Streetcar Suburbs Publishing – who are we, and what do we do?
BY KIT SLACK
The nonprofit that publishes the newspaper that you are holding is called Streetcar Suburbs Publishing. Our monthly newspapers — the 18-year-old Hyattsville Life & Times and the 2-year-old College Park Here & Now — are mailed, free of charge, to every household and business owner in Hyattsville and College Park, the two municipalities we serve. Our website, StreetcarSuburbs.News, publishes our print content along with web exclusives.
A big change
On March 22, the vice president of our board and our chief financial officer, Chris Currie, resigned. For the past 15 years, Chris led negotiations of our contracts with the printer, the post office and advertisers — including the cities of Hyattsville and College Park. He negotiated the contracts of the part-time staff who edit and design our publications, sell ads and keep our books.
He advocated for our organization with skill, tact and energy, helping keep the newspaper printing, and the organization growing, as other local news sources dried up. In recent years, Chris secured COVID-19 relief funding when advertising sales dipped as the pandemic hit local businesses. He launched our first community fundraiser a few months ago.
Professionally, Chris is an administrator at St. Jerome Academy, a Catholic school, and Hyattsville’s only private elementary and middle school. As the school continued to grow, Chris realized that he no longer had time to fulfill his newspaper responsibilities at the high standard he set for himself.
The immediate cause of Chris’ resignation, however, was a conflict between his role as a leader on the business side of the newspaper, and his roles as a leader in the school and in Hyattsville’s Catholic community.
During this past school year, and especially through the spring, parents of students enrolled at St. Jerome have been in conflict over compliance with COVID-19 protocols and the timing of the easing of those protocols. Parents on each side of the conflict felt betrayed by the other side’s attempts to get school, church and county authorities to act in alignment with their views.
The Archdiocese of Washington announced Feb. 17 that Catholic schools in Maryland were to adopt a mask optional policy between Feb. 21 and Feb. 28. Saint Jerome announced on Feb. 19 that masks would be optional at the school starting Feb. 21.
On Feb. 23, one of our volunteer reporters agreed to write a news story about the school’s COVID-19 protocols and parents’ views on them.
Within the next few days, county, state and federal masking guidelines eased. As editor of the Hyattsville Life & Times, I decided not to run the story in the March newspaper. The changes in guidance decreased its relevance. The developing story was complex, and we were out of time and resources to do it justice. The assigned reporter agreed to write a related opinion piece on a longer timeline.
Because one of my children goes to school at St. Jerome’s, my doorbell and phone kept ringing, and my email inbox kept lighting up. Chris was one of the people I heard from. He suggested angles for the story that would not focus on divisions between parents, and he asked me not to use emails that my reporter had been given from a listserv that Chris moderates.
It is not my policy to quote from an email to a listserv without the writer’s permission unless the writer is a public official. And I had already decided, independently, to let this story go.
However, Chris’ intervention, and his later description of that intervention, in an email, as a successful effort to nix the story, were not in keeping with the newspaper’s policy on editorial independence. Our board discussed the breach, and Chris decided to step down to focus on the school, his family and other work.
In the wake of this controversy, the board of our nonprofit, Streetcar Suburbs Publishing, asked me to share our editorial goals and policies with our readers, and ask for your help during this major transition.
What do we do, and how do we do it?
Streetcar Suburbs Publishing strengthens and connects communities on the Route 1 Corridor. We celebrate local civic organizations, communities and residents. We seek to reflect the diversity of our communities, and help residents understand each other.
We hold local officials accountable to residents and voters by covering municipal government, local schools and development.
As an independent, nonpartisan organization, we do not take positions on matters that come before city councils in the areas we cover, and we do not endorse any candidates running for office.
We promote local businesses by running advertisements, and support the local economy by publishing features that encourage local shopping.
Through feature stories and our community calendars, we promote the arts and local nonprofits.
We ourselves are a volunteer-run, nonprofit organization. Volunteers serve on our board, send us story ideas, write our stories and take pictures for us. Articles and photographs that we publish are gifts to the community from these volunteers.
We cannot cover every story. We do not have the staff to comprehensively cover breaking news, and we often cannot take on investigative reporting or journalism that requires processing large amounts of data or persistent Freedom of Information Act requests. Occasionally, volunteers will take on projects that fall into one of those categories, and we consider those endeavors to be extraordinary gifts to our readers.
We typically choose not to tell a story if we are only able to tell one side of it or cannot put it into meaningful context. For example, we don’t quote screenshots of texts or emails if we don’t have access to the full conversation. We don’t publish controversial statements made to us anonymously if we cannot otherwise corroborate them.
The managing editor for each newspaper assigns stories and decides what will be published. These editors are members of the communities they seek to serve, and, inevitably, the newspapers cover stories that concern them. Managing editors work with other editors in our organization to check and balance our decisions. The board also weighs in and directs difficult editorial decisions to ensure fairness and integrity.
We fill an important news gap.
If you value this newspaper, please donate to support us, buy an advertisement, volunteer for us, or write us a grant! And if you see gaps or errors in these pages, point that out. Better yet, step up to help us provide better coverage.
Please contact me, firstname.lastname@example.org, with your ideas, your questions and your offers of help.
Thanks for reading!