The Harvard Press made news May 5 when editor John Osborn was inducted into the New England Newspaper & Press Association’s Hall of Fame. Joined by four other inductees, he becomes one of only a few more than 100 newspaper professionals who have achieved the honor over the past 20 years.
Lisa Aciukewicz, publisher of the Press along with Sue Robbins, had nominated Osborn, and she introduced him at the Hall of Fame awards banquet, part of NENPA’s week-long annual convention in Boston. In both her nomination letter and in a brief introduction at the awards, Aciukewicz enumerated the ways Osborn excelled in all the criteria for admission to the Hall of Fame.
John Osborn takes the microphone as the audience gives him a standing ovation for his induction into the NENPA Hall of Fame. (Photo by Tom Aciukewicz)
First, a nominee must have made or be making an “extraordinary contribution to their newspaper.” At the Press, Osborn is not only the editor of the past 12 years, weekly performing a range of editorial duties, but he is also a reporter who writes at least one news story a week. “He has taken a small-town newspaper with a tiny budget and elevated it to a level of professionalism that other papers only dream of,” she said Friday night.
In her letter, Aciukewicz had pointed out specific achievements for which Osborn has been responsible: a feature called “The Warrant in Plain English” in which every article for a Town Meeting is summarized in a way that helps citizens make informed decisions; a weekly “coffee with the editor” where Osborn encourages residents to share with him thoughts about the paper; an award-winning series on racial bias in the local schools; and many more. He is, she added, the “always-calm captain who encourages and cajoles his staff of ‘citizen reporters’ to produce consistently excellent work.”
Osborn meets the criterion of making an extraordinary contribution to journalism on many levels. A NENPA award-winning journalist, Osborn strives to nurture the careers of others. A natural teacher, he has run workshops for high school students and works with them through the steps to publication. He recruits college students as interns, and his mentoring gives them valuable hands-on experience. At colleges and universities he has been a speaker on journalism and the importance of local news. Many of the high school students Osborn mentored have gone on to careers in journalism and credit Osborn with their success.
Kate Selig, a former Press intern who has recently served as editor-in-chief of the Stanford Daily, wrote, “It was at the Press that I first caught the bug for reporting and found a mentor who gave me the space and time to explore my newfound interest in journalism.” Former intern Emily Erdos, now with The New York Times, wrote, “He taught me to be brave as a journalist, especially in the face of difficult topics.”
The contribution that Osborn has made to the community is best demonstrated by an honor given in 2019 when the Select Board chose the Harvard Press as its Citizen of Note, citing the dedication of the staff, “all of whom work their magic of producing a weekly, local newspaper, and who continue to do it for love of community.” Townspeople look to the Press for unbiased news on town issues, human interest stories, and previews of cultural events. Osborn’s weekly coffees encourage interaction with community members, and a column, “Consider This,” offers citizens the opportunity to voice opinions on issues of concern to the town.
Just when Osborn could be slowing down, he has taken it on himself to do extensive coverage of Devens and give voice to its residents, governed by MassDevelopment while they wait for their future to be determined. “He has pushed the limits of what a paper can do for its community,” Aciukewicz said.
For Osborn, induction to the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame is the culmination of a long career in teaching, writing, and journalism for one who started as a newspaper delivery boy.
Excerpt: John Osborn at the NENPA awards ceremony, May 5
The staples of community journalism have not changed: attention to local issues, police and fire logs, obituaries, an events calendar and notice board, high school sports, and stories and photos of town life and history that can’t be found elsewhere.
We’ve worked hard to be that kind of paper.
When I see voters poring over a special Press edition at Town Meeting or hear a reader quote facts and figures from a recent story, I know we’re making a difference.
The support of more than 400 sustainers has been vital. These are subscribers who have elected to pay twice the annual rate to support the paper. Their support, along with a loyal core of advertisers, has made the difference between breakeven and loss.
In recent years we have bolstered our homegrown staff by offering freelance internships to promising high school and college journalists.
These young people, the future of our industry, lend us their talent, their training and their passion, sometimes pushing us in new directions. In return we offer them practical “on the ground” reporting, mentoring—and the instructive rigors of a professional copyedit.
But I think the heart and soul of our success—our superpower—is the commitment of the freelancers, part-time workers and volunteers who do the work week after week—at below market rates—“for love of community,” as Atlantic writer James Fallows wrote admiringly in 2019.
It’s clear to me that to survive and flourish our paper must remain such a “learning organization,” one that welcomes new members, facilitates their growth, and transforms itself as times change.
Our paper reminds me of a community band—like the one that takes its place on the back of a local farmer’s flatbed truck each year at our town’s Fourth of July parade.
The conductor may choose the score, set the tempo, and be first to take a bow, but without the woodwind, brass, and drum players seated behind him there would be no music—and no crash of cymbals at the close of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
So, I stand here tonight on behalf of my colleagues—the reporters, editors, photographers, proofreaders, designers, layout artists, sales reps—who make such great music every week.
What we have accomplished together is more than I could have hoped—and that is what is most gratifying to me this evening.