By Audrey Anderson
Hometown Weekly Reporter
On October 16, the League of Women Voters® of Needham held their Fall Forum 2023 titled "Learn All About It: Sources of Needham News" at the Center at the Heights (CATH). Four representatives from local news organizations in Needham presented their mission and future plans, followed by a Q&A session with the audience.
Carol Patey, the President of the League of Women Voters of Needham, opened the program. The first speaker to address the crowd was Peter O'Neil, Executive Editor of the Needham Observer.
O'Neil highlighted that the Needham Observer, a nonprofit organization, operates as a free email newsletter and website, boasting 2,600 subscribers and 10,000 weekly website views. The Observer was established last May by a dedicated group of former journalists who volunteer their time, including O'Neil, Frederica Lalonde (managing editor), and Jeanne Hopkins (executive director). They collaborate with various contributors and operate under a governing board. The Observer's funding primarily relies on donations, and "will not accept advertisements on its platform or in its newsletter." O'Neil also noted that the Needham Observer focuses on deep views of "town government, schools, housing and economic development, arts and culture, business, and profiles of residents."
Next, Marc Mandel, the Executive Director of the Needham Channel, took the stage. Mandel detailed how the nonprofit Needham Channel has developed "Needham Local," a weekly email newsletter and website. This news service is affiliated with Needham's local-access television and production studio, serving as a central hub for the community, offering both video news and written articles.
"Needham Local's" website was first launched in December 2022, and the newsletter was added in July 2023. In October 2023, the organization welcomed its first local staff member. The governing board of the Needham Channel is the Needham Community Television Development Corporation (NCTDC), with its members comprising volunteers and others appointed by the town's Select Board.
Alongside Mandel, "Needham Local" boasts a dedicated staff, including Mike Levin (Programming Manager), Ashley Julier (News Producer), Natalie Guthrie (Educational Producer), Yuxiao Yua (Municipal Producer), Kristen Conners (Sports Producer), Derick Risner (Special Projects Producer), and an open position for a Production Assistant.
"Needham Local" has evolved its distribution through the use of new technology, sharing news stories on YouTube, promoting content on platforms like Facebook, Twitter (now X), and Instagram, and providing live streaming and on-demand programming.
Currently, the NCTDT is supporting "Needham Local" with a two-year grant, and the organization is exploring additional funding options to ensure its continued availability to the community. "Needham Local" encourages Needham residents to engage by visiting its website, subscribing to the newsletter, contributing to the community calendar, sharing its stories, and suggesting events and issues to cover.
The third speaker, Amy Haelsen, Director of Communications & Community Engagement for the Town of Needham, elucidated that the town's "communication channels encompass its newsletter, social media, website, and community outreach to various groups." The primary objectives of disseminating news from the Town of Needham include providing accurate and timely information, addressing concerns and misinformation, fostering community participation and feedback, and fostering a shared understanding among residents.
The Town of Needham encourages residents to remain informed by "subscribing to its newsletter, The New You Need(ham), signing up for notifications on the town's website, attending public meetings in person, via Zoom, or by watching recordings on YouTube, sharing information with neighbors and family, offering feedback through surveys or direct communication with town staff, boards, and committees, reaching out to town meeting representatives, and participating in town elections."
The fourth speaker, Julia Beauregard, Managing Editor of the Hometown Weekly, Needham's sole remaining newspaper, described how the paper is "delivered to all homes and businesses in its towns on a weekly basis, with a circulation strategy designed to serve both the community and local businesses." The publication conveys community news and highlights student activities through a wide array of activities, feature stories, and press releases that cater to the diverse demographics of each town.
Hometown Weekly does not charge for subscriptions; instead, it relies on advertising revenue for support. The paper's mission is to "cover stories of local interest, forge connections with local organizations, promote community events, showcase student achievements, and provide entertainment to readers through its games page. It fosters community cohesion, supports pet adoption, bolsters local organizations, encourages community involvement, and offers local news, information, and entertainment to every household every week."
Hometown Weekly uploads its feature stories to its website weekly and actively engages with its audience on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter (now X). Beauregard outlined the paper's future goals, which include offering a broader range of information, spotlighting significant community issues, and maintaining and enhancing relationships with local organizations.
Following the individual presentations, the speakers convened for a panel discussion to address questions from the audience, including inquiries about incorporating polls into their news coverage, the sufficiency of their current income sources for sustaining growth, and the objectivity of their news coverage.
See the following URLs to sample each news channel:
Town of Needham-needhamma.gov and https://bit.ly/neednews
A recording of the League of Women Voters Fall Forum 2023 is available at https://lwv-needham.org/fall-forum-2023/.