Category Archives: Media

Courage and terrorism in the Middle East

James Foley speaking at Northwestern University in 2011

James Foley speaking at Northwestern University in 2011

Both James Foley, a freelance journalist who was reportedly beheaded by ISIS terrorists, and Steven Sotloff, a freelancer who has been threatened with execution, worked for Boston-based news organizations — Foley for GlobalPost, Sotloff for The Christian Science Monitor.

GlobalPost is currently going with a story reporting that the authenticity of the video apparently depicting Foley’s murder still hasn’t been confirmed. The story includes this statement from GlobalPost CEO and co-founder Phil Balboni:

On behalf of John and Diane Foley, and also GlobalPost, we deeply appreciate all of the messages of sympathy and support that have poured in since the news of Jim’s possible execution first broke. We have been informed that the FBI is in the process of evaluating the video posted by the Islamic State to determine if it is authentic. … We ask for your prayers for Jim and his family.

The Monitor so far has only run an Associated Press article on Foley with no mention of Sotloff. Foley is from Rochester, New Hampshire, and the Union Leader reports on the local angle. So, too, do The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.

The Washington Post reports on the unique dangers faced by freelance journalists in an era when fewer and fewer news organizations have the resources to send staff reporters into conflict zones.

Most journalists are like me: the biggest risk I take is that I might get overcharged for lunch. People like Foley and Sotloff — and all reporters and photographers who put themselves in harm’s way to bring back the story — are the true heroes of our craft.

More: GlobalPost co-founder Charles Sennott talks with WGBH Radio about Foley: “Jim had an amazing passion. He was courageous, he was fearless, and at times that caused great worry, concern and anguish for his editors. Foley took risks all over — in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and definitely in Libya, where he was captured, and he was held for 45 days, and eventually released. That changed him. That changed his sense of the calculus of risk, but it didn’t change his passion for what he wanted to do.”

Photo via Northwestern University, where Foley spoke about his earlier captivity at the hands of Libyan militants.

What New Haven could teach Ferguson about police video

WGBHNews.org has posted an excerpt from “The Wired City” about a controversy over citizens’ video-recording police that played out in New Haven in 2010 and ’11 — relevant given the ongoing violence in Ferguson, Missouri, and the vital role of citizen video in documenting what is taking place on the streets.

As I tried to show, the New Haven Independent’s repeated coverage of the controversy helped lead to a number of reforms, including statements from the mayor and the police chief in support of the right to record; a training session at the city’s police academy; and a bill in the state legislature that didn’t pass but that served further to raise consciousness about the issue.

Making sense of the violence in Ferguson

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 9.05.55 AM

Like many others, I watched in horrified fascination last night as this livestream from Ferguson, Missouri, played out online. (Thanks to Sara Rosenbaum, whose Twitter stream alerted me to it.) With cable news slow off the mark, the amateur footage of police firing rubber bullets at peaceful protesters was all we had.

But live images from a chaotic scene on the ground are no substitute for context and analysis. As we try to make sense of the Michael Brown shooting and the community and police response, I want to call your attention to several pieces that have helped me understand what’s going on:

Blog like a journalist

The revolutionary gleam has faded. Yet blogging remains at the center of the digital media toolbox.

From the vantage point of 2014, offering advice on how to write a blog feels a little like telling people how to write a proper newspaper article in 2005. “Blogging is dead,” says the (ahem) blogger Jason Kottke, overtaken by social-media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

But if the revolutionary gleam has worn off, blogging nevertheless is still a valuable tool for anyone practicing digital journalism, whether it be commentary, original reporting, photography or video. I’ve been blogging since 2002  — on my own at first, then as the media columnist for the late, lamented Boston Phoenix, and since 2005 as the publisher and almost-sole author of Media Nation.

These days there are many places online where you can share your work  — not just social platforms but also online publications such as The Huffington Post and Medium, which combine paid content with unpaid blog posts. (God help us, but such hybrids are known in some circles as “platishers.”) So why set up a solo blog?

Read the rest at Medium.

New York Times sanitizes Bachmann on immigration

Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann

The New York Times today sanitizes U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, in a story on immigration.

Times reporter Jonathan Weisman writes that the Republican Party is starting to move toward its Tea Party base on immigration issues and quotes Bachmann as saying, “This was one of the most remarkable experiences I’ve had in my eight years in Congress. We were able to achieve unity across the conference in what is likely to be the most consequential issue of this time: immigration.”

But though Weisman quotes incendiary remarks by Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, about a “war on whites,” he gives Bachmann a pass for her recent comments that President Obama wants to bring more undocumented children into the United States so that the government can carry out medical experiments on them. Here’s what Bachmann said on a radio show called “WallBuilders Today,” as transcribed by the liberal group People for the American Way:

Now President Obama is trying to bring all of those foreign nationals, those illegal aliens to the country and he has said that he will put them in the foster care system. That’s more kids that you can see how — we can’t imagine doing this, but if you have a hospital and they are going to get millions of dollars in government grants if they can conduct medical research on somebody, and a ward of the state can’t say “no,” a little kid can’t say “no” if they’re a ward of the state; so here you could have this institution getting millions of dollars from our government to do medical experimentation and a kid can’t even say “no.” It’s sick.

I can’t imagine why Weisman and his editors decided it was all right to quote Bachmann on immigration issues without bringing up this piece of demented and very recent rhetoric.

How Rupe got away with it

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch

HACK ATTACK: The Inside Story of How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch. By Nick Davies. Faber & Faber, 448 pages, $27.

For one brief moment, it looked as though Rupert Murdoch’s international media empire might be on the brink of collapse.

In the summer of 2011, Britain was in an uproar over revelations that the Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World had hacked the voice-mail messages of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who had been kidnapped and murdered in 2002. The scandal soon spread to other papers owned by Murdoch’s News Corp. And it nearly jumped the Atlantic, as allegations circulated that Murdoch journalists had tried to listen to cellphone messages of victims of the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

Yet, in the end, not much happened.

Read the rest at The Boston Globe.

Photo (cc) by the World Economic Forum and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

The New Haven Independent prepares to reboot

NHI goodbye party

Previously published at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Not too many months ago, Paul Bass gave serious thought to shutting down the New Haven Independent, the online-only nonprofit news site he founded in 2005.

“A while back, I considered whether I still had the energy to keep going,” Bass said. “I was burnt.”

He decided to keep it alive. And now he’s getting ready to relaunch with two new full-time staff reporters — one who will start the day after Labor Day, the other who has yet to be hired.

For a small community news organization, the Independent has been remarkably stable. Last week, Bass threw a going-away party for managing editor Melissa Bailey, who will be a Nieman Fellow starting this fall, and staff writer Thomas MacMillan, who is moving to New York to seek his fame and fortune. Both began working at the site as it was ramping up, Bailey in 2006 and MacMillan the following year. (The fourth staff member, Allan Appel, recently cut back to a part-time position.)

Several hundred people gathered in and outside the Woodland Café, near the New Haven Green, to say goodbye to Bailey and MacMillan. Their photography was on display, accompanied by QR codes that smartphone users could access to take them to the stories where those photos first appeared. Copies of Bailey’s just-published book on education reform in New Haven, “School Reform City: Voices from an American Experiment,” were on sale, along with Appel’s novel “The Midland Kid: Tales of the Presidential Ghostwriter.” Mayors past (John DeStefano) and present (Toni Harp) were on hand, as were a number of other community leaders.

“It’s really hard for me to imagine leaving New Haven for more than a few days, let alone a whole year,” Bailey told the crowd. MacMillan defined the privilege of being a journalist: “You ask questions and people just open up to you and give you these amazing stories.”

When I met with Bass afterwards, he talked about how difficult it would be to replace the two. “They’re community journalists. They love the work. They grew so much,” he said. “They both learned so many things, and they really ran the operation with me.”

Yet their departure will allow him to solve a longstanding problem: having an all-white staff cover a city where African-Americans and Latinos are in the majority. “The people I’m hiring will diversify the staff racially,” Bass told me. The Independent has used minority freelancers and interns, but all of its full-time staff journalists have been white.

The reboot of the Independent comes at a crucial time. The regional daily paper, the New Haven Register, has gone through several rounds of cuts in recent months — including one announced just last week — as its owner, Digital First Media, prepares for a widely predicted sell-off. In a few years, Digital First has gone from a closely watched experiment in reinvention to just another sad tale of chain journalism gone wrong.

Thus the Independent’s mix of political and neighborhood news, education reporting, and, increasingly, a focus on the arts fills a real need.

Despite the challenges of keeping a nonprofit going, Bass has had quite a bit of success with fundraising. Currently, he said, he has pledges through 2015 to cover the $420,000 budget for the Independent and a satellite two-person site in the northwest suburbs called the Valley Independent Sentinel. In recent years, he added, his fundraising base has shifted from about 75 percent foundation grants to about 25 percent. Most of the money comes from high-net-worth donors in the New Haven area. About $15,000 to $20,000 comes from small donors.

Late in 2013, Bass applied for a low-power FM license to operate a nonprofit community radio station in New Haven. He has yet to hear from the FCC, but he continues to hope it will come through. “I think we’d engage the readership in a new way,” he said.

For now, though, he’s planning to do something he’s never done before: ramp down the Independent for a few weeks. Posting will be minimal this week and next. And he’s going to stop posting completely during the last two weeks of August — a first since the Independent began publication in late August of 2005. Then comes the new Independent.

“I’m not going to have the same experience level I have now, so it’s going to be different,” Bass said. “I don’t think I can replace Thomas and Melissa.”

Yes, many Republicans really do want to impeach Obama

If you think New York Times columnist Ross Douthat is right in arguing that impeachment is just a “game” that President Obama is playing, you need to get up to speed by reading this, this and this. Republicans have been calling for Obama’s impeachment almost from the day he took office in 2009.

What’s really going on: Establishment Republicans are trying to divert attention from their own wingnut base. And Douthat is happy to give them cover.

Globe to offer buyouts to some staff members

Here’s some late-Friday-afternoon-in-August news for you: Boston Globe chief executive officer Mike Sheehan says the paper will be offering buyouts to some employees. Sheehan says the buyouts will be “voluntary in nature, the terms of which are generous by any standard.”

No numbers are given in either Sheehan’s memo (posted earlier at Universal Hub) or in a follow-up from editor Brian McGrory (exclusive to Media Nation). “There’s no set number we’re trying to achieve,” McGrory writes. “Most significantly, it’s not meant as a cost-cutting exercise in the newsroom. In fact, when all is said and done, I don’t expect staffing levels here to change much, if at all. We’ll see growth in some areas as we’ll see cutbacks in others. Hiring will continue.”

But, McGrory adds: “That’s not to say there won’t be difficult moments in this process. We’ll undoubtedly be saying goodbye to talented colleagues who have committed themselves to this great institution.”

(Update: Craig Douglas of the Boston Business Journal reports that layoffs are possible if the Globe doesn’t achieve its buyout goal.)

First, Sheehan’s email to the staff:

Over the past two years, there have been a number of significant changes at the Boston Globe: a new owner, a new editor, and new leadership in a number of departments. Since January 2013, we’ve added a number of new people as well — 250, to be precise. These key hires are helping us create a media property whose commitment to excellence in journalism is second to none in New England, and on par with the best in the business globally. They’ve allowed us to improve the quality of our offerings across the board and to introduce initiatives like Address and Capital in print, a re-imagined boston.com, plus Betaboston.com and Crux, the new Catholic digital site which will launch in a few weeks. On the business side, our efforts are paying off — after the first six months of 2014, our circulation and advertising revenue are both ahead of plan, which reflects the enthusiasm of readers, visitors, and advertisers.

Our mission of creating award-winning journalism that’s “aggressively interesting” is only realized if we create a business model that’s sound and eminently sustainable. To reposition our business for the future, we have decided to offer some employees a buyout, voluntary in nature, the terms of which are generous by any standard. These employees will receive a letter at home over the next few days outlining specific terms.

We will continue to adapt and change, to stay ahead of the market and our competitors. We will continue to recruit and hire and explore new initiatives. But we will do so with financial discipline and rigor.

While the letters will be detailed and thorough, if you have any questions, feel free to ask me, your supervisor, or anyone in Human Resources.

All the best,
Mike

And here is McGrory:

Following up on Mike’s note, I’d like to offer my assessment on what this means for the newsroom.

Thankfully, this newsroom has embraced necessary change since the dawn of boston.com in 1995, right up through the new sections and sites we’ve introduced over the past year, with our most ambitious undertakings yet to come. This innovative spirit has allowed us to be one of the most successful papers in the nation in terms of digital subscriptions. It has allowed us to deliver our stories and images to readers in bold new ways. It has allowed us to rack up awards of every stripe. It’s also allowed us to beat financial forecasts over the first half of this year.

But change, as you well know, rarely comes easy, or at least not easily enough. It means making difficult decisions on what facets of our journalism we need to curtail to allow more investment in what we believe is most important to our readers. In other words, we can’t keep doing things just because we’ve always done them. We need to be ever bold in the way we think about the journalism ahead.

With that in mind, this buyout is different than many that have come before, in terms of what it means for our operation. For starters, it’s more generous (the details will be in the packets). There’s no set number we’re trying to achieve. Most significantly, it’s not meant as a cost-cutting exercise in the newsroom. In fact, when all is said and done, I don’t expect staffing levels here to change much, if at all. We’ll see growth in some areas as we’ll see cutbacks in others. Hiring will continue.  The goal of this buyout is flexibility, to allow us to devote people with just the right talents to the areas where we need them most.

That’s not to say there won’t be difficult moments in this process. We’ll undoubtedly be saying goodbye to talented colleagues who have committed themselves to this great institution.

My take, no spin, is that this is an exciting endeavor — certainly fortuitous for those inclined to leave for retirement or a new venture, and absolutely for the newsroom at large, as we continue to strategically invest in the excellent journalism that you produce every day. I’m available, as always, to talk this through, and so are your department heads. Don’t hesitate to come by.

Brian

The Globe’s Erin Ailworth heads for The Wall Street Journal

In addition to the Geoff Edgers move that I mentioned earlier, I understand that Boston Globe business reporter Erin Ailworth is leaving for The Wall Street Journal. Ailworth has been a stalwart on the Market Basket story.

Apologies for not having much in the way of details. But the fact that papers like the Journal and The Washington Post are hiring suggests that the journalism-jobs logjam of recent years is starting to break free — at least at a few of our largest news organizations.