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Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ) with Chris Faraone

I recently sat down for an interview with Chris Farone of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ), about the importance of nonprofits in journalism.

A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ).

Connect with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ)

For more information on all things Jimmy Tingle

Transcript – Please note, this Transcript is AI Generated. It has not had the discerning ears of a real human to edit it, as such, there are bound to be a few errors

Jimmy Tingle 0:05
Hey everybody, this is Jimmy. Welcome back to another episode of the Jimmy tingle show. We are so excited today we have Chris Varone. Ladies and gentlemen, he is from the Boston Institute of nonprofit journalism. He is from Queens, New York, round of applause for Queens brothers and sisters, Queens, New York native who came to New England. And 2014 earned a master’s degree in Journalism at Boston University. Round of applause Boston University. Chris Verona is the editor and CO publisher of Digg, Boston, and a co founder of The Boston Institute for nonprofit journalism. I want to find out all about the Boston Institute of nonprofit journalism. So without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together. Welcome the one the only originally from Queens now Boston based Mr. Chris firmer on how are you Chris?

Chris Faraone 0:56
I’m great. Thanks a lot. And yeah, I know, it’s a mouthful. So you know, we just say binge for short. I even have it tattooed on my knuckles. Got Oh, yeah, one of one of our early funders. You know, I had written been writing for the Phoenix where, you know, we were, like everybody else at the time, I was a staff writer at the Boston Phoenix before it went out of business. And, you know, the guy, this is a big funder from the Midwest and said, you know, you have a career, how do I know you’re not going to just, you know, run off and, you know, do the solo stuff, and that you really committed to doing this project. And so I got it tattooed on my knuckles, so I had to do it. And here we are seven years later. And, and you know, and here we are talking. You are actually one of the early supporters, too. We did an early, we did a show early on just like this andhumor for humanity. And it was fantastic. So I appreciate the the callback,

Jimmy Tingle 1:47
of course, Chris, that was a lot of fun. We did that one at the Sanders Theater. So Chris, it’s a pleasure to have you back. I’m really impressed with what you’re doing. First of all, just explain to people, what is the Boston Institute for nonprofit journalism? And how does it differ than, you know, say, the globe, the Herald? You know, these other NPR, etc?

Chris Faraone 2:07
Yeah. So, you know, binge, we kind of see it when we, you know, it’s similar to when we started similar mission, which is, we’re kind of like a free floating entity. You know, everybody is aware, I think the media is hardly what it what it used to be. So, you know, we can barely get local news. You know, we got communities like Cambridge and Somerville, cities have 8090 100,000 people that don’t even have anyone who covers City Hall, let alone you know, a full newspaper, full newsroom. It’s a thing of the past, sadly. So we work with various publications to do articles that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. Many of them are investigative in nature. That was certainly why we started.

Chris Faraone 2:52
Even just this week, we did a big, big investigation. And we’ve been covering this kind of stuff for a while into surveillance and Boston piece ran in the Bay State banner and also in dig Boston. So for people who may be familiar with pro publica, at the national level, they work with outlets like the New York Times, we’re a much smaller, very grassroots local, although we know we cover issues across Massachusetts, the Capitol is right here in Boston. So we cover the State House, of course, and we work with outlets, independent outlets across the state working with an outlet called the shoestring in Western Mass right now on a story. And basically so you know, like a like a regional pro publica and that every time every relationship is different, some outlets have a reporter, but don’t have the funding to pay that reporter extra. Some outlets don’t have the reporter some outlets need to talk to an attorney, we connect them with an attorney. So really, just this resource center, we’ve also helped start similar nonprofits across the country in a small bootstrap nonprofits. Some of them are aligned with all weeklies, like we are here in Boston with the dig, but some of them just really starting their own thing with their own new model. We just kind of help people get off the ground, sometimes there’s no one to call.

Jimmy Tingle 4:05
Right. So Chris, let me ask you, for example, when you say you partner with other newspapers, established suits, would somebody like to base tape and hire you to do a particular story? Or or the globe or the Herald or whatever? Or or would you do the story and then pitch that story to these existing platforms?

Chris Faraone 4:25
Great question. So you know, so as far as the globe and the Herald are concerned, you know, they’re really, first of all, they’re both behind paywalls. And this is one of the big problems with with journalism and access to journalism as far as we’re concerned. So I’m not here to, you know, trash them. They both do great work. Of course, I also have issues with some of the work they do, but nevertheless, this is it. We’re in a different space than those outlets and there are nonprofits, like pro publica that work with outlets that are behind paywalls it’s, it’s kind of against our mission. Our idea is to work with outlets like the banner that are not behind paywalls and also the

Chris Faraone 5:18
have some impact before a Boston City Council meeting. And so we kind of just said to partners, Hey, is that who wants to run this, we gave them a day’s notice. And the banner and the dig picked it up. But really, it’s always different. We’re malleable. And that’s kind of, that’s the important thing. And we never go with our handout, we don’t ask for money from these partners, the funding comes in from the public. And we work with these outlets that, like we said, otherwise, probably couldn’t afford to do a lot of this heavy lifting in today’s media landscape.

Jimmy Tingle 5:46
Okay, so you donation base, then your readers, your subscribers, the you’re completely donation base. So if you wrote an article of if you wanted to cover something at City Hall, and you would put up the resources, you would pay the reporters to do it, and all that you would get it up in your platform, and then you would say to these platforms, you can access this is that kind of how it works.

Chris Faraone 6:09
Yeah. And you know, and we will have a relationship ahead of that, ahead of time also, sometimes will partner with a national publication, we’ve had some major impact last year, writing about rodenticides, things that are used to kill rodents, and also end up killing bald eagles and, and other other species. We publish that with salon. And so yeah, sometimes it’s a national partner. We also sometimes partner with other alternative newspapers around the country to show how the same issue say, say prisons,

Chris Faraone 6:39
is playing out in different places. So there’s really the sky’s the limit. And this is kind of the new way, you got to figure it out somehow, because the ad dollars the way they used to stack, it’s just, it’s a different world. So you know, the nonprofit, we’ve been doing it for a while. And we were one of the first to kind of do it this way. But there were people doing it before us. There’s places like the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, they’re based out of GBH now, and that’s great, and they really do great work. But we really have a more of a grassroots approach. We we work with freelancers, this year, we’ll cut checks to more than 50 freelancers, and many of them have regular jobs. But this is the kind of work that, you know, you’re not going to do it on your own. If there’s no compensation, there’s no recognition, even if it’s just a little bit, a couple 100 or $1,000. It’s something and it keeps people motivated. And I wish I could save journalism, you know, 160 $5,000 a year job at a time. It’s just not happening right now. But at the least we could do these important stories, often that have significant impact.

Jimmy Tingle 7:39
Right. And so would you say that what separates you from NPR or,you know, the globe, the Herald or whoever is that with their I believe they’re nonprofits as well isn’t the globe and the Herald technically nonprofits,

Chris Faraone 7:54
the globe and the globe or the Herald or both, or the Herald is owned by this giant company, through another company and a Japanese bank. And the Boston Globe is owned by John Henry, you know, it’s a private business. They do work with some nonprofits, they do, you know, some nonprofit collaborations. But that’s different. As for NPR, you know that those are an NPS Of course, you know, GBH here in Boston is one of the biggest MP, one of the biggest NPR and PBS affiliates in the country. And I don’t want people to see this as a separate thing from a media ecosystem here. And I could go on and on, there’s literally dozens of reporters who have come through the doors of the dig and have worked with binge that are now everywhere from Pro Publica, like Emily Hopkins who started with binge and the dig to

Chris Faraone 8:43
two people who wrote their first features with us that are now at WBUR, at GBH at the globe, at the Washington Post. So, you know, I just think, I hate to call us the farm team, because the work that we put out, I think, is you know, as, as great as as, as work that comes out in, you know, big, big papers like the globe, but at the same time, we are developing a lot of that talent. And locally, we even do workshops, we teach community members, how to make media. This is something that in this day and age does not it might not always be professionalized the way it used to be. But there are a lot of people who have the tools maybe even went to school for it or or didn’t, but have the chops to do the research that we activate them as much as possible.

Jimmy Tingle 9:24
Right. And how important is that to you? Because I used to work in 60 minutes. I think you know that. And I know you have a degree in journalism. And when you were coming up through journalism, you couldn’t just go with a feeling and put it out there as news. I mean, that one of the biggest problems we have in the media landscape right now, is there. I don’t know what the fact checking is for everybody, but the accountability is virtually non existent. People say things all the time on television and radio that are not necessarily true, but there’s no accountability. So how important is it to you you to get a story right? Before you go to publication.

Chris Faraone 10:04
Yeah, I mean, it’s obviously a critical thing and also a legal issue for a lot of the work that we do. But also say that we, I don’t want to dodge the question, but we’re in a kind of fortunate position in that, with the long form stuff, at least, we are able to actually sit back and watch a lot of those mistakes get made. And, and when our reporting encompasses that media criticism, often, not always directly, but off, you know, we’re able to say, you know, all the, you know, this arrest happened and all the media coverage said this one thing now, we know, it was the opposite. And, you know, reporters listen to the police who had lied, or whatever the story is. So that, you know, that’s, that’s always kind of been the tradition, whether it was the Boston Phoenix Village Voice of alternative media before that word was hijacked by the alt right. Nevertheless, you know, when we do this long form journalism, a lot of the stories that we’re putting out, not that we’re just bragging about length, you know, 357 1000 words. And, you know, with historic context, so I think people really do appreciate, these are articles that don’t go away. They’re not here one day and gone the next. Some of our articles still, that have been published years ago, get more than 1000 views a week on some of the sites they were distributed from. And I think that’s a testament to the work that we’re doing. It’s thorough, a lot of it has infographics attached to it, it’s something that you may not be able to read on one sitting more book light, but it’s a resource that people go to for years. And that’s for us. That’s what it’s about. They say we’re writing a first draft of history like to do a little bit better than that, maybe second or third.

Jimmy Tingle 11:32
Right? Well, Michael Moore, was one of the few voices coming up in the recent midterms, that was saying, don’t believe what you’re reading about the polls don’t believe in this automatic red wave that’s going to crush the Democrats. And I remember reading, I subscribe to his newsletter, and I would get his emails. And he was saying, you know, things are going to be much better for the Democrats, then that has been reported in the, quote, mainstream media. And I’m saying, Okay, let’s see what happens. Turns out he was right. And I wonder if you guys were covering the midterms at all leading up to that, and did you have a similar take on what might happen? Well, a few things.

Chris Faraone 12:12
So we, you know, as far as elections, mostly, you know, we cover state and local elections. So I have my own, you know, my own ideas. But as for Michael Moore, he acts I got to say he participate every four years. This is what we do. When it comes to politics every four years, binge rent out the shaft Kean pub in Manchester, New Hampshire during the primary for the week leading up to it. And we provide a free beer and free workspace and internet for whether it’s shimmy tingle or any independent reporter up there. Who is not part of this. No, remember, I’ve 60 minutes has like a whole room at the Ramada across the street. Anyway, so Michael Moore actually did his podcast at at our newsroom last time. But yeah, I mean, for me, I don’t really believe any of it. I can’t stand horse race politics. When we do go up there. When we do bring reporters to new New Hampshire we actually last time we we do this thing where we asked people what kind of issues they would like covered and you hear things that you never see people wanted to hear about nuclear the nuclear plant up in Seabrook people wanted to hear about the issues that just never come up. And it sounds cliche when I say it, but it’s true. It’s not it’s not the chicken or the egg. It’s the media feeding people a lot of stuff that they don’t even necessarily want. And of course, Jimmy, you know, as a former candidate, yourself, you know, that politics and Massachusetts, nothing else really applies. We’re kind of in our own little bubble here. Republicans barely exist. And I don’t know if that’s always for a great thing. So I guess my real answer is that I was really busy wondering what the next four years in Massachusetts are going to be like, without a single Republican in charge. I know that a lot of Democrats are celebrating, but I it’s going to be interesting as as a reporter, I don’t see any reason anybody would ever answer a FOIA request, for example, when all their colleagues in government will back them up on not responding, which is always kind of been the case anyway, but at least, you know, we had Charlie Baker in there, or Mitt Romney as a foil. So that’s what I was, you know, electorally, that’s where I’ve been thinking.

Jimmy Tingle 14:09
Right? Tell me, how are you guys doing in terms of is the digital platform you’re solely digital, you’re not doing anything? You’re not doing hard copies now. Right? Right. Right. Okay, so how was that working for you in terms of finance? And are you be able to keep your head above water? Is everybody getting paid? You see? Is that how how’s it going? Well, I know you’re not getting paid, what but is everybody else getting?

Chris Faraone 14:30
Well with it? You know, thanks, thanks to binge, we’re able to do the long form stuff and you know, and have and get money in the pockets of people, including us, you know, we work on a contract basis. So if I’m working on a story with the dig, you know, truth is without printing, you know, it’s less of a risk. And by the way, so people know, we never had a lack of readership, print cost, and some people know this actually went up 40 to 50%. So when we were still putting more than 35,000 newspapers out, so it’s not easy, but thanks to weed, you know, thanks. Cannabis being recreational weed. And in Massachusetts, that’s been a huge outlet for us. We’ve been covering it for years. And we have a partner publication called Talking joints Malmo. The that’s a bit so basically, you know, we make it work. I will say as far as you know, entertainments always the tough stuff, whether it’s you know, comedy, music, arts, we support all that we cover it, but it makes us no money, you know, there’s no, there’s no advertising in that realm the way it used to be, if you still looking at Boston phoenix from the 1980s, every new and also, restaurants, every new restaurant that opened every club, they had to have ads every week, it just doesn’t work like that anymore. So we were done complaining about it a while ago. That’s why we started a nonprofit. That’s why we do you know, a lot of cannabis reporting, you know, we kind of just look for solutions instead of trying to beat the old drum. And we still do have, you know, the locals that just that do support us, you know, holiday time, if you go to the dig, you’ll see all sorts of ads for, you know, for the theater districts, we still get some of that people know, we can still put some butts in seats. So so we’re still good for that. So you know, we try to we’re kind of old school, we have a lot of that old Phoenix readership too. But, you know, we we play along on social media as well. And I certainly have a lot of young readers. So, you know, as long as we can keep it going, of course, the investigative stuff is what’s most important to me. And, you know, no matter why we said with binge with the nonprofit, if we raise $2,000, we’ll do $2,000 with the journalism, if we raise 2 million, we’ll do $2 million dollars with the journalism that’s what I’m here for.

Jimmy Tingle 16:33
And that’s the spirit. That’s the spirit, Chris, you know, people should never underestimate the impact that alternative media has and has had in this country. And especially in this town, the Boston Phoenix broke the Catholic Church, clergy scans right, years before. Yeah, I mean, during the holidays, and my friend Barry Crimmins was a victim of sexual abuse, not clergy abuse, but sexual abuse. And he was among the first people, you know, to, to come out publicly on that. And he wrote a big article, I believe in the Phoenix, but they’ve been always on the cutting edge of new ideas, new insights into what’s happening. So it’s a it’s a huge asset for the for the region, and it’s a huge asset. Ultimately, some of these stories are picked up nationally and become life changing stories. For example, I think what we say in pro publica, weren’t they the people that broke the story about the row? The row decision? Yeah,

Chris Faraone 17:36
they were they had the leaks, I mean, probably a break so much stuff. It’s unbelievable. And they’re a great example of, you know, they’re able to like, you know, free floating incubator there, you know, that we look up to them. And certainly people from Pro Publica have given us a lot of tips over the years on, on how to make this happen. And I’ll just say, Iowa, you know, this year, we did more than 50 features. And if you look at those, a lot of them are ones that people have heard about maybe not directly through us, but that I’ve trickled out whether about surveillance, when it comes to prisons and parole, often we’re the only people covering big issues. So you know, it used to be that so much was covered. Now, it’s just, there’s so many, so many holes in the media, we’re just trying to fill as many as possible. Great.

Jimmy Tingle 18:19
So Chris, folks who are watching and listening, they rely on donations. So if people want to donate or if people want to read your articles, first of all, where did they go? What’s what’s the URL for the website?

Chris Faraone 18:31
Binge online bi NJ And you can just look up Boston Institute for nonprofit journalism, where everywhere, if you want to go to the shortcut, give to binge give to bi That’s the donation link. But you know, now that you’ve heard of us, you’ll say, oh, yeah, I know that. I know that. I see that pop up. And that’s, that’s kind of the idea. We want to be in the fabric of the community. Okay,

Jimmy Tingle 18:54
and what about Digg Boston? What do you find that

Chris Faraone 18:56
And also, you know, on all socials, and, and I appreciate all support. And yeah, we say, when you support independent journalism, you kind of support all of your favorite causes at one time. I know, it’s hard to say, wow, there’s all these, you know, other really important causes. For us. I can’t stress enough that a lot of these people, a lot of these institutions, whether whether it’s homelessness or or immigrants, they don’t have publicists. So it takes people like us to report on on these communities.

Jimmy Tingle 19:28
Christopher Rome, thank you so much for joining us today. Continue success, given that you’re in the you’re in the spirit of Mark Twain, and what’s his name Menken. What’s HL Mencken, and all the McCracken throughout history, who have beat the bushes and got the stories and brought attention to important things that are happening that aren’t always reported in the mainstream and you’re doing it out of a love of journalism and passion for the truth. So I had so off to you, thank you so much for joining us today.

Chris Faraone 19:58
Thanks, Jimmy

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