David Bernstein is out of here

David Bernstein and Kristin McGrath

Bernstein and McGrath

One of the more original political voices to pass through Boston in many years is fleeing the scene. My former Boston Phoenix colleague David Bernstein, who’s been contributing to Boston magazine and WGBH since the Phoenix’s demise in 2013, is heading to Richmond, Virginia, where his wife, Kristin McGrath, is starting “an exciting new job.”

Bernstein’s political analysis is smart and straight from a liberal perspective. But it’s his use of social media that sets him apart. His Twitter feed, which has nearly 14,000 followers, is a great source of news, political humor and hashtag games. On Facebook, he pays tribute to the birthdays of often-obscure politicos with music trivia contests. A recent example:

Today’s Massachusetts political birthday is Segun Idowu of the Edward M. Kennedy Insititute, currently under construction. In his honor, what are the best songs with the word “build,” “shape,” or “make” in the title? I’ll start with Foundations “Build Me Up Buttercup”; Nirvana “Heart-Shaped Box”; and Nick Lowe “You Make Me.”

Then there is Bernstein’s #mapoli With Animals, a Tumblr consisting of photos of Massachusetts politicians posing with their (and other people’s) pets. If you haven’t seen it, you should. I’m sure you’ll agree that it is one of the signal accomplishments of the Internet age.

Bernstein says he’ll “still write and comment about Massachusetts politics beyond 2014,” and that he expects to continue with BoMag and WGBH. But it won’t be the same with him checking in from afar. Best of luck to both David and Kristin.

Ellen Clegg replaces Peter Canellos at The Boston Globe

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 2.25.38 PM

Peter Canellos

Boston Globe editorial-page editor Peter Canellos, a former metro editor and Washington bureau chief for the paper, is leaving. According to a press release issued earlier today, Canellos will depart after 26 years at the Globe. He is also an alumnus of The Boston Phoenix.

Canellos will be replaced on an interim basis by Ellen Clegg, a former newsroom editor who is currently executive director of communication and president of the Boston Globe Foundation.

Here is Globe reporter Beth Healy’s story on Canellos’ departure.

The timing is especially interesting given that we are in the midst of endorsement season. Though the Globe is a staunchly liberal paper, the opinion pages have shown a penchant over the years for endorsing the occasional moderate Republican. Already I’ve heard speculation that the Globe might endorse Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker over Democrat Martha Coakley. Presumably the paper’s owner/publisher, John Henry, will have the final word.

Canellos has long had a reputation for being one of the more cerebral journalists at 135 Morrissey Blvd. He oversaw the Sunday Ideas section as well as the opinion pages. In my dealings with him over the years I have always found him to be decent and thoughtful.

According to Craig Douglas of the Boston Business Journal, Canellos took an employee-buyout offer made earlier this summer. Also leaving, Douglas reports, is Kyle Alspach, a tech reporter for the Globe’s innovation site, BetaBoston. Alspach is going to work in a national position for Streetwise Media, which publishes the local site BostInno and which shares a common owner with the BBJ.

Here is an email from Canellos to the staff, a copy of which I obtained earlier today:

It’s been more than 26 years since I walked into the Globe newsroom to meet the then-Metro editor, our own David Scharfenberg’s brilliant father, Kirk. At the time, I could barely envision the breathtaking array of adventures to come. Now, more than half my life later, I will finish my Globe career as editorial page editor. It’s a perfect time, personally and professionally, to pursue exciting new opportunities. But it’s a tribute to all of you that it took me so long to prepare for another chapter.

At a time like this, it’s natural to think of all the editors, starting with the never-forgotten Kirk, who nurtured and encouraged me. There are too many to name, but all are in my thoughts. For a long time, though, I’ve had the honor of being an editor myself. And my own strength and inspiration, day in and day out, has come from the writers and fellow editors with whom I’ve worked over the past 15 years. During that time, I’ve had the unique privilege of holding three entirely different portfolios, from Metro to the Washington bureau to the opinion pages. And I owe all my satisfaction to the stimulating interactions with colleagues in all three departments.

Over the years, I’ve urged many Globe writers to consider doing stints as editors, on these grounds: It gives you a chance to look at the journalistic endeavor with fresh eyes; and it turns what can feel like a solitary and sometimes nerve-wracking process of creating great journalism into a truly collaborative experience.

Now, looking back over the years, it’s all those collaborations that I remember. I can see the people more clearly than the stories. All those days and nights talking through ideas, matching wits behind the keyboard, and then nervously watching the product take shape were meaningful because of the sense of shared creation.

Those stories live on, but so too do the relationships. Having shifted seats a few times, I’ve learned that the great reward at the end of any editing tenure is that colleagues can finally become friends. The breaking of the professional bond is only the start of an even more rewarding personal one. So it was when I left my previous two posts. So it will be again. I can only say how grateful I have been for these opportunities, and how happy I am in knowing — without any doubt — that while the work may end, the friendships will continue to grow. Thank you,

Peter

And here is the Globe’s press release announcing Canellos’ departure and Clegg’s new responsibilities:

Boston (September 15, 2014) – Boston Globe Media Partners today announced a change in leadership of its editorial and opinion pages. Peter Canellos is leaving his job as editorial page editor after five years in the role and 26 years at the Globe.

“It’s been more than 26 years since I walked into the Globe newsroom to meet the then-Metro editor, our own David Scharfenberg’s brilliant father, Kirk. At the time, I could barely envision the breathtaking array of adventures to come,” Canellos said. “Now, more than half my life later, I will finish my Globe career as editorial page editor. It’s a perfect time, personally and professionally, to pursue exciting new opportunities.”

Canellos was responsible for the paper’s editorial and op-ed pages, and Sunday Ideas section. As the head of the editorial board, he has played the leading role in crafting the paper’s positions on local, national, and foreign issues. During his tenure as editorial page editor, two writers were named finalists for the Pulitzer Prize: in 2013, columnist Juliette Kayyem was nominated as finalist for commentary, and this year deputy managing editor Dante Ramos was named a finalist for editorial writing.

“Peter is a singular talent, and we are extraordinarily thankful for the years he devoted to the Globe,” said John Henry, Globe owner and publisher. “He is a master storyteller, deep thinker and adept communicator.”

Ellen Clegg, who spent 30 years in the Globe’s newsroom and is now executive director of communication and president of the Boston Globe Foundation, will serve as interim editorial page editor. In the newsroom, she served as deputy managing editor for news operations; deputy managing editor for the Boston Sunday Globe; assistant managing editor for regional news; city editor, and specialist editor, where she oversaw reporting on health and science, religion, education, and ideas. In between stints at the Globe, she was a science writer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. She is the author of “ChemoBrain,” which was named consumer health book of the year by the American Journal of Nursing, and co-author of “The Alzheimer’s Solution.”

Henry has pledged that the Globe will continue to challenge convention and rethink the presentation of its opinion and editorial pages for the digital age.

“Our content, whether news, sports, entertainment or editorial, must be presented in formats that engage the broadest range of readers, wherever they are in the world and however they are reading the Globe,” said Henry.

Prior to becoming editorial page editor, Canellos was chief of the Globe’s Washington bureau, where he led the Globe’s bureau in its coverage of the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns and the insurgency in Iraq, among many other major issues. During his tenure the Globe’s bureau won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

In 2011, Canellos won a distinguished writing award from the American Society of News Editors.

Canellos also oversaw the development of the Globe’s best-selling biography “Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy,” which reached number seven on the New York Times best-seller list.

He began working for the Globe in 1988, covering housing and urban affairs.

From 1999 to 2003, he was assistant managing editor for local news, overseeing all news coverage of the city and the region.

The church, the Globe and cognitive dissonance

Crux cardPreviously published at WGBHNews.org.

Some two decades ago Cardinal Bernard Law invoked the wrath of God in denouncing The Boston Globe for its coverage of the pedophile-priest scandal. “We call down God’s power on the media, particularly the Globe,” Law told a crowd. Ten years later the Globe had Law himself on the run with a series of reports revealing the cardinal’s role in covering up the scandal.

And now? Cardinal Seán O’Malley was the star panelist Thursday night at an event sponsored by the Globe to mark the debut of Crux, its website devoted to covering the Catholic Church. O’Malley thanked Globe owner John Henry and his wife, Linda Pizzuti Henry, for launching the site. He praised John Allen, recruited from the National Catholic Reporter to write for both Crux and the Globe. And he expressed the hope that Crux would help foster “a better understanding of Catholicism.”

Among the crowd of several hundred: Globe reporter Walter Robinson, who led the Spotlight Team in its Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of O’Malley’s predecessor. Michael Keaton will play Robinson in the movie.

Needless to say, much has changed over the past dozen years. A lot of it has to do with the man who was the subject of the panel discussion: Pope Francis, whose openness, humility and charisma have given the church an infusion of energy, even as he struggles to deal with the sexual-abuse crisis — an effort in which Cardinal O’Malley is his principal lieutenant.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine a project like Crux without a catalyst such as Francis, the subject of endless fascination since his selection in 2013. “We saw a need for more reporting, more journalism about the church,” said Globe editor Brian McGrory in his introductory remarks.

Crux, as I wrote last week, is a free standalone website aimed at the English-speaking world, and intersects with the Globe only tangentially. How tangentially? Well, this morning Michael O’Loughlin has a story on the BC event in Crux, and Derek Anderson covers it separately for the Globe.

If you were looking for some critical analysis of Francis’ pontificate thus far, you didn’t find much on Thursday. O’Malley called Francis “one of the most extraordinary leaders of our day,” and there was no disagreement from panelists Allen; Mary Ann Glendon, a professor at Harvard Law School and a former ambassador to the Vatican; BC theology professor Hosffman Ospino; and Robert Christian, the editor of Millennial, a website aimed at younger Catholics.

On a range of hot-button social issues such as LGBT rights, divorce and the role of women in the church, panelists talked about Francis’ compassion and outreach but played down the possibility of significant shifts in doctrine. As O’Malley said of the pope, “He hasn’t changed the lyrics, but he’s changed the melody.”

One of the more interesting lines of discussion began when Margery Eagan, who writes a column on spirituality for Crux (and who co-hosts Boston Public Radio on WGBH 89.7 FM), asked if Francis might bridge the gap between someone who is “a liberal Catholic” or “a cafeteria Catholic” such as herself and “a conservative Catholic” such as Glendon.

“I’m going to resist being called a conservative Catholic,” Glendon replied. “I think Francis helps us to explode those categories, which I don’t believe are relevant to Catholics.”

That led to a question from the audience, read by Crux editor Teresa Hanafin (audience members were instructed to write their questions on cards), as to whether Crux could help Catholics get beyond the liberal-conservative divide that Glendon believes is irrelevant.

“The purpose of Crux is to get the story right,” Allen replied, adding it was his goal to offer “an intelligent, thoughtful, serious presentation of the Catholic Church.” He described the divide as having a lot to do with a lack of contact with people outside their own groups: “I think we’re less polarized than tribalized. We live in affinity communities.”

He offered as an example his wife, whom he described as liberal, Jewish and suspicious of conservatives. Several years ago, when he was researching a book about the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei, he said, his wife became friendly with some of the members.

“Friendship is the magic bullet when it comes to tribalism,” Allen said. “I want to create a space where all these tribes can become friends.”

David Filipov pays tribute to his late father

On the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, here is your must-read remembrance: Boston Globe reporter David Filipov’s series of tweets about his father, Al, who was killed on that day. It begins here.

Boston.com hires a top editor

Matt Gross

Matt Gross

Boston.com, the venerable free website started by The Boston Globe in the mid-1990s, relaunched earlier this year with a new design and a difficult task: to find an audience without any Globe content, which was moved lock, stock and barrel behind the BostonGlobe.com paywall (with fairly generous sharing options).

The site also launched without a top editor, although Hilary Sargent of ChartGirl fame (see this Jack Shafer story) has been a visible presence as news and homepage editor. The new Boston.com offers a combination of aggregation, viral content and some original reporting. Traffic initially took a dip, but rose every month from April through July, according to Compete.com.

Now the site has named an editor — Matt Gross, the former editor of BonAppetit.com. Sargent will be his deputy. The press release is below.

Boston (Sept. 10, 2014) — Matt Gross, award-winning editor, writer and author, has been appointed as the new editor of Boston.com, effective Sept. 29.

Since 2012, Gross, 40, was editor of Condé Nast’s BonAppetit.com, where he designed and executed an innovative content strategy that tripled the number of monthly unique visitors in less than two years. Under his direction, BonAppetit.com became a widely known digital hub for entertainment, style, events, recipes, and pop culture.

From 2006-2010, he wrote the popular “Frugal Traveler” column for the New York Times, traveling to dozens of countries in pursuit of money-saving tips for fellow travelers.

He has also written on food and travel for several national publications, including Afar and Saveur magazines, and served as an editor at outlets ranging from FoxNews.com to New York Magazine and Vietnam News. He is also the author of 2013’s “The Turk Who Loved Apples,” a chronicle of his world travels.

“My primary goals as Boston.com editor are to understand what readers are interested in, how they use the site, and how Boston.com can best serve its audience,” said Gross.

“I’ve been to many cities around the world and my favorite ones are those that have a very distinct personality. Boston is unique, and I look forward to leading the team at this vibrant website that is such a critical part of the city’s daily conversations.”

Long before becoming a multilingual globetrotter, Matt called Massachusetts home, having grown up in Concord and Amherst. He is relocating to Boston from Brooklyn with his wife, Jean, and two young children.

“Matt’s experience gives him a unique perspective that will drive compelling content, leveraging multimedia and social channels to tell great stories on Boston.com, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next October,” said Corey Gottlieb, Executive Director, Digital Strategy & Operations at Boston Globe Media Partners. “His vision will help to further define Boston.com’s identity.”

Boston.com also announced that Hilary Sargent has been named deputy editor of the site. Sargent, formerly the news and homepage editor, has been key in the reinvention of Boston.com content for the past ten months.

Predictions are futile, but here are two

I missed the chance to predict Seth Moulton’s victory over John Tierney. Wish I’d said something. I did think it would be a lot closer. So let me go on the record with two predictions right now.

1. An easy one. Richard Tisei had almost as bad a day as Tierney yesterday. He’s a moderate and a good guy, but a Republican is not going to beat the liberal Iraq War hero who knocked off Tierney.

2. A harder one. I think Charlie Baker will defeat Martha Coakley, and that it won’t be all that close. Massachusetts has a track record of liking moderate Republican governors to keep an eye on the Democratic legislature. And Coakley, to put it mildly, is an inept candidate.

The good, the bad and the ugly of the new news ecosystem

Is this a new golden age of journalism? It all depends on who’s getting the gold.

For consumers of news, these are the best of times. Thanks to the Internet, we are awash in quality journalism, from longstanding bastions of excellence such as The New York Times and The Guardian to start-ups that are rising above their disreputable roots such as BuzzFeed and Vice News.

For producers of news, though, the challenge is to find new ways of paying for journalism at a time when advertising appears to be in terminal decline.

The optimistic and pessimistic views got an airing recently in a pair of point/counterpoint posts. Writing in Wired, Frank Rose gave the new smartphone-driven media ecosystem a thumbs up, arguing that mobile — rather than leading to shorter attention spans — has actually helped foster long-form journalism and more minutes spent reading in-depth articles. Rose continued:

Little wonder that for every fledgling enterprise like Circa, which generates slick digests of other people’s journalism on the theory that that’s what mobile readers want, you have formerly short-attention-span sites like BuzzFeed and Politico retooling themselves to offer serious, in-depth reporting.

That Rose-colored assessment brought a withering retort from Andrew Leonard of Salon, who complained that Rose never even mentioned the difficulties of paying for all that wonderful journalism.

“The strangest thing about Rose’s piece is that there isn’t a single sentence that discusses the economics of the journalism business,” Leonard wrote, adding: “If you are lucky, you might be able to command a freelance pay rate that hasn’t budged in 30 years. But more people than ever work for nothing.”

To support his argument, Leonard linked to a recent essay on the self-publishing platform Medium by Clay Shirky, a New York University professor who writes about Internet culture. Shirky, author of the influential 2009 blog post “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable” as well as books such as “Here Comes Everybody” and “Cognitive Surplus,” predicted that advertising in print newspapers is about to enter its final death spiral. That’s because Sunday inserts are about to follow classified ads and many types of display ads into the digital-only world, where retailers will be able to reach their customers in a cheaper, more targeted way. Here’s how Shirky put it:

It’s tempting to try to find a moral dimension to newspapers’ collapse, but there isn’t one. All that’s happened is advertisers are leaving, classifieds first, inserts last. Business is business; the advertisers never had a stake in keeping the newsroom open in the first place.

There’s no question that print will eventually go away, though it may survive for a few more years as a high-priced specialty product for people who are willing to pay for it. The dilemma of how to pay for journalism, though, is not going away.

Free online news supported solely by advertising has not proven to be a reliable business model, although there are exceptions, including a few well-managed hyperlocals, like The Batavian in western New York, and sites that draw enormous audiences while employing very few people, like The Huffington Post.

Digital paywalls that require users to pay up after reading a certain number of articles have helped bolster the bottom lines of many newspapers, including The Boston Globe. But very few have been able to generate a significant amount of revenue from paywalls, with The New York Times being a notable exception.

It may turn out that the most reliable path for journalism in the digital age is the nonprofit model, with foundations, wealthy individuals and small donors picking up the tab. It’s a model that has worked well for public television and radio, and that is currently supporting online news organizations both large (ProPublica) and small (the New Haven Independent). But nonprofits are hardly a panacea. The pool of nonprofit money available for journalism is finite, and in any case the IRS has made it difficult for news organizations to take advantage of nonprofit status, as I wrote for The Huffington Post in 2013.

Journalism has never been free. Someone has always paid for it, whether it was department stores taking out ads in the Sunday paper or employers buying up pages and pages of help-wanted ads in the classifieds. Today, the most pressing question for journalists isn’t whether we are living in another golden age. Rather it’s something much blunter: Who will pay?