A NETWORK TO CALL THEIR OWN

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The Bronx got a new source for local news last week with the launch of the West Bronx News Network (WBNN). A website publishing news from the Norwood News and Highbridge Horizon newspapers plus the brand-new, web-only Mount Hope Monitor, WBNN will provide comprehensive coverage of the West Bronx, an area of 410,000 residents stretching from Yankee Stadium to Woodlawn, west of the Bronx River Parkway.

The area is rich with untold stories, and WBNN is already telling them. Unlike numerous local weeklies around the city that are business ventures, the network and its constituent newspapers are supported by existing nonprofit organizations. It’s a model that makes sense to Norwood News editor and WBNN founder Jordan Moss, who says nonprofit backing liberates the publications from overwhelming financial concerns to focus on journalism as public service.

“Basically they fill a gap where the for-profit community media doesn’t tread. This is hyper-local news that can’t be sustained on that level in a neighborhood or two or three in a low-income, urban community,” Moss said. While the newspapers sell ads to local businesses, they don’t have to rely on that revenue alone, he said.

Highbridge Community Life Center, a social service agency, funds Highbridge Horizon. Mosholu Preservation Corporation funds the Norwood News. Mount Hope Housing Company, a nonprofit housing developer – which recently wired all its buildings for broadband – is providing financial and technical support to help make the Mount Hope Monitor possible. But this is real journalism, not simply agencies’ newsletters or public relations tools for the sponsors

The notion is spreading. Last spring, Hunter College journalism professor and Riverdale Press editor Bernard Stein founded The Hunts Point Express, a nonprofit newspaper for Hunts Point and Longwood written by Hunter College students. Stein hopes to replicate the project throughout the city.

And why not?, asks Moss. “Disney thinks that it can put out the major news in the country, and that’s true of GE or [Viacom],” said Moss, referring to the owners of the big three TV networks. “As long as the leadership of the nonprofit recognizes that the paper is an independent arm, it works.”

And it is in a nonprofit’s interest to foster awareness and engagement in the neighborhoods it serves.

“Every community deserves a community newspaper, because communication is good and it’s a simple matter of fairness,” Moshulu Preservation Corporation President Dart Westphal said at the launch event for WBNN last week in the Mount Hope Housing Company offices. “We hope we can build momentum around the idea until every community in the Bronx has a community paper,” he said. “Unless you have local people on the ground reporting on things, the community doesn’t know what’s going on in its own neighborhood.”

WBNN will provide a single internet location from which readers can reach the newspapers’ websites, follow a Bronx blog, find links to local elected officials, schools, job listings, community organizations and houses of worship and participate in discussion boards on local issues. The network also allows the papers to share their tiny editorial staffs for more ambitious projects.

Highbridge Horizon Editor Tony Richards said he and his volunteer reporters are committed to the local, nonprofit newspaper model. “They write because this is their newspaper,” he said. “As cheesy as it sounds, it’s the only paper in that neighborhood that is by the people, and for the people.”

– Eileen Markey