Boston.com retracts claim about racist email from professor

The tale of the Harvard Business School professor who flipped out because he’d been overcharged $4 by a Chinese restaurant took an ugly turn Wednesday night. Boston.com, which first reported the story, posted a follow-up claiming that Ben Edelman had sent a racist email to the restaurant owner — and then replaced the follow-up with an “Editor’s Note,” explaining that the authenticity of the email couldn’t be verified. The Boston Herald has a summary of what went wrong. (Boston.com is part of The Boston Globe’s network of websites.)

The original story about Edelman, by Boston.com’s Hilary Sargent, had gone viral. Who, after all, can resist reading about a privileged Harvard professor threatening legal action against a hard-working business owner because the prices on his website hadn’t been updated for a while? So when Boston.com retracted its explosive allegation (carrying Sargent and Roberto Scalese’s bylines) that Edelman was not just a contentious jerk but a racist as well, Twitter exploded.

So what did Boston.com publish? It wasn’t long before screen grabs started to make their way around the intertubes. J. Alain Ferry posted a copy here. What happened was that after Edelman apologized to Ran Duan, whose family owns the Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline, someone claiming to be Edelman sent another email to the restaurant owner, writing, “You may have won the battle Duan, but at least we can agree your menu is a little less slanty-eyed.” That’s followed up by an apology for accidentally sending what was meant as a private joke, which has the effect of making the mail seem more authentic.

Edelman’s domain name, benedelman.org, is easily found on the Web, and it’s not difficult to send an email using any address you like. The Sichuan Garden website offers an email form that lets you do exactly that. One clue is that all of the legitimate emails Boston.com has posted from Edelman are marked as coming from “Ben Edelman,” whereas the racist email and subsequent apology were from “ben@benedelman.org.”

Despite the retraction, Boston.com as of this moment is still all-in on the rest of its Edelman package. We’ll see what, if anything, comes next.

Update: Kyle Alspach just posted on this at BostInno. He’s got some really interesting technical stuff.

Update II: Here’s a screen image of a tweet Sargent sent out last night that she subsequently took down:

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 9.23.52 AM

Caitlin Flanagan on the harm caused by Rolling Stone

The single best analysis I’ve run across regarding the meltdown of Rolling Stone’s story about rape at the University of Virginia campus is by Caitlin Flanagan, the author of a long investigation into fraternities that was published by The Atlantic earlier this year.

Flanagan was interviewed by “On the Media” over the weekend. Give it a listen and you’ll understand why journalistic failures by Rolling Stone and journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely have done so much damage to the campaign against sexual assault on campus.

The gold standard for reporting on this issue has been set by my friend and former colleague Kristen Lombardi of the Center for Public Integrity. Here is an archive of her work.

Northeastern J-School partners with Esquire magazine

photoBy Jeff Howe

Earlier this year Northeastern University’s School of Journalism received a Knight Foundation grant to launch a Media Innovation graduate program. Students — mostly mid-career journalists and the occasional newly minted J-school grad — would pursue one story over the 18-month course of study. We’d let the story discover its own media, so to speak, rather than, say, imposing an interactive treatment on a piece that wants to be a photo essay. Then we would crack open the considerable resources of Northeastern University to our students. Javascript, data-scraping, digital videography — each student writes her or his own ticket, like a Knight Fellowship with a degree at the end.

In the final semester we would work assiduously to place the story with a well-respected media outlet. Poker isn’t poker without money, and journalism isn’t journalism without readers. Since we mostly acquire the craft in a newsroom, we figured we’d bring the newsroom into the university. So far, and to our great pleasure, reality has followed the blueprint.

In the spirit of marrying education to editorial, this week we launched a partnership with Esquire magazine. The goal is to create both a physical and virtual research and development lab for digital storytelling. Online platforms have recently delivered a cornucopia of long-form journalism, but we’re still in the messy — a.k.a. totally awesome — phase of experimentation. Most of the current experimentation will fade away without a trace. But some of it will stick.

Esquire and Media Innovation decided to approach the subject from three directions:

  • StoryLab, a full-semester course taught at Northeastern’s School of Journalism beginning in spring 2015, in which students will work with Esquire writers and editors to reimagine both classic and new Esquire stories for the digital age.
  • Storybench.org, a news site that offers an “under the hood” look at the latest and most inventive examples of digital creativity — from data-visualization projects to interactive documentaries — as well as the tools and innovation behind them.
  • StoryChallenge, an annual new-media storytelling competition, launching in October 2015, which will challenge journalists to reinvent the way magazine stories are told.

These projects serve a few highly pragmatic purposes. As one of the nation’s most prestigious venues for literary journalism, Esquire has a great interest in the future of that form. As educators, we’re doing our best to prepare journalism students to enter a workforce that expects creativity and a collaborative imagination as much as shoe leather reporting.

Recently we had Jay Lauf — the founding president and publisher of the business news site Quartz — speak to our students. Like Vice and BuzzFeed, Quartz is growing fast and hiring accordingly. I’m so accustomed to journalism’s famine mentality I assumed they were getting inundated with talented candidates.

That’s not the case. “We are getting swamped with résumés,” Jay says, “but not always with qualified candidates.” Jay defines these as journalists who may have a base-level fluency in programming but, more important, they can demonstrate an easy facility with numbers and data and social media. In fact, the various digital journalism ventures in New York, Jay says, are battling it out for the few journalists that fit the new mold.

There’s another mission threading throughout these efforts: How do you train journalists for jobs that don’t exist yet? One way, we figured, was to try to invent those jobs here. We’re not going to do that by stroking our chins in Aristotelian reflection. We’re going to do it by doing it. There have to be readers at the end of the process, and real sources and real stories. Poker ain’t poker if you’re not using real money. Journalism ain’t journalism unless the stakes are real. And that’s what these Esquire partnerships bring to the table.

Jeff Howe is an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University. This post was previously published at the Knight Blog.

Some thoughts about the meltdown of The New Republic

I don’t have much to offer on the meltdown of The New Republic except for a few inchoate thoughts. Many people have written many things, but it seems to me that the one essential read is Lloyd Grove’s piece in The Daily Beast. Now then:

1. Despite owner Chris Hughes’ excruciatingly awful behavior last week, it still isn’t clear to me why everyone resigned. When then-owner Marty Peretz fired editor Michael Kelly in 1997, mass resignations were threatened, but only one writer — media columnist William Powers — actually walked out the door. Kelly was an enormously popular, charismatic figure, but maybe the lack of solidarity was in recognition of how far he had dragged the supposedly liberal magazine to the right. Still, does no one want to see if there might be some positive aspects to Hughes’ plan?

2. And yet — if Hughes wants a digital media startup, why didn’t he just do it instead of buying TNR and turning it into something else? That makes no sense. And yet again — if Hughes is looking for the kind of print/online/events strategy that has transformed The Atlantic, as media-business analyst Ken Doctor argues, how could that possibly be a bad thing? I’d be the first to admit that I don’t like The Atlantic nearly as much as I did when it was a staid, Boston-based monthly. But it has managed to combine success, influence and seriousness, and that’s nothing to be scoffed at.

3. During Peretz’s long ownership, TNR was derided not just for its lack of diversity but for its hostility to any steps aimed at ensuring racial justice. I wrote for TNR twice. The first time, in 1998, was about the departure of Boston Globe columnists Patricia Smith and Mike Barnicle for fabricating, and Barnicle for plagiarizing as well. When I received the edited version of my piece, I saw that someone had inserted some harsh anti-affirmative action language. (The idea was that both Smith, an African-American, and Barnicle, an Irish-American, had been beneficiaries of some sort of affirmative-action mindset.) I was appalled, and fortunately was able to get the language removed before publication. But it showed what kind of thinking prevailed at TNR.

4. Among the former TNR editors lashing out at Hughes is Andrew Sullivan, who, among other things, once gave over the cover of the magazine to the authors of “The Bell Curve,” a racist tome that argued that black people just aren’t as intelligent as whites. Sullivan also published an infamous, falsehood-filled article by Betsy McCaughey that trashed the Clinton health plan and may have contributed to its defeat. Sullivan did far more harm to TNR than Hughes, but now he’s seen as a defender of tradition. (For more on the sins of TNR during the Peretz era, see Charlie Pierce.)

5. Probably the worst thing you can say about Hughes is that he decided to blow up The New Republic just as it was rediscovering its footing as a liberal journal. Editor Franklin Foer, by all accounts, was doing a fine job before Hughes fired him. But what is the role of a magazine like TNR in the digital age? The policy pieces in which it specialized are everywhere. Hughes could have kept it going as a small, money-losing journal, of course. But there was a time when TNR was an influential small, money-losing journal. Those days are long gone, as Ezra Klein notes at Vox. You can’t blame Hughes for wanting to try something different. If his behavior had been less reprehensible, maybe he could have brought his talented staff and contributors along for the ride.

Expanded Globe Business section makes its debut

Globe Business pageThe Boston Globe has all age groups covered in its expanded Business section, which debuts today.

For younger readers, there is this story, by Stefanie Friedhoff, on a start-up that sells highly reflective paint to make bicycles more visible in the dark.

And for old folks like me, tech columnist Hiawatha Bray has advice for what to do about the blizzard of passwords you want your loved ones to be able to access after you’ve departed this vale of tears. I’m going to bookmark that one.

When it comes to newspapers, more is better. The section offers a nice mix of stories and is attractively designed. (I took a rare peek at the replica edition so that I could see what it looks like in print.) And for those who still care about such things, Business is once again a standalone section.

To its credit, the Globe has also assigned reporter Katie Johnston to cover “workplace and income inequality.” I’d like to see her reporting supplemented with a strong, opinionated voice along the lines of the way columnist Shirley Leung chronicles the local power players.

Here’s the press release:

The Boston Globe Launches New and Expanded Standalone Business Section

Tuesday through Friday section, with new staff and features, debuts December 4; launch sponsored by University of Massachusetts

Boston (Dec. 4, 2014) — The Boston Globe today launches a new and expanded business section. Tuesday through Friday, and Sunday, the print version of Business will be a standalone section, giving it a more prominent position in the newspaper.

The new section — also on BostonGlobe.com — debuts at a time when Boston and the region is at the front-end of an unprecedented period of growth. The section will cover the power players and big-thinkers helping to make the area a national hub for innovation, as well as those struggling to raise their economic standing in a state with some of the nation’s highest housing and energy costs.

Readers can also expect more personalities, more strong-voiced writing, and more dramatic design. It’s a section that reflects the fact that people work in many different ways these days, and that jobs intersect with private lives in ways that weren’t imagined not so long ago. It’s not just about what people do for work, but how they do it, where they do it, and what they do after work. It’s about business as part of life.

“When we at the Globe think about business as a subject, it encompasses so much more than stock prices and mergers, profits and losses,” said Mark Pothier, Globe business editor. “There are bold ideas and life stories behind every business and business decision. There are people leading the way and those who are left behind. We want to make the section relevant to a much broader range of readers than a traditional business section.”

New features include:

  • Bold Types: A destination for anyone interested in who’s doing what. Think of this as the Business version of the popular Names column in the Metro section, with CEOs and startup geniuses instead of movie stars.
  • Talking Points: A fast-paced summary of what the time-starved business person needs to start the day — from local to national to global
  • Agenda: What’s on tap for tomorrow and what might you want to attend? This could feature events like the next Federal Reserve meeting, a product giveaway or charity event
  • Workspace: Highlights trends and unusual workspaces, from the back of a bus to ultra-hip high tech offices
  • Build: Covers real estate, new projects and architecture
  • Double Shot: Washington-based reporter Matt Viser’s column expands from politics to focus on the coffee-drinking habits of businesspeople.
  • The Download: A brisk digital dossier of someone in the business world – their social media habits, last photo taken, most-used apps and more
  • Business Lunch: Everything from the hot spots to get business done to the eating habits of the power brokers
  • There and Back: From commuting horror stories to favorite destinations for conferences to travel tips from airport veterans
  • Shop: New stores, new trends, new products, good deals, potential scams and more
  • Number of the Day: One number can say a lot

In advance of the new section, Cynthia Needham, formerly the Globe’s political editor, joined Business.

New hires include Jon Chesto, formerly managing editor of the Boston Business Journal, and Sacha Pfeiffer, formerly senior reporter and host of WBUR’s “All Things Considered.” Prior to joining WBUR six years ago, Pfeiffer spent a decade at the Globe, most notably as part of the Spotlight Team that won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the clergy abuse scandal. She will cover nonprofits, venture capital, philanthropy, and the people and motivations behind them.

The new section also includes coverage from BetaBoston.com, the source for innovation and tech news, from the latest start-ups to the newest biotechnology breakthrough. BetaBoston.com will also share and link to the expanded Globe business coverage.

The University of Massachusetts (UMass) is the section launch sponsor. “As the state’s largest university, we are always following changes and trends in the regional business landscape,” said Robert P. Connolly, UMass Vice President for Communications. “We value this expanded coverage as a member of the business community and value the opportunity to support its launch.”

The new Business section is the latest example of the Globe’s commitment to providing an unparalleled depth of information and perspective on a variety of coverage areas. Its Capital (politics) and Address (real estate) sections are the most recent examples.

The Globe’s new Business section debuts Dec. 4, 2014. All content will be available at BostonGlobe.com/business and readers can also follow Business on Twitter at @BostonGlobe and @GlobeBiz.

The fatal decision was made before the chokehold

It seems to me that we’re looking at the wrong thing in thinking about the death of Eric Garner. It wasn’t the chokehold — it was the police officers’ decision to use overwhelming force to enforce a ridiculous law that no one cares about. Once that decision was made, there was no predicting what the outcome would be.

I’m sure Officer Daniel Pantaleo didn’t mean to kill Eric Garner. But he and his fellow officers certainly meant to take him down. And for what?

And yes, it is inconceivable that Pantaleo and perhaps other officers weren’t charged with something by the grand jury for their horrendous judgment. Criminal negligence perhaps?

Ferguson, the media and what comes next

Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 19.

Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 19.

On Tuesday, I conducted an email Q&A with Northeastern’s College of Arts, Media and Design on the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and what they mean for journalism. I hope you’ll have a look.

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