for people from various races and income levels. When a 13-year-old boy was shot by stray bullets, the friends and family of the victim were openly debating with city officials and wealthy people in other neighborhoods.

The New Haven Independent continues to expand — recently creating a partnership with the largest Spanish speaking newspaper in the state, creating a youth media group to teach kids video and starting a Podcast, all under the guise if not-for-profit journalism that is answering community demands.

A Surprising Realization: The level of involvement from the community is larger than Bass expected, specifically with the number of people from poor regions of New Haven that have tapped into the site.

“Every day, it seems, I’m learning what it means to be a “new media” journalist,” Bass wrote in a guest post on PressThink. The New Haven Independent doesn’t even have an office. Bass works from coffee shops utilizing his cell phone to organize their coverage of everything New Haven.

“I’ve found that some experiments that sound cool fall flat, while others take off. The readers have definitely become part of the process. Trained journalists still play a crucial but altered role. We’re more fact-gatherers, linkers, fact-checkers, conveners and referees than pundits or editorialists telling people what to think,” says Bass.

Biggest Practical Lesson/Mistake: First there is the problem of burnout “the need to pace yourself,” when starting something from scratch. The first 10 months of the Independent are described as “breathless and breakless” by Bass.

There is also the lesson of how to do long form journalism online. The Independent is able to do this, but its presentation is in continual coverage, one hard news story at a time, and linking back. “People aren’t going to read 5,000 word stories online, but they will follow the history of a story,” says Bass.

Reporting mistakes have been made, like any other news organization, but Bass is happy that the mistakes haven’t been in their ambitions. As far as community, involvement one area the Independent had trouble dealing with was trolls and sockpuppets (the ever-constant villains of the blogosphere). Discussion boards have been co-opted in the past by cranks and jerks who push other people out. The Independent does monitor comments, but has had issues in the past and is trying to find the right way to handle these issues, says Bass.

Money: The New Haven Independent is a nonprofit, like NPR, receiving sponsorship grants for specific types of reporting — their biggest investigation being a state wide look into health care. They also have two sponsorship levels. A general sponsorship from institutions and donors who give a specific amount of money over the course of a year and subscribers who donate $10-18 a month to help sustain the Independent.

Is it sustainable? “We will find out,” says Bass. “We have money going into year three, by next year it will be close… we are trying to sustain with a larger budget around 150,000 a year.” At the very least the Independent has proved that not-for-profit journalism is sustainable at the local level for at least three years.

The Online Journalism Project is available as a fiscal sponsor to any journalist who wants to do responsible online media, particularly at the hyperlocal level.

Future Goals: “To cover the city of New Haven like a blanket and branch out into new areas like Brandford as well as use new multimedia storytelling tools,” says Bass.

Bass wants to bring back a golden age of reporting in Connecticut. “When I started covering New Haven there were two papers both with larger budgets than the one that’s left now. Reporters were everywhere,” says Bass. Today the Independent covers things the dailies don’t and vice-versa. Bass is hoping that both will be able to expand to do good local journalism.

What do you hope to get from people attending this conference?

I love hearing what other people are up to. I always get ideas listening to other people. I love knowing other projects, to see how the daily mainstream media has merged with what we are doing and to see how we are all on the same quest.

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3 Responses to “Paul Bass – New Haven Independent”

  1. Diane Fisher

    12. Feb, 2009

    Did this Paul Bass go to P.S. Three in forest hills queens ny?
    if so or not I like what you are doing diane

  2. Design New Haven

    20. Sep, 2009

    Posts on SeeClickFix, a national site for reporting and taking action on community issues, often generate news content for the New Haven Independent. It’s pretty interesting to see how citizens drive media content from the bottom up, rather than the other way around.


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