Category Archives: Personal

Some reflections on the life of Steve Burgard

Steve Burgard

Steve Burgard

My friend and mentor Stephen Burgard, director of Northeastern’s School of Journalism for the past dozen years, died on Sunday. It was unexpected — he was on sabbatical, happily working on a new version of his book about religion and the media, when a longstanding lung ailment suddenly worsened.

I first met Steve online in the late ’90s, when I was covering the media for the Boston Phoenix and Steve was writing editorials for the Los Angeles Times. He was a Boston native, and he took an interest in what I was reporting about the Globe. We became frequent email correspondents as he wrote to me with ideas, observations and occasional criticism.

In 2002 he took the Northeastern position. After I expressed an interest in joining the faculty of my alma mater, he became my staunchest supporter, clearing the way for my hiring, helping me to learn the ropes as I worked toward tenure, and encouraging me every step of the way.

Steve was a huge baseball fan and had Red Sox season tickets. Last July 1, he took me to Fenway, where we watched the Sox lose to the Cubs, 2-1. Steve was truly in his element — but no more so than when he would drop by my office to talk about school business, gossip about something we’d seen on Romenesko, or just shoot the breeze.

I can’t believe we won’t be doing that again.

Bryan Marquard has written a masterful obit of Steve that appears in today’s Globe. And here is a growing tribute page that appears on our school’s website.

Northeastern University photo by Skylar Shankman.

Whom will the Globe endorse for governor?

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 10.03.43 AMSometime this evening, I imagine, we’ll learn whom The Boston Globe has endorsed for governor. So today we can play a parlor game and try to figure out the choice.

I thought Martha Coakley’s chances improved when challenger Seth Moulton beat incumbent John Tierney in the Democratic primary for the Sixth Congressional District. Why? Because the Globe surely would have endorsed moderate Republican Richard Tisei over the ethically tarnished Tierney, as it did two years ago, thus making it easier to endorse a Democrat for governor. But the Globe seems certain to choose Moulton, a liberal war hero whom it has already endorsed once this year, over Tisei. (That may come tonight as well.)

Today, though, came the Globe’s endorsement of Patricia Saint Aubin, a Republican who’s challenging incumbent state auditor Suzanne Bump, a Democrat. The folks who run the Globe’s liberal editorial pages generally like to endorse one high-profile Republican. Is Saint Aubin high-profile enough that the gubernatorial nod will now go to Coakley?

Another wild card: longtime editorial-page editor Peter Canellos recently left, and is now the number-three editor at Politico. Taking his place on an interim basis is Ellen Clegg, a veteran Globe editor and until recently the paper’s spokeswoman. She doesn’t get to make the final call (that would be owner-publisher John Henry), but hers is an important voice.

One thing we can be fairly sure of is that the Globe’s most recent poll, showing Baker with an unexpected nine-point lead, will not be a factor.

So … whom do I think the Globe will endorse? I think it will be Baker. He’s liberal on social issues, reasonably moderate on most other issues and could be seen as a counterweight to the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. (I’m trying to channel the Globe’s editorial board, not reveal my own choice.)

We’ll know tonight whether I’m right or wrong. And what do you think? Please post a comment here or on Facebook.

Some news from Media Nation world headquarters

I am honored and pleased to report that I have been officially awarded tenure at Northeastern and have been promoted to the rank of associate professor. I’ve been confident this was coming for the past six weeks, but it wasn’t official until I received a letter from the provost’s office Wednesday.

This has literally been a 10-year quest for me — one year as an adjunct, three as visiting faculty and then six on the tenure track. I’m filled with gratitude for all the support and help I received along the way.

Organizing notes for a book project: Your thoughts?

I started down this road last fall and got sidetracked. Now I’ve got to get serious about organizing the notes I’m starting to put together for my next book project.

For my last book, I simply saved everything as Word files. An interview? Word file. An article? Word file. Notes on a book? Word file. Then I entered each of them on an Excel spreadsheet that I could sort and search. I built in a link on each entry to the underlying Word document.

Several people have suggested that I switch to DEVONthink, which has a reputation for being a sophisticated but difficult program. Or Evernote. I haven’t spent enough time with either one to form an opinion. But what is the advantage to using one of those programs over the method I just described? What am I missing?

‘The Wired City’ world tour resumes on Monday

“The Wired City” world tour continues on Monday, as I’ll be speaking at 6:30 p.m. at the Langley-Adams Library in Groveland. I’ll also have for sale a few rare original hardcovers of “Little People.” Hope you can stop by.

Why I won’t miss the Hilltop Steak House

2754777213_de99e027a7_nHere is what I’m going to miss about the Hilltop Steak House, which announced this week that it will soon be closing its doors: driving past it during the holidays and looking at the fiberglass cattle wearing Santa hats. And — well, that’s it.

The demise of an icon is always sad. Once the country’s appetite for huge cuts of steak started to diminish, the Hilltop’s enormous size no doubt worked against it. Maybe it could have continued indefinitely if it had occupied a much smaller, cheaper space.

But unlike another Boston icon, Legal Sea Foods, the Hilltop never made any concessions to the 21st century. Legal has long since moved past broiled schrod and fried shrimp. Its menu is thoroughly modern and up to date. But at the Hilltop it is still the same old thing — salad, baked potato and a large, fresh but rather flavorless slab-o-meat.

The last time I went to the Hilltop was maybe 10 years ago. I brought my son because I thought he’d enjoy the experience; I hadn’t been in ages myself. Neither of us was impressed. My tastes had moved on, and his had never developed in that direction.

My wife and I enjoyed an occasional trip to the Hilltop in the 1980s, when you’d stand in line for a half-hour to an hour before being herded into one of its gigantic, Western-theme dining rooms.

But that was a long time ago.

Photo (cc) by splityard and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Andrew Solomon and “Little People”

Becky and me, back in the day

I’m pretty excited about this. Nine years ago Andrew Solomon, winner of the National Book Award, blurbed my book on dwarfism, “Little People.” He also interviewed me at the 2003 Little People of America conference for his next project — a book about families whose children were different from their parents, whether they be disabled, gay or suffering from mental illness, to name just a few examples.

That project — “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity” — has just been published, and has been the object of rapturous reviews. The New York Times alone has published two raves (here and here) as well as a feature on Solomon and his own family. And it turns out that I made the cut, as he both quotes from our conversation and cites “Little People” in several spots.

Naturally, I’m trying to figure out how this might benefit “Little People.” Although it’s officially out of print, I sell a high-quality self-published paperback. (You can read about how that came about in a piece I wrote for Nieman Reports.) So far I’ve taken a few small steps: I’ve removed the free online edition (except for the Introduction and Chapter One) and made it easier to buy a copy. As you can see in the right-hand column, I’ve pumped up its presence on Media Nation. And I’m going to try Google ads again, at least through Christmas.

Anyone have any other ideas? Are there any independent bookstores in the area that would be interested in carrying it?