Coronacast 14: Jock

Local news matters. And local ownership matters, too.

Access to quality information is a public good. It’s core to our democracy, quality of life, and (as demonstrated by the current pandemic) health. But, boy, is it a tough business.

Enter the East Bay Media Group, a venerable Rhode Island institution. The Bristol Phoenix, the oldest of seven newspapers the group prints weekly, first published in 1837. Jock Hayes and his brother Matt are the current stewards of the company. His family has been running it since the 1920s, so they know something about persisting through hard times. As he puts it, “It’s a way of life.”

Why does local ownership matter? Jock sums it up nicely in his description of his work: “There’s a lot to it, but it all begins and ends right here in our communities.”

News outlets that rely on advertising from small and locally-owned businesses have seen their revenue dry up at the exact same time that access to quality local information is more critical than ever. This is one of COVID-19’s terrible ironies. And in the throes of that reality, some outlets are recommitting, innovating, and building forward. That is one of humankind’s beautiful ironies.

Jock spoke with me from their archives (hence winning the Coronacast Best Zoom Background Award). He offered generous and thoughtful reflections on:

  • Their mission to be a “steady source of credible, honest information.”
  • How East Bay Media Group is responding to COVID-19 and “the humbling and overwhelming support” they’ve received from the community.
  • Questions he’s asking himself as they start to look ahead. For starters, he wonders, “How far ahead can you look right now?”
  • The fragility of our social structures, made obvious to him the past few months.
  • His own personal coping strategies.

My fellow Rhode Islanders, I implore you: subscribe local. (Here’s a good place to start.)