Tuesday, November 14, 2023

A 16-year-old in Hutchinson, Kansas, tries to revive town's strong tradition of local journalism as chain newspaper fades

Part of The Hutchinson News' Sept. 5 front page
Hutchinson, Kansas, became known in the newspaper business two months ago for one of the bigger goofs in the era of "ghost newspapers" edited from afar with no staff reporters. Now it's becoming known as the home of the Hutchinson Tribune, started by a 16-year-old high-school debater who is publishing more local news than The Hutchinson News, owned by Gannett Co.

On Sept. 5, the News offered readers a front-page feature about the Hutchinson Senior Center, with a photo of seniors kayaking on a lake with a thickly forested shore. But that’s not the landscape in Hutchinson, pop. 40,000, or the name of its senior center. The story was about the center in Hutchinson, Minn., and was written by a confused freelancer who got the assignment from an editor 140 miles away, because the News had no news reporters on its staff.

Michael Glenn started the Tribune on Substack on July 4 with a city-council story and is publishing about five times as many local-news articles as the News. He told The Rural Blog that he and his partner, local librarian Gina Long (who formed their limited-liability company (she owns 40%, he has 60%), are about to start selling advertising for a growing audience. Today, the Tribune had 36 local-news articles on its website and the News had six.

Screenshot of Michael Glenn's interview with Mike Blinder of Editor & Publisher
Glenn told
Editor & Publisher that he got the idea when he suggested to his debate teacher that they subscribe to the News as well as The New York Times, and she informed them of how the paper had declined from its Pulitzer Prize-winning days. Glenn said he had no journalism training other than the "Earn Your Press Pass" course developed by Lindsey and Joey Young, publishers of Kansas weeklies. Joey Young is a Hutchinsion native and has been a mentor, Glenn said.

The Tribune sells $8 monthly subscriptions and accepts donations, but Glenn told The Rural Blog that he and Long make clear that supporters "have no sway or voice." He told E&P that they tell readers, “The Tribune will become a more quality news source the more subscribers we get.” Asked his motivation, he said “I feel I have a duty to give back to my community . . . Without a quality news source in the community, it allows government to do a lot of things.” The Tribune held three forums for school-board candidates and one for City Council hopefuls.

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