Author Archives: Dan Kennedy

About Dan Kennedy

I am an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University, and I'm using WordPress.com for my blog, Media Nation, as well as class websites.

Talking about ‘The Wired City’ in San Francisco

I’ll be talking about how I researched “The Wired City” this Friday as part of a panel at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, which is being held this year in San Francisco.

The panel is titled “Creation of Community in the Magazine Form: Legacy to Online.” I’m calling my talk “Observing the Online News Community,” and I’ll discuss the value of in-person observation and reporting when conducting research of this nature.

The discussion will be held from 3:15 to 4:45 p.m. and will be moderated by Sheila Webb of Western Washington University. Other panelists will be Elizabeth Hendrickson of Ohio University, Amanda Hinnant of the Missouri School of Journalism and Michael Clay Carey of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.

Globe seeks buyouts as it extends digital push

The Boston Globe is once again seeking buyouts, even as it ramps up to launch its life-sciences vertical, Stat, later this year. Editor Brian McGrory lays out the rationale in a memo to the staff, and warns that layoffs may follow if the unspecified goal isn’t reached. (Romenesko beat me, as I was on the road most of Wednesday.)

There’s a lot to chew over here, but let me make one observation. McGrory writes:

We’re proposing a new job category of “multiplatform editor,” someone who can copy edit, post to the web, and design web pages, morning through night. Some editors and producers will roll into that category quickly, but we expect all copy editors and layout/makeup/slot editors to take on significant web responsibilities in the very near future.

No one without these skills should have been hired after, oh, let’s say 2003. Yet here we are in 2015, and the Globe — as well as the newspaper business in general — are still wrestling with these issues. Though the copy-editing is bound to deteriorate to some extent, as McGrory himself acknowledges (“most stories will get fewer reads”), I see this mainly as a sign of how difficult it is to turn around a battleship such as a major metropolitan newspaper.

Here’s the full memo.

Dear colleagues,

In the worst kept secrets category, the Globe is launching another buyout program next week, this one specific to the newsroom. Similar to last year’s, we’ll use it as an opportunity to direct more resources to digital, a vital undertaking. Different than last year, it will also help us cut costs as we continue our transformation into a predominantly digital, subscriber-based news operation that will thrive for many years to come. If we fail in our savings goal through buyouts, we’ll be faced with the difficult prospect of layoffs in September.

Everyone in the newsroom will receive a buyout letter as early as next week. There’ll be nothing terribly fancy about the math. It’s two weeks for every year of service – the same as severance. I think the following line is on the save/get key of every editor in America: This may be the last buyout we offer. At some point, good or bad, that statement will be true.

Over the coming weeks, the plan is to focus change, in part, on the production end of the newsroom, including our copy editing, page layout, and web production functions. We’re proposing a new job category of “multiplatform editor,” someone who can copy edit, post to the web, and design web pages, morning through night. Some editors and producers will roll into that category quickly, but we expect all copy editors and layout/makeup/slot editors to take on significant web responsibilities in the very near future.

Our copy and layout desks have served this organization exceptionally well over many, many years. Every reporter and line editor at the Globe can point at specific instances where eagle-eyed desk editors have spared us from unspeakable embarrassment. Night after night, the desk improves our copy and makes the paper gleam. The issue, though, is that we can’t afford the kind of print-centric copy editing operation that we have maintained for too long. We can’t afford it financially, and we can’t afford what it does to our larger enterprise, which is to implicitly put an undue focus on print when we’re otherwise making such significant strides emphasizing digital.

So what does it mean, practically? Details are being worked out, but it will mean a streamlined copy editing operation. It will mean that most stories will get fewer reads, placing more responsibility on reporters and line editors to make sure they’re in good shape. It means that rather than a copy desk, we will have a multiplatform production desk where stories are copy edited, posted on line, perhaps placed in the social stream, and later set on pages for print. The Sports desk is already doing this. Now we need to bring it to the Universal and Features desks.

Since we spoke about our digital ambitions in April [see this], progress has been steady. We’re up about 15 percent in page views from this time last year, when we had a record-breaking summer. We’re posting far more stories far earlier in the day, including hefty enterprise stories slated for the next day’s print front page. Our digital first reporters have made a deep and meaningful mark in terms of tone, speed, and quality. Our newsletters in sports and politics are uncommonly well done and popular. And in truth, ever more reporters and editors are seeing themselves as digital first, which is exactly as it should be. This talented newsroom needs to focus even more on the journalism, not the platform. Readers will consume us in whatever form they choose.

But we need to do more. We need to be crisper in our execution of stories. We need to continue to hire more reporters and graphic artists who are native to the web. We need to go department by department, looking to redirect our talent and focus to digital – meaning that jobs will likely change in the coming weeks and months. We need to further break the long-held rhythms of a print operation. We need to be more thoughtful and structured in how we roll out our enterprise, our most widely read work. On that last point, [BostonGlobe.com editor] Jason Tuohey has developed a release schedule that will help guide us every day, dictating when enterprise is put online and in the social stream to maximize readership. Jason and [managing editor for digital] David Skok will be meeting soon with department heads and web editors to elaborate.

Amid this transition, the realities of the industry dictate that more cuts be made, and we’re looking around the newsroom and across the company, always with an eye to protect our journalism. We’ve frozen most open positions, though not all, throughout the building. There have already been layoffs in other parts of the building, and those will continue. We’re looking at some modest page reductions in the newsroom. We’re cutting back on freelance spending, which the page reductions will make easier.

All of this is an effort not only to live within our means, but to create a sustainable news organization, one that depends far more on digital subscriptions, where revenue is rising, than on print advertising, where our industry faces inexorable declines. In this effort, we are well positioned for success. The company has no debt. We have no pension obligations, which were left with the New York Times. We don’t have an owner looking to ratchet up margins. We have an innovative spirit. We have a deep, deep reservoir of talent and ambition. We’re simply looking to turn a modest profit, which the ownership will then invest in the enterprise.

On so many fronts here, we’ve already seen significant progress. Print circulation has been largely stable, with nominal declines. In terms of digital circulation, we have more subscribers than any other news organization outside of New York – and those readers are paying more money for a subscription than any other place besides the Times or Wall Street Journal. The site reads and looks terrific, with an increasing emphasis on web-only graphics and stories, work that thrives in the moment and is geared to our online readership.

For that matter, your work in the paper has been equally compelling. In fact, many of our investments have paid off, not in jackpot fashion, but in upward movement. The standalone Business section has been a major hit with readers and advertisers. The premium Sunday magazines are leading to a major revenue increase from last year. Some big-ticket advertisers are pushing to bring Capital back to a freestanding section in September, which we’ll likely do. Sunday Travel and Address are two absurdly readable sections that have succeeded in stemming declines or are seeing category increases. Sunday Arts is a source of weekly pride and reader enjoyment. For the first time, regional and national brands are partnering with us in novel, cross-platform advertising campaigns that include event sponsorships.

And then there’s the daily journalism – accountability reporting, narrative writing, elaborate beat reporting, stories that inform and entertain. We have set the agenda with our even-handed yet penetrating coverage of the Olympics bid, from birth to this week’s death. Nobody’s been better at chronicling the downfall of the Red Sox and the meaning of Deflategate. Nobody has more accessible and insightful critics. Our DC bureau has reported and written like a dream, from Vienna to Iowa. Our Tsarnaev trial coverage caught the attention of the world. Exceptional online presentations and graphics, from Pedro Martinez to the impact of global warming on the Arctic Ocean, are becoming wonderfully commonplace. The list could go on. Which is to say, again, the business model for journalism may be broken, but the journalism, specifically your journalism, is not.

Change is exciting, but the nasty sibling of change is uncertainty, and that can be scary as hell. Please remember that this newsroom has accomplished extraordinary journalism in the face of enormous uncertainty for many years running. We’ve been threatened with closure. We’ve been twice put up for sale – before fortunately landing with a deeply committed owner. We, like everyone else, have seen significant staff reductions. And through it all, you’ve created cutting edge and thriving websites. You’ve won Pulitzer Prizes and every other award under the sun. You produce one of the most thoughtful and provocative daily reports in the nation. The next couple of months will carry another dose of pain, again in the departure of prized colleagues. But please don’t doubt that we’ll emerge as a healthy and forward-looking enterprise, primed for continued excellence.

I’ll be in the Winship Room next Tuesday at 11, 2, and 6 to hear your thoughts and take your questions. I’m of course available any time before then; just reach out. Meantime, thanks as always for all you do.

Why the Olympics defeat is the Market Basket saga of 2015

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Market Basket protesters in 2014

The defeat of the Boston Olympics bid was this summer’s Market Basket story — a feel-good saga about ordinary people triumphing over the moneyed interests. Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi calls the opponents “heroes.”

Of course, there were a lot of good people involved in Boston 2024, and they don’t deserve to be cast as the bad guys. But it was a great moment on Monday when Boston Mayor Marty Walsh stepped to the podium to say that he wasn’t willing to put taxpayers at risk, thus bringing this contentious chapter to a close.

Some of us opposed to the Olympics began cautiously celebrating on July 17, when The Boston Globe ran a story by its veteran Olympics reporter, John Powers, that made it sound like Walsh, Gov. Charlie Baker and the U.S. Olympic Committee were all trying to send a signal that it was over. In particular, Powers noted that the political establishment is always a driving force behind successful Olympic bids, and that was entirely lacking with Boston 2024.

There’s already plenty of discussion about what went wrong with the proposal. Personally, I don’t think anything went wrong. We didn’t want the Olympics, and nobody asked us. A better job of salesmanship wasn’t going to matter. As Michael Jonas writes in CommonWealth Magazine:

Far from being small-minded killjoys, Bostonians proved to be a pretty forward-looking, sophisticated lot. We asked a lot of questions, didn’t settle for half-baked answers, and weren’t overly wowed by the shiny objects the US Olympic Committee dangled in front of us.

As for the public improvements we will supposedly lose now that the Olympics won’t be disrupting our lives for the next nine years, there isn’t a single unmet need — be it transportation improvements, affordable housing or the redevelopment of blighted areas — that can’t be met better without the games. Former WCVB-TV (Channel 5) editorial director Marjorie Arons-Barron writes:

If Boston 2024 boosters are really serious about a long-term vision and strategy for greater Boston, why not join forces with Mayor Walsh in his nascent Boston 2030 planning? If this wasn’t just marketing palaver, they could put their resources (including their unspent budget) and talent together with others in the city (including the No Boston Olympic supporters) to develop and implement a smart and integrated plan to upgrade housing, roads and bridges, public transit, education, creating jobs and more so that greater Boston can express its aspirations in a practical and achievable blueprint that can transform the city and meet the needs of all its people. That would be a gold-medal-winning performance.

Kudos to everyone on a tremendous victory.

More: The Market Basket analogy occurred to Jon Keller of WBZ as well.

Photo (cc) by Val D’Aquila and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Also published at WGBHNews.org.

Boston Herald lays off six, according to union

Update, July 27: Just got word that four, not six, Boston Herald employees were laid off last week, none in editorial.

Awful news coming out of the Boston Herald this afternoon. The Newspaper Guild tweets:

How U.S. respect for LGBT rights influences the world

My friend Susan Ryan-Vollmar has written an important op-ed piece for The Boston Globe about how respect for LGBT rights in the United States has a positive effect on the rest of the world.

Susan recently accompanied the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus to Israel and Turkey. While in Istanbul, government tanks blasted Pride marchers with tear gas and water cannons. It was a harrowing scene, but the chorus itself was able to perform in front of more than 3,000 people — in part because U.S. Consul General Charles Hunter, who’s married to a Turkish man, had made it clear he’d be attending. Susan writes:

The concert in Istanbul was a rare public expression of LGBT culture in the Muslim world. It would not have taken place without Hunter’s intervention. By informing the Turkish government in advance that he would be sitting in the front row, he ensured our safety, and that of the audience. It was one example of many this past June of US-led efforts to celebrate and honor LGBT people around the world by marking LGBT Pride month.

Something to think about as the 2016 presidential campaign gets under way.

Let’s keep the heat on for public-records reform

In case you missed it, Todd Wallack has a tremendous article in Sunday’s Boston Globe on our broken public-records system in Massachusetts.

Wallack begins with a killer anecdote: a $2.7 million price tag placed on Breathlyzer records a lawyer was seeking from the State Police. The lawyer, Thomas Workman of Taunton, says that other states charged him anywhere between nothing and $75.

“I was more disappointed than surprised,” Workman is quoted as saying. “I do work across the country, and I have more trouble trying to get information in Massachusetts than other places.” And oh, by the way: he never got the records he was seeking.

Right now is when you can make a difference, as I noted in a blog post reporting that the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) is trying to derail reform. Rather than sending my legislators emails, I posted on their public Facebook pages. State Rep. Sean Garballey, D-Arlington, responded by telling me that he’s a co-sponsor of legislation that would significantly improve the law. I haven’t yet heard from state Sen. Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville, but will let you know if and when I do.

And this just in: Bob Ambrogi, a media lawyer who’s executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, sent out an email a few minutes ago warning that the MMA may have already succeeded, as a House session to vote on the reform legislation — now House 3665 — has been canceled. Let’s keep pushing. Ambrogi writes that “the bill may now be effectively killed.”

Not yet. Let’s keep pushing. Not sure who’s representing you on Beacon Hill? Just click here.

Cities and towns seek to derail public-records reform

A serious attempt to reform the state’s broken public-records law — the shortcomings of which I described recently in the WGBH News Muzzle Awards — is on the verge of being derailed by the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA), according to advocates.

On Friday came word that the state Legislature was likely to pass the long-awaited reform bill, House 2772, according to The Boston Globe and State House News Service. The bill, though not perfect, includes key provisions to hit noncompliant government agencies with lawyers’ fees and to limit how much those agencies can charge for complying with public-records requests.

Now comes word that the municipal association, a lobbying group for the state’s cities and towns, is working to prevent final passage. Here is a statement sent out by the MMA in which the bill is denounced as an “unfunded mandate” that could be used to “harass” local officials.

The following is an email sent to me by Bob Ambrogi, executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association.

Hi Folks,

It is do or die time for MassFOIA, because our public records bill, which was on the move, is now under aggressive attack.

As of yesterday, the plan was for a House vote on our public records bill next Weds, with a Senate vote the following week. Now, the MMA is fighting back with everything they have [a reference to the document linked above] and we need to do the same or the bill may be dead.  In fact, it appears the House has cancelled their formal session for next week so our reform efforts are in mortal danger. If they kill the bill now, it will be all the more difficult to revive.

So, please:

1) Write to your members to get them to call or email their legislators. I’ve attached an email that Pam wrote to Common Cause members this morning. [Note: I have not included the attachment.]

2) Stay tuned as we develop materials over the weekend and early next week that you may need to sign onto — such as a coalition letter. We will need a quick turn around.

3) Keep your eyes open for updated talking points over the weekend.

Thanks for your support of this critical issue!

Best,

Gavi Wolfe, ACLU of Massachusetts
Pam Wilmot, Common Cause Massachusetts
Bob Ambrogi, MA Newspaper Publishers Association
Justin Silverman, New England First Amendment Coalition