Tag Archives: Boston Globe

The James Foley video and bearing witness to evil

James Foley

James Foley

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

The horrifying execution of journalist James Foley raises an uncomfortable if familiar question: Is there anything to be gained by watching the video of his beheading at the hands of an ISIS terrorist?

It’s a question that I explored 12 years ago, when Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was similarly murdered. I searched for the video online and found it at a website whose sick operators presented such fare for the entertainment of their disturbed viewers. I shared it with my friends at The Boston Phoenix, who — to my surprise — published several small black-and-white stills of Pearl’s beheading and provided a link to the full video. “This is the single most gruesome, horrible, despicable, and horrifying thing I’ve ever seen,” the Phoenix’s outraged publisher, Stephen Mindich, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

The Phoenix’s actions created a national controversy. I defended Mindich and editor Peter Kadzis, first in the Phoenix, later in Nieman Reports. (At the time I had left the paper to write my first book, though I continued to contribute freelance pieces. My departure turned out to be temporary. And Kadzis, my editor then, is also my editor now: he is the senior editor of WGBH News.) I wrote in the Nieman piece:

Daniel Pearl didn’t seek martyrdom, but martyrdom found him. The three-and-a-half-minute video shows us the true face of evil, an evil that manifested itself unambiguously last September 11…. We turn away from such evil at our peril.

I stand by what I wrote then, but I haven’t watched the execution of Jim Foley. In contrast to the Daniel Pearl footage, the Foley video is bright and clear, in high definition. I’ve watched a bit of it, listened to him speak while kneeling in the desert; but that was all I could handle.

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby takes a different view, writing, “The intrepid and compassionate reporter from New Hampshire didn’t travel to Syria to sanitize and downplay the horror occurring there. He went to document and expose it.”

I don’t disagree. But it should be a matter of choice. Gawker, among the first media outlets to post a link to the video, made sure its readers knew that what they would see if they clicked was “extremely disturbing.” By contrast, the New York Post and the Daily News published front-page images of Foley (I’ve linked to a Washington Post story, not the actual images) just before his beheading — in the New York Post’s case, barely a nanosecond before.

It’s a fine line, but I’d say Gawker was on the right side of it, and the New York tabloids were not.

At the time of his capture, Foley was freelancing for GlobalPost, the Boston-based international news organization. GlobalPost co-founder and chief executive Phil Balboni, in a tribute published in the Globe, wrote:

For those of us who knew Jim, the road ahead will be particularly long and trying. As a lifelong journalist, the path forward for me will be rooted in a renewed and profound respect for a profession that for Jim was not a job, but a calling.

And here is an interview with GlobalPost co-founder Charles Sennott, talking about Foley on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM).

We’ve learned a lot since the execution of Daniel Pearl. One of the things we’ve learned is that bearing witness does not necessarily lead to a good result. Years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have not created a safer world.

Do we have a right to view the James Foley video? Of course. Twitter, a private company that has become a virtual public utility, is heading down a dangerous road by banning images from the video. Should we watch the video as a way of witnessing unspeakable evil, as Jeff Jacoby argues? That, I would suggest, should be up to each of us.

Above all, we should honor the bravery and sacrifice of journalists like Daniel Pearl and James Foley, who take risks most of us can scarcely imagine. Let’s keep the Foley family in our thoughts, and celebrate the safe return of Peter Theo Curtis. And let’s send offer whatever good thoughts we can for Steven Sotloff, a fellow hostage of Foley’s who was threatened with death last week.

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.

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.

Some questions about a bicyclist and an enraged driver

After reading Tom Farragher’s Boston Globe column this morning about Chris Smith, a legally blind bicyclist who says an enraged driver got out of his car in Brookline and came at him with a baseball bat, I’ve got two questions.

  • Is it wise or even legal for someone who has lost much of his vision to be riding his bike on public ways? Aren’t we always told that cyclists have to follow the same laws as drivers?
  • Was it a good idea for Smith to rap his knuckles on the side of the car as they were both making their way through traffic? Farragher calls it “a signal of safety. I’m right here, it said, don’t hit me.” I wouldn’t. I’d call it obnoxious behavior by a cyclist, and at the very least I’d be giving him the hairy eyeball.

Let me be clear: There was no excuse for the driver to go off the way Smith describes. But I don’t think it’s all that clear-cut that Smith was in the right. Cyclists: I want to hear from you, either here or on Facebook.

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.

Geoff Edgers leaving Globe for Washington Post

Geoff Edgers

Geoff Edgers

A big loss for The Boston Globe: Geoff Edgers, the paper’s arts and culture reporter since 2002, is leaving for The Washington Post. Edgers is a talented and versatile journalist — a filmmaker as well as a traditional reporter — and he will be hard to replace. The move will reunite Edgers with Post executive editor Marty Baron, who hired Edgers when he was editor of the Globe.

Geoff was a colleague at The Boston Phoenix in the mid-1990s, and his wife, Carlene Hempel, is now a colleague at Northeastern. Yes, Boston is a small town.

The following is a memo to the Globe staff from arts editor Rebecca Ostriker and  Janice Page, deputy managing editor for features. As always, Globies, keep those memos coming.

When Geoff Edgers arrived at the Globe in 2002, he carved out a new beat: covering the region’s key arts institutions and individuals with the drive and focus of a hard-news reporter. Smart, enterprising, energetic, and resourceful, Geoff has simply excelled. He’s written nearly 200 page 1 stories on everything from Boston Symphony Orchestra maestro James Levine’s health woes to the Institute of Contemporary Art’s gleaming new waterfront home, plus scores of other pieces that brim with life and make even the most complex subjects accessible. One of our favorites was when Geoff captured the debacle of a Mass MoCA exhibition that involved installing a 35-foot oil tanker, a two-story house, a carousel of bombs, and an old movie theater — all of which never opened to the public. Then there was Christian Marclay’s 24-hour video “The Clock’’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, which our department covered tag-team-style. Of course Geoff signed up for the toughest, most yawn-inducing stretch — midnight to 4 a.m. — and came up swinging, with some sharp insights on video licensing and a filmmaking crew “big enough to work the Indy 500.”

On the subject of film, Geoff knew what he was talking about: In his spare time, he’s produced a full-length documentary, “Do It Again,” which captured his quixotic quest to reunite the rock band the Kinks (and gave him a chance to duet with Sting), and hosted the Travel Channel series “Edge of America,” crossing the country to try such stunts as tackling alligators and competing in a haggis-eating contest. And Geoff has brought his impressive filmmaking knowhow to the Globe, teaming with the talented Darren Durlach to earn a New England Emmy Award for a video about the soprano Barbara Quintiliani, and to create the Boston Marathon documentary “5 Runners,” which recently premiered at the JFK Library and aired on NESN.

When there’s a story, Geoff wants to be — and almost invariably makes sure he is — the guy who gets it. Which makes it all the harder to announce that he’ll be getting those stories somewhere else in the future. Geoff has accepted a job as national arts reporter for the Washington Post. He’ll be covering cultural stories across the country, from museum and opera controversies to the latest trends in pop music and web culture. Geoff says he relishes the opportunity to take what he’s learned at the Globe and apply it on a broader stage. This is a new position, he notes, as the Post aims to compete with The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. (He’s assured us that any competition with the Globe should not be taken personally.)

Happily, Geoff will be doing all of this from a base in Boston. So although his last day at the Globe is Sept. 12, and we’ll toast him before he goes (details to come), he’s not really leaving us. And if the Kinks someday reunite in a Boston venue, we’ll celebrate with him there.

Rebecca and Janice