As Newspapers Weaken, Rick Hutzell Sees Newsletters As One Piece of the Solution

From a story on Poynter’s Local Edition with Kristen Hare about local news:

When he worked as the editor of the Capital Gazette, Rick Hutzell had a saying about the journalists who’d parachute into Annapolis, Maryland.

“They don’t know where Glen Burnie is.”

“To know it,” he said, “you really have to know the people.”

There are two high schools, a community center, a satellite campus for a community college. It’s a suburb of Baltimore, a place that doesn’t often make the news, but a place where news is still happening. And if you don’t know where Glen Burnie is, it’s probably because you don’t live in the area.

But Hutzell does. And in January, he became one of more than 100 people to join Meta’s Bulletin platform, including 26 with a focus on local news.

It’s a big shift for Hutzell, who led the Capital Gazette through a mass shooting in its own newsroom, the deaths of Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters, a staff Pulitzer Prize special award and citation, much of the the trial of the shooter, and buyouts, including his own, from the newsroom’s owner Alden Global Capital.

In his first newsletter, Hutzell wrote about choosing to stay in Annapolis.

“It is a city I understand, as well as anyone can comprehend a kaleidoscopic picture that is never the same twice. It is a city with a past, a future, and a story to tell. Annapolis is my life. Journalism is how I live it. Then Facebook, now called Meta, came calling.”

A little more than a month ago, he launched Meanwhile, in Annapolis, which costs $4.99 a month.

“I am not in competition with my former newspaper,” Hutzell said. “This is not a news desert. There are lots of people here writing about things. I just have a little perspective that they don’t have.”

Hutzell declined to share how many subscribers he has, but did say he quickly met audience goals. As many newspapers weaken and shrink under the strain of a changing business model, corporate ownership and shifting audience habits, Hutzell sees newsletters as one piece of the solution.

Jeremy Caplan agreed. He’s the director of teaching and learning at CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism and, last year, helped train some Bulletin authors in entrepreneurial journalism.

Bulletin is one of several newsletter platforms with a focus on local news, including Substack Local, 6AM City and Axios Local. In a tally of newsrooms that launched in 2020 and 2021, we included 50 newsletters.

“I think we’re at the beginning of a very long period of experimentation and growth and evolution,” Caplan said.

For Hutzell, that’s included getting back to the basics of journalism while learning tools to better reach people.

With Meanwhile, In Annapolis, he’s writing about life in a place that’s often overlooked.

As he nears the end of his career, he cares about two things: helping create a lasting memorial for his Capital Gazette friends and peers through the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation, and bridging the gap between what journalism was and what it will become.

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