Holy cow we did a lot of journalism in 2016

In starting the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism in June 2015, we knew there were two enormous needs to address: the financial straits of community and independent publications that can keep the lights on but have zero extra operating money to do critical enterprise reporting, and the shortage of opportunities available for young media makers to cut their teeth and for experienced reporters to stay in the game and earn fair compensation.

A year and a half later, we have parsed those lofty and enormous goals and launched a number of initiatives that collectively demonstrate just how much of a difference an incubator like BINJ can make in boosting independence and integrity in journalism, not only in Boston but anywhere a new kid on the block is willing to mix it up with the existing media infrastructure. Thanks to several opportunities to speak about our model all across the country in 2016, there have already been seeds planted for cousins of BINJ to sprout elsewhere. All while we are more and more committed to covering developments in Greater Boston that are overlooked by major and commercial publications, with our reporting reaching hundreds of thousands of people through dozens of outlets.

We are confident that friends, readers, supporters, and potential donors will be delighted, if not amazed, by the amount of quality journalism we were able to produce with freelancers and to distribute widely. BINJ is still a part-time operation, raising approximately $100k in 2016* (almost half from the Reva & David Logan Foundation and craigconnects, the rest from donations and individual subscriptions — including on Medium, where we currently have 70 sustaining monthly supporters). With that reportorial firepower, we generated 20 features and more than 100 columns in addition to multiple education, event, engagement, and experimental initiatives.

With a long form and opinion output throughout 2016 that matched that of our first 12 months (June ’15 to June ’16), we used the solid footing we developed early on to expand into several new mediums. From Beyond Boston, our monthly news digest done in collaboration with a dozen PEG access stations and counting, to our new bi-weekly LPFM radio show and podcast, LOCAL EDITION: The BINJ Report, our multimedia efforts land the reporting done by our hard-working contributors in front of thousands of fresh ears and eyeballs each week, many of which are outside of the traditional news-consuming demographic.

This year-end report is a window into all the content we disseminated in 2016 and a peek at some of the endeavors we will take on in the new year. If you dig what we are doing, please consider helping with the effort. When you support independent journalism, you support all your favorite causes at once.

* The $100,000 figure does not include an additional $50k grant that BINJ received from the Logan Foundation earlier this month, which will propel us into next year with vigor.

Photo from “The Thirsty Games” via BPL / Leslie Jones Collection


Though our editorial team didn’t enter the year with a master plan that would tie all BINJ longform together under a common idea, in retrospect one might say that a running theme for many of our 2016 stories is that we answered, with thorough investigations, some long-standing open inquiries of Bostonians — from our digging to the bottom of the city’s historically troubled licensing system to our impugning of administrators at the prestigious Boston Latin School. Overall, from shorter spot features to intricate deep dives that took hundreds of hours of work by multiple contributors, we can proudly say that everything that BINJ produced this year fit into the alternative media maxim that guides us to cover stories that aren’t being covered at all, as well as those which are being covered wrongly or inadequately elsewhere.

THE THIRSTY GAMES: Boston’s liquor licensing quota was born out of elitism and has fostered a poisonous disparity over the past century. Can lifting the cap break the cycle? (By Haley Hamilton | DigBoston, El Planeta)

Anyone who’s ever paid attention to Boston’s notoriously broken licensing system knows [that] the state capped the number of licenses Boston could distribute decades ago, and the ensuing procedural rigmarole has been an issue of contention ever since … The current quota system has spawned a hardly regulated secondary market in which the cost of a license can run upwards of $350,000. It has fostered political corruption, bred an incestuous cuddle puddle of greed and hand greasing, and stymied Boston’s growth potential in the long run — all while posing a staggering disservice to communities of color.

MAVERICK APPROACH: An East Boston update to ‘The Thirsty Games.’ (By Karen Morales | DigBoston, El Planeta)

As part of the incubator business model, budding entrepreneurs rent space to grow their enterprise in a community environment. For a small restaurant in this part of town, this opportunity is more unique than some may realize. The cafe holds one of the 75 liquor licenses that the Massachusetts legislature … granted Boston in 2012. Of those licenses, 80 percent were allocated to businesses in areas like Eastie that have been historically underserved and underrepresented.

UNACCOMMODATING (A BLS STORY): This summer the city’s most elite high school, Boston Latin, came under federal investigation due to allegations of racial discrimination. Here’s a look at how the esteemed pre-Ivory Tower failed another minority: special needs students. (By Nate Boroyan | DigBoston)

By early November 2014, Christina had become a social pariah. She was having trouble sitting through lessons and could barely bring herself to go to school in the morning. She refused to participate in class. According to the Smiths and as suggested by documents obtained by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, through the bullying, some of Christina’s teachers as well as BLS administrators refused to formally acknowledge her anxiety. She received zeros for not presenting projects in class, and instructors began to view her as a disinterested pupil who couldn’t hack the famously advanced BLS course loads. She was given multiple detentions and even suspended.

TRASH TO TABLE: Everything you didn’t want to know about cannibal swine and trash feeding, from Mass to the UK. (By Evan C. Anderson & Katie Campisi | DigBoston)

Our months-long statewide investigation revealed that inspections of facilities where pigs eat trash are sparse, making for conditions, along with a weak regulatory infrastructure for oversight, that could feasibly harbor infectious disease. This as Massachusetts has drastically reduced its annual budget for swine garbage feeding surveillance.

AND THEN THERE WERE FIVE: The story of the Boston police officer injured in the Watertown shootout in 2013. (By Adam Sennott | Watertown Tab*, Quincy Patriot Ledger)

If the story about Dennis Simmonds wasn’t surprising enough, this past August, the BPD made another stunning disclosure: Eight Boston cops reported that they were injured in the shootout. Of the eight, only Officer Rick Moriarty was named in media accounts as being injured at the scene. According to the Boston Globe, the 22-year department veteran strained a ligament in his hand while performing CPR on MBTA Officer Richard Donohue, who suffered life-threatening injuries after he was shot in the leg. If the media missed the injuries sustained by Simmonds and these other officers, they weren’t alone.

*Sennott’s story was the most popular article in the Tab for all of 2016:

BOSTON’S MARATHON APOCALYPSE: ​In ​hashing out what happened​ on that dark day three years ago​, it’s important to consider the Bay State’s history as an apocalyptic ground zero. (By Chip Berlet | DigBoston)

When the Tsarnaev brothers were announced as suspects in the 2013 attack, the search began for a motive. Most reporters missed the clues indicating the Tsarnaev brothers had been swept up in an apocalyptic mission based on a marginal and much-disputed Islamic prophecy about apocalyptic End Times and the proper role for religious heroes … Some terrorism experts debated whether or not the ISIS “Khorasan Group” is part of the al Qaeda network. They are missing the big picture. They don’t understand that we are witnessing the emergence of an apocalyptic Islamic army drawing devout young men like a magnet to the Middle East.

HOW MASS BECAME GROUND-ZERO FOR CORPORATE ED PRIVATIZATION: With a statewide referendum looming in November, Massachusetts voters will have to decide just how much school privatization they’re willing to bear. (By Chris Faraone | Alternet)

In Massachusetts, where K-12 alternatives have had more than two decades to metastasize, charter schools mean millions less in funding for traditional institutions, and an all-out war in every budget season. In Boston, individual schools are bracing to lose beloved programs, as well as teachers and tutors, and, in some cases, resources for the most vulnerable special needs students. As charter allies boast about their high success rates and sophisticated, wired buildings, those stuck in the ailing BPS systems are in an uproar.
To promote “Little House Emissaries” our team printed, folded, and distributed more than 2,000 tiny paper houses with link and hashtag information around Greater Boston, including at bars, coffee shops, and summer street festivals.

LITTLE HOUSE EMISSARIES: From Martha’s Vineyard to Boston to Los Angeles, the small home movement struggles for acceptance at the end of the road. (By Karen Morales | DigBoston)

In some places, however, an increasing number of city planners and housing advocates are looking at small dwellings as a possible solution to housing pressures. On the famously elite islands off Cape Cod, that impact is most severely felt by people in the lower and working classes.

JOEY’S ANGELS: No one ever accused Joe Donovan of killing anyone, but he was convicted of murder nonetheless. (By Chris Faraone | DigBoston)

After spending more than half of his life in a cage, Donovan found himself before the Massachusetts Parole Board in May 2014. Despite his being sentenced to life with no chance for release for his involvement in the ’92 slaying, Donovan’s plight brightened in December 2013, when the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that it is unconstitutional for defendants under 18 years of age to receive life without parole for any crime.
Al Curry with the author Alejandro Ramirez | Photo by Chris Faraone

INTERNALLY BLEEDING: Allen Curry, a veteran and the first African-American to serve in his firehouse, was the victim of an unspeakable attack at the hands of fellow Boston firefighters. Decades later, his struggle endures, as does the BFD’s diversity problem. (By Alejandro Ramirez | DigBoston)

Forty years ago, Curry’s mother warned him against joining the BFD and said her friends in the police department faced harassment. He says despite the lack of black role models who fought fires, he applied anyway in order to give back to his community and save lives. “I chose the fire department [instead of] the police department because I had just come from a situation where I had to use a firearm,” Curry says, referring to his time in Vietnam. “I didn’t think a fire would follow me home.”
Collage from ’50 Years of Haley House’ | Current images by Jaypix Belmer

Oral Histories

50 YEARS OF YEAST AND LOVE: An Oral History of Haley House (By Chris Faraone & Haley House Staff and Volunteers | DigBoston, South End News)

For half a century, Haley House has underpinned a major slice of the Hub’s grassroots social service sector. First as a temporary shelter, then through the years as much, much more … for the 50th anniversary of Haley House, we asked Executive Director Bing Broderick to assemble a roundtable of voices to dredge up memories for us to spin into an oral history. Documented here in detail, it should serve as an inspiration to us all.

RETURN TO DEWEY SQUARE: An Occupy Boston Oral History (By BINJ Staff & Boston Occupiers | DigBoston)

In 2011, thousands of New Englanders occupied an obscure slice of Boston and became leaders in a national movement against greed. Five years later, we asked some of those activists to reflect on their radical protest camp experiment … And so with the arbitrary but critical half-decade marker of the start of Occupy Boston — which lasted in encampment form at Dewey Square across from South Station for 70 days — upon us, we compiled an elaborate oral and pictorial history detailing what happened during those noteworthy months. Asking more than a dozen participants to look back, our hope was to extract lessons, get the basic backstory straight once and for all, and see where some of the peaceniks have landed.

MASSROOTS: The Relatively Short But Nonetheless Inspirational History of ‘Boston For Bernie’ (By Patrick Cochran & Boston For Bernie Volunteers | DigBoston)

Over the past year, this ragged batch of activists — from first-timers to weathered social workers, young idealists to longtime politicos who have lost more races than they care to count — rushed around the city and throughout New England and beyond, many of us getting caught up in the whirlwind … While it would be impossible to speak with all the tens of thousands of people who helped bolster Bernie in the Bay State, the story of how grassroots grew around the dark horse here is a memorable one, and so with recollections still relatively fresh, I used this opportunity to collect stories in hopes that these tales can help inform like-minded efforts in the future.

COMMON GROUND: Meet the students from the most important school in Boston you’ve never heard of (By Chris Faraone, Press Pass TV & the Students of Community Academy | DigBoston, El Planeta)

In considering the plight and state of Community Academy — the dropout rate was 57 percent in 2015 — it is important to acknowledge the remarkable pain its population has endured through the years. From almost the beginning, students from the school have had their lives cut short by senseless violence … Despite torrential hardship , there is significant school pride at Community Academy. Asked about potential options if the school ever closed down, some students said their only other feasible next choice is the corner, the streets.
Photo from “The Disaffection of Tibetan Elections” by Joshua Eaton


A HIGHER ALLEGIANCE: The Disaffection of Tibetan Elections (By Joshua Eaton | DigBoston)

In Boston and across the country, Tibetan Americans are queueing up to vote in presidential primaries and looking ahead to November. But on March 20, they also cast ballots in an election for the Tibetan government in exile, based in India. It was a way of asserting their Tibetan identity and maintaining their culture, many said. The two elections also prove that nationality isn’t a choice — that Tibetan and American can exist fully, side by side.

SPECIAL REJECTION: Election officials can’t stop this East Boston activist from running for State Senate (By Chris Faraone | El Planeta, DigBoston)

Though she is calling for more Latino voices on Beacon Hill, Sierra says she isn’t asking for special treatment in the electoral process. At the same time, the twice-rejected candidate has grown weary of the Boston Election Department, which she argues has been stubborn in reviewing her signatures. Several submissions shown to the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and El Planeta, for example, were rejected because the name listed on the form did not match exactly with the department’s internal record. Sierra says this isn’t surprising, since many Hispanics have multiple family names that they do not always list exhaustively.

OF BOLIVAR AND BOSTON: Social and economic insecurity in Caracas has a significant impact on Venezuelans in Massachusetts (By Alejandro Ramirez | El Planeta, DigBoston)

According to Pew Hispanic, Venezuelans’ median earnings were higher than the general Hispanic population’s (though still lower than the overall US median). Traditionally, Venezuelans, the 13th-largest population of Latino origin, come to America either for work or education, but a turbulent political and economic climate at home has resulted in an influx of immigrants applying for asylum.
Photo from “Dakota Dispatch” by Kori Feener

DAKOTA DISPATCH: Mass residents participate in humility at Standing Rock (By Kori Feener | DigBoston)

Danny and Marisa have been volunteering at Oceti Sakowin since they arrived. Danny, formerly a fellow at the Boston-based Climate Disobedience Center, and Marisa, a substitute teacher in Lowell, headed to Standing Rock in mid-November in a caravan filled with donations for those protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was slated to cut through sacred land and a water source for millions of people.

TOO LEGIT TO QUIT: The Hub’s unlicensed radio stations spin their wheels in the face of adversity (By Basim Usmani | DigBoston, Dorchester Reporter, Boston Haitian Reporter)

Though the digital revolution has changed listening habits for many people, in Massachusetts, immigrant communities in urban centers like Boston, Lowell, Brockton, and Worcester still rely on these outlets for critical information and entertainment. For people who are just starting in the Commonwealth, unlicensed frequencies — sometimes dismissed as pirate stations, a characterization their listeners and DJs eschew — offer programming in Spanish, Haitian Creole, and Portuguese that can’t be found elsewhere on the dial.
Photo from “Alternative Medicine” by Jason Pramas


ART ATTACK: Crisis in the Creative Professions Roundup (By Haley Hamilton | BINJ Medium exclusive)

A round-up of local creatives of all stripes — dancers, musicians, writers, you name it — revealed that the struggle to make ends meet as a creative professional in Boston is very real but not totally hopeless … Yet.

STATE OF THE BOSTON COMEDY UNION: Seven comics. Two hours. One historic summit on the state of stand-up comedy in the Hub. (By Dan McCarthy | DigBoston)

While humor aficionados know lots about the stand-up landscape that pedestrian showgoers aren’t aware of, there can be a disconnect between scenesters and audiences at large. On that note, we figured that just like with our crumbling republic, which gets the Cliffs Notes account of current events in a simple State of the Union speech every year, it could be something of a community service to document the inner state of the Hub’s funny farm.

ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: Haiti, dance, and healing with Jean Appolon (By Micaela Kimball, Photos by Jason Pramas) | DigBoston, Boston Haitian Reporter, Dorchester Reporter)

In Haiti, dance is a way of life. When a young Haitian man relocated to Boston after tragedy struck his family, he brought the healing and restorative powers of traditional dance with him, and spread the love to Hub residents … While movement has deep therapeutic roots and uses in innumerable cultures, Appolon notes that dance — and particularly Haitian folkloric dance, which he teaches, performs and choreographs with his company, Jean Appolon Expressions — is common alternative medicine among Haitians and Haitian Americans.


Apparent Horizon

As the editor/publisher of the left wing nonprofit newsweekly Open Media Boston from 2008 to April of this year, Jason Pramas had gained regional notoriety for his regular editorials when he joined BINJ as network director in July 2015. On Labor Day of that year, he started a new column to build upon that legacy. He called it Apparent Horizon — after a new concept in astrophysics popularized by Stephen Hawking — to indicate his desire to comment on all areas of human endeavor, and has already addressed a broad array of topics from labor, to global warming, to nuclear power, to prisons, to mass transit. This plus a major nine-column series strongly criticizing the recent deal between General Electric, the City of Boston, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. All this is framed with a Boston hook and a critical edge that only a protest leader with 30-plus years of grassroots political activism under his belt can bring to bear on issues of the day.

Terms of Service

The service industry — bars and restaurants — makes up 8.5 percent of the Greater Boston area economy, yet the creativity, talent, and knowledge required to make it in the city’s most frequented establishments is largely misunderstood by those who have never donned an apron. Here, a local bartender (and BINJ staff writer) tackles the nuances of industry life, for both those living it and those who fail to see it as a worthwhile career.

The Tokin’ Truth

We are very much aware that it is risky business to associate with cannabis reformers. Some of our mentors even warned against taking on Mike Crawford, a noted medical marijuana activist and media personality in Boston for many years. With that said, we are proud to have him and his cadre of frequent guest columnists rail against censorship and hypocrisy, gain syndication in Alternet and other national outlets, and hold politicians accountable for their hypocrisy on this topic. With cannabis now legal in the Bay State but the fight between the public and the State House still raging, the possibilities for this column and expanded marijuana coverage are endless.

Broken Records

This has been the most important year in the last four decades for government transparency in Massachusetts. With the state’s dismal public records law being updated significantly for the first time since the 1970s, we started this column to discuss the dysfunctional nature of our public records law and to cover government transparency and accountability issues in the state. As prolific requesters of record and persistent curmudgeons, the Broken Records crew has given voice to freedom of information hurdles faced by reporters from a number of outlets, even major ones, and has effectively brought the conversation about how the journalistic sausage is made to the meat counter.

Throwback BINJ

Our ongoing series connecting headlines from the past 350 years of Boston media with current events. From corruption on Beacon Hill to the debate over transgender rights — it’s all happened before, and we have some amazing pics and articles to prove it. Our throwback columns are a great research and reporting activity for some of our young writers who are rising through the ranks.

Spot Coverage & Columns

GENDER CONFINEMENT: Mass Department of Correction contends it can discriminate against transgender inmates (By Maya Shaffer)

THE HIGH AND THE MARTY: Boston Mayor Walsh is a lousy anti-addiction spokesperson (By Britni De La Cretaz)

SNUBWAY: This may help explain why you’ve had so much trouble renting and returning public bikes in Boston (By Noah Shaffer)

FLAME WAR: Council greenlights social media surveillance despite lack of BPD transparency (By Sarah Betancourt)

CAUGHT WITH OUR GANTRIES DOWN: Everything you think you know about the new Mass tolls is wrong (By Evan C. Anderson)


While we’ve continued to produce important written journalism on topics ranging from art to activism, in year two we also pledged to reach people in other ways. Not only through newfangled social media apps and web portals, though there’s that too, but through every conceivable method imaginable by working with various kinds of media makers. That includes one-on-one engagement, podcasts, and good old-fashioned public television.

Beyond Boston

Among the many other ways that BINJ attempts to boost existing media in Massachusetts, we saw an opportunity in the hundreds of cable access stations in the Commonwealth. We teamed up with producers and news makers from stations including Somerville Community Access Television (SCATV), Cambridge Community TV (CCTV), Malden Access TV (MATV), and Brookline Interactive Group (BIG) for our monthly digest, “Beyond Boston,” which features stories and highlights from our partners, as well as interviews with special guests and analysis from BINJ reporters.

Podcasts & The BINJ Report

With a number of experienced and talented radio engineers and reporters in our network, it was a natural move for BINJ to enter the podcast and broadcast space. Testing the waters, columnist and Network Director Jason Pramas began uploading a recorded version of Apparent Horizon to multiple podcast platforms, while the team also produced a special, “Return to Dewey Square,” to complement our oral history commemorating the fifth anniversary of Occupy Boston. Finally, building on the aforementioned assets plus interviews and dispatches from ongoing news coverage, BINJ has teamed with Boston radio veteran Dave Goodman’s Independent Broadcast Information Service (IBIS) for a biweekly news program called LOCAL EDITION: The BINJ Report. While the show initially aired on the City of Boston’s LPFM radio station, WBCA 102.9 FM, in 2017 we will be syndicating it on multiple legacy stations and digital networks as well.



At which BINJ presented


Students from Community Academy

Youth Media

As we have noted since day one, while we believe that it’s important to have a conversation about diversity in media, the best way to diversify the media is to train a wide array of young reporters to become community storytellers. Our forays to explore this notion have come naturally, as BINJ operates under the fiscal sponsorship of the Roxbury-based Transformative Culture Project (formerly known as Press Pass TV), which has been engaging young people in Boston for a decade through workshops and hands-on media experience. BINJ journalists help train middle and high school journalists in several TCC programs, and in 2016 helped guide and curate a photo project at Snowden International School, and assisted their students at Community Academy in Jamaica Plain to tell the remarkable story of their school, a so-called “last chance” stop in BPS that plays a special role in the lives that pass through.

The BINJ community journalism project at UMass Boston


As a major part of our journey with BINJ, we are documenting the procedures, processes, and ideas that emerge in our grand experiment, from the technical to the ethical. In considering the latter at great length, we have had significant help from Craig Newmark of craigconnects, who in January 2016 awarded us a $25,000 grant and challenged us to put all ethical concerns and conversation front and center. That led us to hosting a colloquium for BINJ contributors to tackle questions with philosophy and journalism scholars, and also to a partnership with the UMass Boston Philosophy Department to found a community journalism project within the UMass Boston Ethics Institute. In the fall 2016 semester, BINJ journalists provided UMass Boston students the opportunity to strengthen their understanding of applied ethics by applying it to cases cited in investigative reports and columns. We envision developing a pedagogical model similar to the one used by ethics students who accompany medical doctors on their rounds, appropriately modified for investigative journalism, and will release a report on ethics in early 2017 in addition to continuing our work at UMass.

Peer Consulting

Through the conferences that we had an opportunity to present at, we were able to meet reporters, editors, and even publishers from several cities — and even other countries — who are interested in learning from and in some cases modeling their own incubators after what we are doing with BINJ. For those who can’t be reached in person, we have published several accessible media analyses and how-to pieces to spread the independent journalism gospel.


Bubble cover design by Scott Murry

The Boston Bubble

Our sleek (approaching) quarterly pocket-sized print mag about tech and innovation in New England dropped one new issue this year under the fitting theme of “survival.” Though still a loss leader due to the outstanding quality of content and production value, by attracting readers through multiple channels — from social media to offering issues through crowd-funding campaigns and drives for other BINJ programs — we were able to surpass our goal of 100 subscribers in year one. Under new managing editor Clarence Smith Jr., in 2017 we plan on releasing at least three issues, distributing in select retail stores, holding events, and more.

Manchester Divided

Though it’s still hard to believe that we pulled it off, last February, in the face of ugly weather and some even uglier candidates, the BINJ team set up a pop-up newsroom at a bar in Manchester, New Hampshire, and syndicated coverage to more than a dozen outlets nationwide.

Sam Waterston visits the BINJ pop-up newsroom in New Hampshire

With editors set up at tables in the Shaskeen Pub front window, more than a dozen freelance reporters — more than half of them covering a presidential race for the first time — produced in total nearly 30 of the most unique dispatches from the primary madness, some of which were syndicated beyond our local Boston network. Among the placements:

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