Monthly Archives: October 2009

An activist-journalist SLAPPs back

Adam Gaffin has posted an excellent summary of an important press-freedom case that will be argued before the state’s Supreme Judicial Court on Monday.

Fredda Hollander, an activist-journalist who once wrote for a local newspaper called the Regional Review, is arguing that a libel suit filed against her by a North End developer should be thrown out on the grounds that it amounts to harassment illegally aimed at silencing her.

The developer, Steven Fustolo, counters that the law on which Hollander is basing her claim — a state law that bans “strategic lawsuits against public participation” — was never intended to protect journalists.

Disclosure: I was a paid expert for Hollander, writing an affidavit arguing that community-based advocacy journalism should be protected under the so-called anti-SLAPP law.

The Globe’s ancien regime makes a comeback

Christopher Mayer

Christopher Mayer

I have no particular insight into Boston Globe publisher Steven Ainsley’s retirement announcement, or why senior vice president Christopher Mayer was chosen as his replacement. But I do think Adam Reilly of the Boston Phoenix gets at two important possible reasons.

First, Mayer, despite being just 47, is a holdover from the Taylor regime. That might prove reassuring to the jittery Globe newsroom, especially given that a group led by former Globe executive Stephen Taylor recently fell short in its attempt to buy the paper back from the New York Times Co.

Second, Mayer is described in Beth Healy’s Globe story as “an architect” of the recent dramatic price increase, which, despite plummeting circulation, reportedly led to an 18.4 percent rise in circulation revenue at the Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette during the third quarter.

More than anything, I’m reminded of editor Matt Storin’s retirement in the summer of 2001. Earlier in the year, Storin presided over what had been up to that time the most wrenching downsizing in the paper’s history. By sticking around until after all the blood had been spilled, Storin gave Marty Baron a chance to start with a clean slate.

Though we don’t know whether Ainsley’s retirement is voluntary, it strikes me that he performed the same role during this year’s labor-management war that Storin did in 2001.

Finally, Ainsley showed a sense of humor, though I suspect it was inadvertent. According to Healy’s story, Ainsley “is interested in nonprofit work.” Insert cymbal crash.

Ralph Ranalli has further thoughts at Beat the Press. At the Boston Herald, Jessica Heslam and Christine McConville note that Ainsley made $1.9 million last year. A good job at a good wage, for sure.

(Not) tweeting from City Hall

OK, one quick one, then I’m out of here.

The Boston Herald today follows up its social-media story with more from Dave Wedge and Jessica Heslam and a column by Margery Eagan.

In order to bolster her argument that Amy Derjue, spokeswoman for Boston City Council president Mike Ross, is tweeting when she ought to be working, Eagan quotes something Derjue posted on Monday at 10:11 p.m.

I’m not here to defend Derjue, Mac Daniel or David Isberg, who have created something of an appearance problem for their bosses, even though I’ve seen no real evidence that they’ve been slacking off. (In fact, I think Heslam gets at the appearance problem nicely here.)

But quoting something a city employee posted at a time when she was clearly off-duty is out of bounds.

On hiatus

I’m in New Haven on business today and will be dealing with some family business on Friday. Which means I might not get to post again for a few days.

Go, Pedro!

Tweeting from City Hall

Amy Derjue (from Twitter)

Amy Derjue (from Twitter)

Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub has some big-time fun with the Boston Herald’s story on city employees who use Facebook and Twitter during work hours. Gaffin reproduces a photo of the Herald reporters who wrote the story, Jessica Heslam and Dave Wedge, from — yes — Heslam’s Facebook account.

“What are they using them for?” asks Gaffin. “What are they hiding? Ooh, insinuation is fun!”

Kidding aside, you have to admit that there’s an appearance problem with the way some city employees are using social media. Heslam and Wedge focus on Amy Derjue, a former Boston Magazine blogger who was hired earlier this year to serve as City Council president Mike Ross’ $39,000-a-year spokeswoman.

Derjue is something of a young-woman-about-town, and I follow her on both Facebook and Twitter. (If you page through her 340 Facebook friends, you’ll see a wide array of local media and political folks, including Gaffin, me — and Wedge.) Some of her posts make me cringe, and Heslam and Wedge dutifully provide some cringe-worthy examples. But I’ve never heard anyone suggest she wasn’t smart, hard-working and energetic. For what it’s worth, she has complained to me on behalf of her boss, which suggests dedication to her job.

More to the point, most of us — and you can be sure Derjue falls into this category — are never fully off work. If we’re expected to tend to business when we’re off-duty, then we have to be allowed some fun during the formal workday as well. And, as Gaffin writes, “Why, it takes sheer seconds to post something to Facebook or Twitter.”

An aside that may help illustrate my point. Yesterday John Robinson, editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C., tweeted that he was being yelled at by a “legislator who resigned in disgrace.” When I responded at how impressed I was with his multi-tasking, he replied, “Yes, tweeting while yelling. What else am I supposed to do? Listen?” This was not a private conversation — it was seen by all 1,196 of Robinson’s followers and all 2,019 of mine. Welcome to 2009.

Ross tells the Herald that he hired Derjue in part for her social-networking expertise. And, indeed, Ross has a pretty lively Twitter feed and Facebook account. For Derjue to post to her personal sites while working on her boss’ would, as Gaffin says, take “sheer seconds.” You can question her judgment, but her social-media activities are not evidence of dereliction.

Derjue seems to have partly disabled her Facebook account (I could be wrong; Facebook mystifies and annoys me), and she hasn’t posted to Twitter since last night. No doubt she’s licking her wounds at the moment. I’m interested to see how she’ll respond.

How news orgs should use social media

Why, to cater to their audience’s every whim, of course. So kudos to WBUR Radio (90.9 FM), which responded to my whining on Twitter about the lack of a downloadable MP3 of last night’s Massachusetts Senate debate by posting one this afternoon.

I was able to download it onto my iPod and listen while driving home. The experience was enlightening — and, no, I definitely don’t mean the debate.

A double whammy for the newspaper business

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that the long-predicted newspaper-circulation death spiral now under way wouldn’t be such a big deal if online advertisers weren’t fleeing newspaper Web sites as well.

On a cheerier note, Jonathan Knee writes in Barron’s that recession and crushing debt are masking the fundamental soundness of many newspapers — especially monopoly papers with a circulation of 100,000 or less.

Casino gambling and the Senate race

U.S. Senate candidate Alan Khazei seemed to come out of left field (they’re all coming out of left field, aren’t they?) when he announced his opposition to casino gambling at an event on Monday morning.

Indeed, one fellow candidate, U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, said he had no plans to get involved in the issue because it’s not something in which the Senate will have a say.

In fact, though, Khazei’s position could prove to be important. Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that would, among other things, prevent the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe from taking property in Middleborough into a trust so that it could build a casino.

But it’s too soon for casino opponents to breathe a sigh of relief — the gambling interests are busily working to undo the court’s sensible decision.

U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, recently wrote a letter to Indian Country Today saying that the ruling “urgently needs to be corrected” with legislation that would, among other things, allow the Middleborough monstrosity to lurch back to life.

Massachusetts’ next senator could very well have to vote on such legislation. Not only is Khazei’s opposition to casinos relevant, but he and the other candidates should be asked how they would vote on the Dorgan bill.

A terrifying story about the newspaper business

Outside Bagel World in Peabody

Outside Bagel World in Peabody

There’s an absolutely terrifying story about the newspaper business making the rounds today, and it’s not the one about print circulation falling another 10.6 percent. That’s hardly a surprise, given the continued rush to online — pushed along by papers like the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald raising the price of their print editions.

No, the truly ugly news is a story in the New York Times by Stephanie Clifford, who reports that companies increasingly see newspaper Web sites as a place for premium, special-event advertising, but not for everyday ads. For the latter, they use online networks, which cost a fraction of what newspapers charge.

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the Globe’s daily circulation fell 18.4 percent, and now stands at 264,105. On Sunday, it’s fallen by 16.9 percent, to 418,529. In its heyday, the Globe’s Monday-through-Saturday circulation was more than 500,000, and on Sundays it was north of 800,000.

The Monday-through-Saturday Herald stands at 138,260, down 17.5 percent. The circulation of the Sunday Herald dropped 5 percent, to 95,635.

If you had told me five years ago what the print circulation of the Globe and the Herald would be today, I’d like to think I would have been entirely unsurprised. On the other hand, I know I would have been shocked that advertising revenues had not followed from print to online.

If the eventual end of the recession doesn’t provide some relief to the beleaguered newspaper business, you really have to wonder how this will all end.

Even George Will is appalled by Cheney

Thought you might enjoy George Will’s response on “This Week” when George Stephanopoulos asked him about Dick Cheney’s accusation that President Obama, by taking his time before deciding on a strategy in Afghanistan, is “dithering while America’s armed forces are in danger.” Here’s how Will began:

A bit of dithering might have been in order before we went into Iraq in pursuit of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. For a representative of the Bush administration to accuse someone of taking too much time is missing the point. We have much more to fear in this town from hasty than from slow government action.

Good stuff, although a few caveats are in order. First, though Will is a conservative, he’s not a neoconservative, and he’s been notably less enthusiastic about foreign adverturism over the years than his neobrethren. Second, he came out against the war in Afghanistan weeks ago. Third, Will has never been much taken with the Bush clan or its minions.

But still. With the war-mongering Laura Ingraham fulminating on the same set today (and when is she going to enlist?), it was heartening to hear a sane conservative call out Cheney’s posturing for what it is.