Monthly Archives: February 2011

Andrew Sullivan’s move is a big loss for the Atlantic

Andrew Sullivan

Interesting that Andrew Sullivan is taking his pioneering blog from the Atlantic to the Daily Beast/ Newsweek even though the Atlantic is one of the few media organizations that seems to have money to spend.

Michael Calderone’s interview with Sullivan makes it appear that Sullivan simply couldn’t say no to Tina Brown. In fact, there’s not even any mention of the Atlantic’s making a move to keep Sullivan. So perhaps Sullivan didn’t give the Atlantic a chance.

This is not good news for the Atlantic. According to M. Amedeo Tumolillo of the New York Times, Sullivan’s “Daily Dish” accounted for as much as a quarter of the Atlantic’s 4.8 million unique monthly visitors as recently as October.

I can’t say I’m much of a Sullivan fan. His blogorrhea makes it impossible to keep up with him. At times, he can be as irresponsible as anyone in blogland. Nevertheless, Sullivan is something of an online phenomenon. This is a big loss for the Atlantic, and a win for Tina Brown.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

McLuhan on the future of newspapers

Marshall McLuhan

I am slogging my way through Marshall McLuhan’s little-read 1964 magnum opus, “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.” (Fun “fact”: Western aid workers imposed linear water pipes on African villagers because of their linear alphabet. The villagers, lacking that alphabet, preferred the communal well.)

Despite finding much of McLuhan absurd, this leapt out at me last night:

The classified ads (and stock-market quotations) are the bedrock of the press. Should an alternative source of easy access to such diverse daily information be found, the press will fold.

Is this a case of even a blind pig finding an occasional acorn? Or of prescience bordering on genius?

Photo via Wikipedia.

Checking in with GlobalPost

Boston-based GlobalPost is one of my favorite new-journalism projects, and I don’t write about it as often as I should. With people of the Arab world revolting against their oppressors, it’s more important than ever. And it recently unveiled a great-looking redesign.

I could say a lot more, but for now, let me turn it over to Marjorie Arons-Barron, who’s taken an in-depth look at the project and the people behind it: New England Cable News founder Phil Balboni and former Boston Globe reporter Charles Sennott.

A troubling libel suit against the Herald

Brad Delp

Geoff Edgers’ story in Sunday’s Boston Globe on the troubled life of Boston singer Brad Delp raises some interesting questions about libel law. The most important is this: If a newspaper publishes a report that is accurate, what obligation does it have to verify that it is also true?

Following Delp’s suicide in 2007, the Boston Herald’s Inside Track reporters, Laura Raposa and Gayle Fee, wrote that Delp’s ex-wife, Micki Delp, blamed Delp’s death on his troubled relationship with Tom Scholz, Boston’s founder and leader. According to court documents examined by Edgers, the Tracksters also relied on e-mails from Micki Delp’s sister Connie Goudreau. (Here’s some more background on the case and its principals.)

Scholz, in turn, sued Micki Delp and Connie Goudreau for defamation, and in 2010 filed a libel suit against the Herald as well, charging that the Herald should have known Micki Delp had a personal vendetta against Scholz. Goudreau has settled with Scholz, but the other cases remain unresolved.

Edgers presents powerful evidence that Delp’s suicide should not be blamed on Scholz. Delp had suffered from depression for years, and his relationship with his fiancée, Pamela Sullivan, was troubled. Still, who knows what could drive a person to suicide?

In simple terms, the legal question is whether the Herald was obliged to go beyond accurately reporting what Micki Delp and Goudreau were telling its reporters and determine whether their accusations against Scholz were actually true. Was Delp as upset with Scholz as his ex-wife and sister-in-law claimed? Did that so traumatize Delp that it could have contributed to his suicidal state of mind?

A verdict against the Herald would be very bad news for the press. Because Scholz is a public figure, he would have to prove that the Herald knew or strongly suspected that its reporting was false. Even if Fee and/or Raposa knew Micki Delp had it in for Scholz, it doesn’t necessary follow that they thought she was lying.

In the relevant Supreme Court case, Harte-Hanks Communications v. Connaughton (1989), the court found in favor of a public official who’d been maligned after it was proven (among other things) that the managing editor of the local newspaper literally ordered reporters not to interview a source or examine documents that might contradict the story she wanted to publish.

That is not remotely what’s at issue in the Scholz case. Based on Edgers’ article, it seems to me that not only did Fee and Raposa not doubt they’d gotten the story right, but that Scholz would have a very difficult time proving they’d gotten it wrong in any definitive way.

Photo (cc) by Craig Michaud via Wikimedia Commons and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Introducing Media Nation’s first local sponsor

Due to my recent run-in with the Googletron, I decided to see if I could solicit some local advertising. Today I would like to introduce you to my first: Chan Miller Creative, whose banner ad graces the top of the page.

Go ahead and click — unlike the model that prevails elsewhere online, Media Nation does not charge extra per click. Which means that even I can click through without costing Chan Miller any additional money.

I am deeply appreciative of Chan Miller’s sponsorship of Media Nation, which came about when partner Ken Gornstein responded to this post. I’m hoping to unveil another local sponsor in the near future.

So what happened to Google ads? They’re now in the upper right, below the header, where the Flyerboard used to be. The Flyerboard, administered by the Boston Blogs advertising network, had fallen on hard times. I’ll bring it back if that changes.

Handling the technical details is Adam Gaffin, editor and publisher of Universal Hub. There is no better friend to the Boston blogging community than Adam.

Salem News adopts real-names commenting policy

My local daily, the Salem News, has added itself to the growing list of news organizations that are requiring real names for online comments in order to root out the hateful speech that too often mars such forums. It’s the right move, and one I adopted about a year ago. Editor David Olson explains:

If you write a guest column for the newspaper, you have to use your real name. If you are quoted in a story, we use your real name — no anonymous sources allowed. And if you write a letter to the editor, not only do you have to sign your name, you have to give us an address and phone number so we can check to make sure you are who you say you are.

Online commenters, until now, have had to do none of this.

Like Media Nation, the News will rely on the honor system for the honest majority and intuition (and informants!) for rooting out those who adopt fake names. That’s definitely the way to go. Last July the Sun Chronicle of Attleboro unveiled a real-names policy that required people to turn over their credit-card information if they wanted to comment. If you poke around, you’ll see that the paper’s website has pretty much become a comment-free zone.

This blog post by Howard Owens, editor and publisher of the Batavian, remains the definitive explanation as to why real names should be required.

The courage of Lara Logan

Lara Logan

Esquire’s Chris Jones has written a thoughtful post about the hazards of journalism following revelations that CBS News reporter Lara Logan was beaten and sexually assaulted during the celebration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last Friday. I recommend it highly.

I think we tend to take the courage of celebrity television reporters for granted. Though we might understand that a newspaper reporter traveling outside the glare of the camera is running risks, TV reporters — with their crews, equipment and live feeds — can seem pretty much invulnerable. That is clearly not the case. As we know, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ABC News’ Christiane Amanpour had some hair-raising moments in Cairo.

Let me join those who are praising Logan not just for her courage and dedication in reporting the story for the benefit of us viewers at home, but also for letting it be known that she was sexually assaulted.

It’s a detail she could have kept to herself, and I suspect a lot of women would have done just that. But it’s important to our understanding of what happened, and she should be saluted for sharing it with us. (Via Don Van Natta Jr.)

U.S. Army photo via Wikimedia Commons.

An experiment in local news is growing

Congratulations to Howard Owens, publisher and editor of the Batavian, who this week announced two part-time hires for his pioneering news site, one on the news side, the other in advertising. Significantly, his new reporter, Brittany Baker, recently lost her job at the local newspaper, the Daily News.

Owens continues to prove that it’s possible to build a successful for-profit community news site if you’re willing to work hard — although, as he is quick to point out, he works no harder than the pizza-shop owners and other entrepreneurs who advertise on his site.

Community journalism has never been a way to get rich. What Owens is proving is that the cheap and free tools of the Web make it possible to restore mom-and-pop independent local news of the sort that graced every city and town up until a generation or two ago.