The Wired City: Reimagining Journalism and Civic Life in the Post-Newspaper Age

By Dan Kennedy. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013. 192 pp. $80.00 (cloth) ISBN 978-1-62534-004-7; $22.95 (paperback) ISBN 978-1-62534-005-4

U.S. journalism is a craft in transition, its modes of delivery irrevocably changed over the past 15 years and its traditional business model deeply challenged, if not failing. As TV news operations and mid-sized to metro daily newspapers have struggled with declining audiences and advertising, the shareholder demands of publicly traded companies, and, in some cases, high debt loads, journalists and others have searched for ways to reach people with the information they need. In The Wired City: Reimagining Journalism and Civic Life in the Post-Newspaper Age, Northeastern University professor Dan Kennedyprovides a powerful portrait of one such effort: a Connecticut non-profit hyperlocal news website called the New Haven Independent.[1]

The site was founded in 2005 by Paul Bass, who grew up in Westchester County, New York, attended Yale and never left New Haven. By the time he launched the Independent, he had reported for the campus Yale Daily News, the daily New Haven Register, and the New Haven Advocate, the city’s alternative weekly. In addition, he had founded a for-profit community weekly newspaper, also called the New Haven Independent, which was published from 1986 to 1990. While on book leave from the Advocate to co-author Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of a Killer, Bass “began noticing blogs,” which he thought were offering “opinions without much in the way of reporting to back them up” (36). Bass figured that he could create a useful online alternative if he could raise enough to pay himself a salary for covering New Haven and aggregating other sources of information about the city. The site started with a $50,000 grant. By 2011, Kennedy reports, it had eight full-time journalists covering New Haven and the Naugatuck Valley—supported by grants, donations, small ads, and legal notices—and was receiving somewhere between 7,800 and 12,300 unique visits daily (depending on which Web analytic tool’s count was used).

As Kennedy explains, the New Haven Independent site was far from perfect. At the time the book was written, it had a web appearance that “no one would describe … as clean and uncluttered” (20). It was covering a city that had more African American and Hispanic residents than whites without a single minority journalist on staff. And, like many online sites, it tended to focus on breaking news, developing depth by “returning to stories again and again rather than … publishing a 5,000-word takeout” (32). Nevertheless, Kennedy argues persuasively, the site was offering the city a combination of benefits other outlets in the New Haven news ecosystem were not: a free, English-language local news source not deeply dependent on advertising; a focus on non-Yale news, including events in African-American and Latino neighborhoods; some translated content from the Spanish-language La Voz Hispana de Connecticut, from which the Independent rents offices; commenting policies that promoted both civility and open discourse; and a deep commitment to civic engagement.

Kennedy, the former media columnist for The Guardian and the alternative Boston Phoenix, does a good job of profiling the New Haven and Connecticut news ecosystem to which the Independent belongs, though he focuses more heavily on print and online outlets than broadcast. He takes special care to show how declines at the New Haven Register and the Hartford Courant helped create an information deficit in Connecticut that a number of news sites are attempting to fill. He also demonstrates that the Independent is only one of many online-only news sites that have sprung up around the United States, also profiling The Valley Independent[2] and Branford Eagle[3], news outlets hosted on the Independent’s website; The Batavian[4]of Batavia, N.Y.; Baristanet[5] of Montclair, N.J.; Voice of San Diego[6]; CT News Junkie[7], which provides statehouse coverage for the Independent on a contract basis; and Connecticut Mirror[8], which covers state government, politics, and policy, and was the largest online news organization in Connecticut at the time Kennedy wrote The Wired City.

Kennedy originally intended the book to be a “survey of the burgeoning world of digital journalism” (171). Worried, however, that he might skip “from topic to topic without saying all that much about any one of them,” he decided to focus on the Independent while also profiling other projects he believed “were serious and substantial enough to warrant inclusion” (171). The narrowed focus is entirely reasonable, but including three sites based outside Connecticut when there was already so much to cover within the state led to some organizational challenges that Kennedy is not able to fully overcome. The book moves from the Independent to its similarly named print predecessor to the New Haven Register to Connecticut online-only sites to sites outside the state before moving back to the Independent.

The other shortcoming of the book, which Kennedy acknowledges, is shared by all writing about the rapidly evolving world of digital journalism: By the time the book was finished, it could not help being, in some aspects, out of date. In the text, Kennedy expresses some hope about the “digital first” strategies embraced by the Register after its owner, Journal Register Company, was acquired in 2011 by Alden Global Capital and was joined with MediaNews Group to create Digital First Media. In September 2012, however, as Kennedy was finishing the work, JRC filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time in three years. In 2014, DFM shuttered Project Thunderdome, a high-profile attempt to provide the company’s newspaper websites with digital-first, mobile-friendly national and foreign news pages created in a centralized New York City newsroom.[9] Thus, as Kennedy writes, “The Wired City should be regarded as a series of snapshots taken between March 2009 and September 2012. The story I have attempted to tell is one that continues to unfold every day” (152).

The deepest value of that story may emerge in 10 or 20 years, when The Wired City provides a descriptive account of a moment in media history that few have recorded in as substantial a way. Although one might wish that the book had provided screen grabs of the Independent’s site or quoted from more of its stories, the information it does preserve for future generations—such as the detail that salaries ranged from $30,000 to $62,000 in 2011—will be invaluable for scholars hoping to understand the history of journalism’s shift to digital.


Susan Keith

New York, New York

[1]New Haven Independent

[6] Voice of San Diego:

[8] Connecticut Mirror:

[9] Doctor, K. (2014, April 2). “The newsanomics of Digital First Media’s Thunderdome implosion (and coming sale)”. Retrieved from