Panel Discussion:  Local News:  An Endangered Species


  • Panel Discussion
  • Q&A with Panel Members
  • Public Comment
  • Community Advisory Board Business

Moderator:  Jane Tillman Irving, CAB Member and veteran radio newscaster

David J Dent, Associate Professor, NYU School of Journalism 

Sean BowditchExecutive Editor, WNYC News 

Emma Whitford,  Freelance Reporter, formerly staff reporter with Gothamist 


Jane Tillman Irving began her introductions by first acknowledging Gabe Pressman, who she called a reporter’s reporter.  In her comments she noted that at one time there were seven papers in NYC, and several  ethnic papers like the Amsterdam News; now there are only three, but there are  many other types of media outlets.

 David Dent talked about the importance of local news, while noting that its impact is on a decline.  With today’s civil divide, where differences are starker than ever, local news is the key to creating a conversation about issues. Without local news, people are less informed, politicians do not remain accountable, and people become less smart, less informed and more divided.  Journalism schools begin their curricula with the study of local news.  Local news is the first level of democracy.

 Sean Bowditch described WNYC News tasks:  to inform people; to start conversations; and to play a role in holding the powerful accountable, and that the deep investigative work that it does also needs to surprise and delight. He noted the difference in news when it needs to fit into 30 sec, versus a narrative of 30 minutes or longer.  Reports that are longer include host reporters, producers and various contributors.  WNYC News also has Gothamist., the online reader-supported local news outlet. Sean played a part of an 8-min radio segment on the measles outbreak in NYC where Gwynne Hogan was able to participate on bimonthly conference calls for families who do not believe in vaccines.  In getting this story, Sean noted that it is important to follow through and stick with a story; with that, Gwynne was able to produce an incredibly powerful piece of news. He also noted that good reporting takes resources, time and money.  His position dictates that he has to decide what should and should not be covered.

Emma Whitford, a freelance reporter, worked at Gothamist, and lost her reporter position when it was shut down after a union organization effort. She talked about her investigative piece in The Intercept  about inmates being locked in a Brooklyn  federal jail without heat in the depth of the winter.  Her work involved hyper-local reporting, i.e., from her time at Gothamist, she had sources in the prison reform system and was able to get emails/phone numbers of families who had relatives in the detention center and was able to get firsthand reports.  Reports were then verified, etc. before being reported.

David Dent was asked about enterprising reporting. These are stories not based on press releases or news conferences, but stories where reporters break away and look in new places.  Sean Bowditch noted the importance of balancing day-to-day reporting with more investigative reporting. WNYC now has 4 reporters dedicated to the investigative unit where they are expected to add value to a news story, yet there are 26 news casts a day, lasting from 90 sec. to 2.5-3 minutes.  Balancing both needs is important. The narrative unit, where podcasts are done, has 10 journalists and is the on-demand news center for deep investigative pieces.

David Dent described the current education process in journalism schools, especially as technology has changed so much.  The focus is now on both multimedia broadcast and print; silos can’t exist now, and there is fluency across all media.  The basic tenets of journalism are still instilled:  truth, digging, and value. Today students are forced to become more versatile, and there is no longer a single focus. All panelists discussed the difficulties today in distinguishing between what is fake new/s and real news.  This is the greatest challenge today with free access to the internet. Sleuthing out truth is hard and is why a diversity of sources is important.  Today, too, misinformation itself becomes part of the story, and it has its own narrative.

 Q & A Session

An attendee wanted to understand more about copyright issues; what is available/usable what is private. WNYC noted that if a NY Times story has a lot of anonymous sources, they will not report on the story; with more specified sources, WNYC will then cite the reporter.  This same is true for digital reports; if acceptable, they then will determine whether or not to link to it. A big incentive to reach more audiences is to cover local borough services and issues.

Valerie Dent, an attendee, asked, What is the best model for resourcing/supporting local news?  Is it through profit organizations, which are going out a business, or non-profits, like WNYC? With audiences not being one big “blob” and with so many platforms competing, how do you conduct outreach? Bowditch noted that WNYC needs to understand what we are covering and be smart about how to reach the appropriate audiences. He noted that We The  Commuter newsletter was starting the next day, which  focuses on adding value and accountability of MTA  leaders and  providing real-time input on people’s commutes, thus creating a community of commuters. There was more discussion on new models. For example, will an “AmeriCorps” of reporters funded by venture capitalist be one workable model?



CAB member Jane Tillman Irving expressed disappointment in WNYC’s weekend news coverage. (Sean Bowditch acknowledged that WNYC has a skeleton weekend crew and coverage is minimal).  She also requests that audio clips become a little longer; noting that since she was a news reporter for WCBS, these clips have become shorter and shorter, sometimes even amounting to just a few words.

 Jane Tillman Irving expressed disappointment that WNYC emphasizes the FM over the AM station in the current ad campaign.  Sean Bowditch noted that the vast majority are FM listeners.

 Dr. Fred Friedland, former CAB member, complimented WNYC's Brian Lehrer and acknowledged Jane Tillman Irving’s WCBS new reporter career

 A listener requested that WNYC News provide more coverage of the arrival of 5G technology. She questioned why NYC can’t have more underground cable (like at Mara-Largo) instead of many small antennas transmitting 5G, without knowing the health implications of exposure to that technology.

 A listener complimented NYPR effort to diversity the newsroom, the hosts and programming.  Sean Bowditch thanked her and acknowledged that NYPR still has work to do in this area.

 Jill Rappaport, a frequent attendee, expressed dismay at the lack of coverage WNYC was giving to the Hudson Yards, and it is only half built now. Instead of covering opposition to the development, most reporting, she noted is pro real estate development and "puff pieces.”  She again requested that WNYC announce the dates of the Rent Regulation Guidelines Hearing Meetings as an important public service. She also wanted more coverage of need for affordable and decent housing.



CAB Chair, Barbara Gerolimatos began the CAB business part of the meeting by requesting CAB-specific feedback for NYPR.  None was offered.  Nancy Walcott, Chair of the Nominations Committee, then provided an update on the new member recruitment status.  She reported that there was a total of 82 applicants, about 19 would be invited to interview, and the interviews would be held at NYPR offices on April 23rd and 25th. The goal is to select 6 new CAB members by May 10th.  Many applicants attended the meeting. Alex Hu, heading up the CAB’s new strategy group, gave an update and invited CAB members (6-8) to be part of a group who will explore alternate strategies for the CAB.  The plan includes the use of the Slack app to explore new models/ideas weekly.


The May 15th meeting was noted (see below) ; The June 12th meeting on Framing Labor Union in the Media was briefly discussed.



Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Meeting: 6:30 PM, The Greene Space, 44 Charlton Street, New York (Google map)

Guest Host: A Conversation with Jennifer Sendrow, Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of The Greene Space



Adam Wasserman (excused)

Alex Hu

Anita Aboulafia

Barbara Gerolimatos, Chair

Carole Chervin

Chad Bascombe

Curry Sloan

David N. Sztyk (resigned)

Donna Blank (excused)

Erica Johnson, Vice-chair

Grace Clarke

Jacob Wojnas, Vice-chair (excused)

Julia D. Fields


OTHERS   Mary White, BOT Liaison

                    25 members of the public



Jane Tillman Irving

Kathryn Tornelli, Vice-chair

Lisa Nearier

Liz Buffa

Marlene Birnbaum

Michael Brown

Michaela Balderston

Nancy Walcott

Peter Kentros (excused)

Samantha "Sam" Pedreiro (excused)

Stan Ince (excused)


italics = not present