Guild reaches tentative agreement with Herald

The Newspaper Guild and Boston Herald management have reached agreement on a new two-year contract, according to a copy of an email sent to Media Nation. Members of the Guild will vote next Thursday, with union leadership recommending approval.

The vote comes after some turmoil earlier this year, when the Herald’s editorial and commercial employees voted against accepting management’s offer.

I’ve attached a PDF of the agreement. The new language comes at the end. What’s striking — though not surprising — is the flat acknowledgment by John Flinn, vice president of human resources, that all is not well at the Herald. In a letter to Brian Whelan, president of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston, Flinn writes that both sides “have recognized the deteriorating economic trends in the newspaper industry and at the Boston Herald, particularly advertising revenue and circulation, which continue to decline and disappoint.”

Of course, it’s in management’s best interest to paint as dark a picture as possible. Still, it’s undeniably true that the newspaper business continues to struggle. And it must be particularly challenging to be one of the last number-two dailies in the country.

What follows is Herald union official Bill Brotherton’s message to his members.

A reminder that the Guild and the Herald have reached a tentative agreement on a two-year contract. Voting will take place Thursday, Oct. 1, noon to 7 p.m. in the Record Room on the fifth floor. If you will not be here on Thursday, see Bill Brotherton or Jim Lazar for an absentee ballot.

The Guild Negotiating Team (Brian Whelan, Jim Lazar, Laurel Sweet and Bill Brotherton) is recommending a YES vote.

The committee got the Herald to scale back its attack on the severance (All Guild members currently employed by the Herald keep all severance earned to date, plus accumulates an additional week of severance each year up to a maximum of 62 weeks; future hires will get one week of severance per year up to a max of 26 weeks) and to delay the start date of reopening the contract in case of economic disaster to Feb. 1 (the company has said on the record it has no plans to reopen the contract unless the financial picture turns dire).

Attached is a copy of the tentative agreement. Current language is on top; new language is on the bottom. The language deletions are either elsewhere in the contract or are obsolete; both sides agreed to clean up the contract by eliminating old language.

Questions and comments/suggestions are encouraged.

Thank you for your support and patience.


An expanded role for me at WGBH News

Starting next week, I’ll be taking on an expanded role with WGBH News.

For some time now, I’ve been sharing blog posts with ’GBH. Now I’ll be writing a weekly (more or less) commentary that will be exclusive to — mostly on media, and frequently on how the presidential campaign is being covered. I’ll be popping up on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM) from time to time as well. And I’ll still be on “Beat the Press.”

This is more of a tweak than a big change. Still, I’m thrilled to have a chance to do more and to work with the great team at ’GBH. Fun fact: I’ve been writing for WGBH News senior editor Peter Kadzis (a former editor of The Boston Phoenix) since 1991.

What I’ll be doing in the coming year

I thought I should say a few words about what I’m up to.

For the next year, I’ll be on sabbatical from Northeastern as I work on a book about how three business people who are passionate about newspapers are using their wealth to reinvent their papers and possibly to show the way for others. They are John Henry of The Boston Globe, Jeff Bezos of The Washington Post and Aaron Kushner of the Orange County Register. Kushner is no longer running the Register, but the print-centric orientation he took during his time at the helm has much to tell us.

My project actually became public two years ago when the Globe somehow got word. That item has proved useful in helping me to line up interviews. But only now am I embarking on the bulk of my reporting. I lost a year when I agreed to serve as interim director of Northeastern’s School of Journalism following the death of my friend and mentor Steve Burgard. Steve’s death was a difficult blow. In terms of the book, though, the delay may prove to be a good thing, as it seems to me that Henry’s and Bezos’ visions are still coming into focus.

I have a contract with University Press of New England and a year that should be (I hope) free of distractions. I’m excited to push ahead.

GlobalPost to be acquired by WGBH*

Big news: GlobalPost, the highly respected international news organization launched in 2009 by New England Cable News founder Phil Balboni, is being acquired by WGBH and will be merged with Public Radio International. The announcement is online here.

According to the announcement, the acquisition will be completed later this year. Nine of GlobalPost’s 20 full-time journalists will be offered jobs at PRI.

*Note: This post has been corrected.

How the ad-blocking wars threaten independent media

ad-blockersThe stakes in the raging battle over ad-blocking software are high — but they’re not quite what you might think.

On the surface, it all seems straightforward enough. In one corner are executives at struggling news organizations who want to be sure that visitors to their websites actually see the ads. Thus did the Washington Post recently experiment with blocking the ad-blockers, a development first reported by BuzzFeed.

“Many people already receive our journalism for free online, with digital advertising paying only a portion of the cost,” a Post spokesperson was quoted as saying. “Without income via subscriptions or advertising, we are unable to deliver the journalism that people coming to our site expect from us.”

In the other corner are users who are sick and tired of popups, pop-unders, scroll-across-the-screeners and other obstrusive ads that invade your privacy by tracking your interests and that, in some cases, carry spyware or malware.

“What is unlikely to fly as a long-term strategy is begging readers to load all of the 50 or so trackers and ad-loaders and popups and banners, each of which might make a publisher three cents per thousand clicks, if they are lucky,” writes Mathew Ingram at Fortune. “That business is in a death spiral, and yelling about ad blockers isn’t going to change that.”

In fact, the ad-blocking controversy is anything but a simple morality play. Nor is it a coincidence that the issue has reached a frenzied peak thanks to Apple’s decision to include ad-blocking in its iOS 9 software for iPhones and iPads. Because the real stakes are being fought not on the Internet but in the boardrooms of the giant tech companies that want to control your online experience.

Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief of The Vergeexplained it last week. Essentially, it comes down to this: publishers that rely on web advertising are helping to drive revenue to Apple’s archenemy, Google, which controls much of the infrastructure for online ads. Block those ads and those publishers are more likely to run into the warm embrace of Apple, whose new Apple News platform provides a nice, safe, closed environment with ads that can’t be blocked. And Apple gets a 30 percent cut.

Facebook offers a similar service, the still-aborning Instant Articles, which allows publishers to post their content directly inside Facebook’s all-powerful newsfeed. As with Apple News, Facebook takes a cut of the action from the unblockable ads that will be displayed. It’s such an attractive proposition that the same Washington Post that’s trying to block the ad-blockers announced Tuesday that it will also publish 100 percent of its content to Facebook. Patel writes:

So it’s Apple vs. Google vs. Facebook, all with their own revenue platforms. Google has the web, Facebook has its app, and Apple has the iPhone. This is the newest and biggest war in tech going today.

And the collateral damage of that war — of Apple going after Google’s revenue platform — is going to include the web, and in particular any small publisher on the web that can’t invest in proprietary platform distribution, native advertising, and the type of media wining-and-dining it takes to secure favorable distribution deals on proprietary platforms. It is going to be a bloodbath of independent media.

As a matter of principle, I refuse to use ad-blocking software — but I turned on AdBlock while researching this article just to see what would happen. As anyone could have told me, sites loaded more quickly and with fewer distractions., which is so bogged down with ad-related bloatware that it’s become virtually unreadable, was zippier than I’ve ever seen it. A small hyperlocal site that I often visit suddenly appeared ad-free, simply because the site relies on an external ad-server business that AdBlock intercepted.

Interestingly enough, Marco Arment, the creator of the best-selling ad-blocking program Peace, pulled the software from Apple’s App Store almost as soon as it was released last week. “Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have,” he wrote on his blog. “Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.”

By acting as he did, Arment may have pointed the way to a possible solution. Because the problems ad-blockers are designed to solve are real, and they run a lot deeper than mere inconvenience. As Dan Gillmor recently wrote in Slate, “The advertising and tracking industries, abetted by telecommunications carriers, are investing in all kinds of technologies aimed at thwarting users’ wishes to retain some control over their online activities.”

So why not come up with a different kind of blocker — a piece of software that informs you when you’re about to access a website that fails to follow some agreed-upon list of best practices regarding privacy and user experience?

Such an arrangement may be the best way to preserve independent media on the open web. Users would be able to protect themselves from abusive adware without freeloading. And web publishers who see their traffic drop might decide it’s time to change their ways.

Previously published at and in The Huffington Post.

The Globe’s David Skok takes on more responsibilities

The Boston Globe’s David Skok is putting on yet another hat. According to Benjamin Mullin of Poynter, Skok, the Globe’s managing editor for digital and general manager of, has been named Boston Globe Media Partners’ vice president for digital.

Among other things, Skok will be in charge of the company’s troubled site, which in the past few weeks has seen a dozen layoffs as well as changes at the general manager’s and editor’s positions.

The announcement is well-timed given that the company seems determined to right the ship. Globe Media chief executive Mike Sheehan last week told the Globe that a new direction for the site would be set over the next two to three months.

Talking about ‘Little People’ in Bridgewater on Oct. 3

Charles Stratton (a.k.a. Tom Thumb) and his wife, Lavinia Warren

Charles Stratton (a.k.a. Tom Thumb) and his wife, Lavinia Warren

If you’re in Southeastern Massachusetts, I hope you’ll consider dropping by the Bridgewater Public Library on Saturday, Oct. 3, at 11 a.m. I’ll be giving a talk on “Just Like Us: Images of Dwarfism from Tom Thumb to Reality TV,” based on my 2003 book “Little People.” The event is co-sponsored by Bridgewater State University.

You can read “Little People” online for free. But if you’d like to purchase a copy through the Harvard Book Store, just click here. I’ll also have a few copies available for sale after the talk.