Tag Archives: Boston Globe

Globe wins Pulitzer for ‘story none of us wanted to cover’

Brian McGrory during the Pulitzer announcement.

Brian McGrory during the Pulitzer announcement. (Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe.)

This article was published earlier at WGBH News.

Within moments of the announcement that The Boston Globe had won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting, Martine Powers tweeted from the newsroom. “This was a story none of us wanted to cover,” she quoted editor Brian McGrory as saying. The staff, she said, then observed a moment of silence at McGrory’s request for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

The Globe easily could have won two or three Pulitzers for its coverage of the bombings and their aftermath. The breaking-news award, of course, was well-deserved, and frankly it was unimaginable that it would go to anyone else. But the paper also had worthy marathon-related finalists in Breaking News Photography (John Tlumacki and David L. Ryan) as well as Commentary (Kevin Cullen, who emerged as the voice and conscience of the city after the attack).

McGrory’s classy response to winning underscores the sad reality that the Globe’s excellent coverage was driven by a terrible tragedy — the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001. (The Globe was also a finalist in Editorial Writing, as Dante Ramos was honored for a non-marathon-related topic: improving the city’s night life.)

The Pulitzer also caps what has been a remarkable year for the Globe. On Marathon Monday 2013, McGrory was relatively untested as editor and the paper’s prospects were uncertain, as the New York Times Co. was trying to unload it for the second time in four years.

The Globe’s marathon coverage — widely praised long before today’s Pulitzers were announced — have defined McGrory’s brief term as editor as surely as the paper’s pedophile-priest coverage (which earned a Pulitzer for Public Service) defined Marty Baron’s. Moreover, the Globe now has a local, deep-pockets owner in John Henry who’s willing to invest in journalism.

But the focus should be on Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu and Sean Collier, as well as their families and all the other survivors. Good for McGrory for reminding everyone of that.

A couple of other Pulitzer notes:

• A lot of observers were waiting to see whether the judges would honor the stories based on the Edward Snowden leaks. They did, as the Pulitzer for Public Service went to The Guardian and The Washington Post.

Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, then affiliated with The Guardian and now with the start-up First Look Media, as well as Barton Gellman of the Post, were the recipients of the Snowden leaks, which revealed a vast U.S. spying apparatus keeping track of ordinary citizens and world leaders both in the United States and abroad.

The choice is bound to be controversial in some circles. U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., has already called the award “a disgrace.” But it was the ultimate example of journalism speaking truth to power, and thus was a worthy choice.

• The oddest move was the Pulitzer judges’ decision not to award a prize in Feature Writing. I thought it might go to the New York Times’ series “Invisible Child: Dasani’s Homeless Life,” or possibly to the Globe’s “The Fall of the House of Tsarnaev.” (I should note that neither of those stories was listed as a finalist.)

The Pulitzer process can be mysterious. But it would be interesting to see if someone can pry some information out of the judges to find out why they believed there wasn’t a single feature story in 2013 worthy of journalism’s highest honor.

A story told with sensitivity and craftsmanship

MA_BGLater today the Pulitzer Prizes will be announced. And it seems likely that The Boston Globe will win at least one — maybe more — for its coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath.

So it seems fitting that, on Sunday and today, the Globe published a two-part feature that may be a contender for a 2015 Pulitzer. Written by David Abel and photographed by Jessica Rinaldi, with a video produced by Abel and Scott LaPierre, the package tells the story of the Richards, the Dorchester family that more than any other has come to symbolize the region’s heart-breaking loss and resilience.

In reading the first part, I noticed that Abel offered little in the way of the Richards’ experience when the bombs went off and took the lives of three people, including 8-year-old Martin Richard. (Martin’s sister, Jane, lost part of her left leg. Their parents, Bill and Denise, were injured as well. Their brother, Henry, was not injured physically.)

Toward the end of part two, Abel tells the story — and does it with great sensitivity and craftsmanship.

The phrase “Boston Strong” has been misappropriated by many. Last fall I actually saw it flash on a sign outside a liquor store, followed by that day’s specials. Good grief.

The Richards are Boston Strong.

Globe makes move into TV with ’5 Runners’

This story was previously published at WGBH News.

When Boston Globe arts reporter Geoff Edgers and multimedia producer Darren Durlach proposed making a documentary about five runners who were crossing the Boston Marathon finish line at the moment that the bombings took place, editor Brian McGrory’s reaction was: Why not?

“What do you need? Two weeks?” McGrory recalled asking them.

As it turned out, it took Edgers and Durlach eight months, thousands of miles on the road and, as McGrory put it, “God knows how many dollars” to make “5 Runners,” which premiered before a crowd of several hundred people at the JFK Library Thursday evening.

The 25-minute film, which McGrory called “the first full-fledged documentary that theBoston Globe has ever produced,” will debut on NESN on Monday. It’s an early sign that a strategy to move into television, which Globe owner John Henry announced earlier this year, is beginning to take shape — although Edgers and Durlach began working on the film before Henry bought the paper. (Henry is also the principal owner of the Red Sox, which controls a chunk of NESN.)

The film, which grew out of a story Edgers wrote last April 21, follows the runners’ quest to return to the starting line of the 2014 marathon. I won’t give away how many make it. But “5 Runners” is deeply felt and unusual in its focus on how athletes — ordinary men and women who were well off the pace of the elite runners — were affected by the terrorist attack.

In a panel discussion after the film moderated by Globe deputy managing editor for features Janice Page, Edgers talked about the difficulties he and Durlach faced in staying in touch with their subjects. One of the runners, Volker Fischer, simply stopped responding, so Edgers sent him a card that read: “Volker — call me.”

When Edgers finally was able to connect with Fischer and visit his home in Illinois, he saw the card, unopened, on the refrigerator. “‘I liked the stamp,’” Edgers recalled Fischer telling him, explaining: “It was a Johnny Cash stamp.” (Disclosure: Edgers and I worked together at The Boston Phoenix in the mid-1990s. His wife, journalist Carlene Hempel, and I are colleagues at Northeastern University.)

Durlach said that the runners were “hesitant” about putting themselves forward when so many others had died or were wounded. “People were killed. Why do you want to spend time on my story?” is the way Durlach characterized their reaction.

Also joining the panelists was one of the five runners, Mary Jenkins of Ohio (spoiler alert: she’ll be running this year’s marathon), who said she will “probably be a basket case” during the race.

“It’s going to be hard, I think, Marathon Day, but I think it’s going to be exciting, too,” she said.

Edgers and Durlach plan to be at this year’s marathon as well. Their goal, they said, is to keep covering the story, and to expand “5 Runners” into an hour-long film.

Revs. Rivers and Wall’s $105,000 ‘invoice’

Adrian Walker has an absolutely stunning column on page one of The Boston Globe today. He reports that two well-known African-American ministers, Eugene Rivers and Bruce Wall, recently submitted a $105,000 “invoice” for services (not) rendered to Keolis North America, the company that was recently awarded the commuter-rail contract by the MBTA.

Rivers and Wall are reportedly pushing Keolis on diversity issues. Last December, Martine Powers of the Globe reported that Wall and other ministers were criticizing Keolis’ record and were concerned about the French company’s behavior during the Nazi era.

Whether Rivers and Wall were engaging in a piece of ill-advised political theater (as seems likely) or if there is something more nefarious going on, I’m sure we can look forward to learning more in the days ahead.

Brian McGrory on the future of The Boston Globe

The day job prevented me from covering Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory’s appearance on Tuesday at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

Shorenstein’s Janell Sims reports that McGrory said he has “absolutely no idea” of what the future of newspapers will be, and that “anyone who tells you they know is either lying to themselves or lying to you.” She adds:

In finding a business model that works, McGrory warned against running “from one end of spectrum to other” between digital and print. “We need a balance,” he said, and added that while digital models are an important part of the future, “more than three-quarters of our revenue still comes from print.”

Note: This item has been updated, as I cannot vouch for the accuracy of one of the accounts I linked to earlier.

A New Haven-centric view of Digital First’s latest woes

The Register in June 2013, shortly after a redesign.

The Register in June 2013, shortly after a redesign.

This article was published earlier at The Huffington Post.

The end may be near for one of the most widely watched experiments in local journalism.

Early today, Ken Doctor reported at the Nieman Journalism Lab that Digital First Media was pulling the plug on Project Thunderdome, an initiative to provide national and international content to the company’s 75 daily newspapers and other publications and websites. Soon, Doctor added, Digital First’s papers are likely to be sold.

Judging from the reaction on Twitter, the news came as a shock, with many offering their condolences and best wishes to the top-notch digital news innovators who are leaving — including Jim Brady, Robyn Tomlin and Steve Buttry. But for someone who has been watching the Digital First story play out in New Haven for the past five years, what happened today was more a disappointment than a surprise.

I first visited the New Haven Register, a regional daily, in 2009. I was interviewing people for what would become “The Wired City,” a book centered on the New Haven Independent, a nonprofit online-only news site that represents an alternative to the broken advertising-based model that has traditionally supported local journalism. The Register’s corporate chain owner, the Journal Register Co., was in bankruptcy. The paper itself seemed listless and without direction.

Two years later, everything had changed. Journal Register had emerged from bankruptcy and hired a colorful, hard-driving chief executive, John Paton, whose oft-stated philosophy for turning around the newspaper business — “digital first” — became the name of his blog and, eventually, of his expanded empire, formed by the union of Journal Register and MediaNews, the latter best known for its ownership of the Denver Post.

Just before Labor Day in 2011, Matt DeRienzo — then a 35-year-old rising star who had just been put in charge of all of Journal Register’s Connecticut publications, including the New Haven Register — sat down with me and outlined his plans. His predecessor had refused my requests for an interview; DeRienzo, by contrast, had tracked me down because he’d heard I was writing a book. It seemed that a new era of openness and progress had begun.

The openness was for real. The progress, though, proved elusive. For a while, John Paton was the most celebrated newspaper executive in the country, the subject of flattering profiles in the The New York Times, the Columbia Journalism Review and elsewhere. Media reporters were charmed by his blunt profanity, as when he described a presentation he gave to Journal Register managerial employees. “They were like, ‘Who’s the fat guy in the front telling us that we’re broken? Who the fuck is he?’” Paton told the CJR.

In 2012, though, Journal Register declared bankruptcy again — a necessary step, Paton said, as it was the only way he could get costs such as long-term building leases and pension obligations under control. After Journal Register emerged from bankruptcy in 2013, Paton’s moment in the national spotlight seemed to have passed, as media observers turned their attention to a new breed of media moguls like Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos (who bought The Washington Post), Red Sox principal owner John Henry (who bought The Boston Globe), greeting-card executive Aaron Kushner (who acquired the Orange County Register) and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar (who launched a new venture called First Look Media).

Although Digital First’s deepening woes may have escaped national attention, there were signs in New Haven that not all was well. Some positive steps were taken. The print edition was redesigned. The Register website was the beneficiary of a chain-wide refurbishing. Nasty, racist online comments were brought under control, and the newsroom embraced social media. But larger improvements were harder to accomplish.

Among the goals Matt DeRienzo had talked about was moving the paper out of its headquarters, a hulking former shirt factory near Interstate 95, and opening a smaller office in the downtown. In 2012, the Register shut down its printing presses and outsourced the work to the Hartford Courant. The second part of that process never came, though. Just last week, the New Haven Independent reported that the Register had backed away from moving to a former downtown mall facing New Haven Green. Two months earlier, according to the Independent, the Register and Digital First’s other Connecticut publications laid off 10 people.

Neither development should be described as a death knell. The downtown move is reportedly still in the works. And the 10 layoffs were at least partly offset by the creation of six new digitally focused positions. But rather than boldly moving forward, the paper appears to be spinning its wheels. And now — or soon — it may be for sale.

One of the biggest problems Digital First faces is its corporate structure. Can for-profit local journalism truly be reinvented by a national chain whose majority owner — Alden Global Capital — is a hedge fund? People who invest in hedge funds are not generally known for their deep and abiding affection for the idea that quality journalism is essential to democratic self-goverance. Rather, they want their money back — and then some. Preferably as quickly as possible.

No matter how smart, hard-working and well-intentioned John Paton, Jim Brady, Matt DeRienzo et al. may be, the Digital First experiment was probably destined to end this way, as chain ownership generally does. I wish for a good outcome, especially in New Haven. Maybe some civic-minded business leaders will buy the paper and keep DeRienzo as editor. And maybe we’ll all come to understand that the best way to reinvent local journalism is at the local level, by people who are rooted in and care about their community.

Globe columnist Scott Kirsner’s entangling alliances

Craig Douglas of the Boston Business Journal weighs in with an excellent article today on Boston Globe business columnist Scott Kirsner, a freelancer whose interest in a company that organizes events poses some dicey questions about conflicts of interest.

Whether you think Kirsner’s online disclosure is adequate or not, it should be noted that there’s no disclosure at all in the Globe’s print-edition version of his column.

The era of the personal brand in media means that we can’t expect journalists to have the sort of pristine noninvolvement that we demanded in the past. What we should insist on is transparency. As Douglas shows, the Globe is falling short of that standard. I’m a little surprised that Kirsner himself doesn’t insist on it.

Thursday update: Lots of reaction to Douglas’ piece in the online comments — including one from Kirsner himself. Among other things, commenters argue that the BBJ, like Kirsner, straddles the journalism and business worlds. To which I say: Fine. That’s the way things work in 2014. Just disclose it.

Boston Globe, Boston.com moving farther apart

There’s a bit of non-baseball news at the end of Boston Globe baseball reporter Peter Abraham’s latest:

Finally, a programming note. All our written content will be exclusively in the Globe and on BostonGlobe.com from now on. That includes Nick Cafardo, Dan Shaughnessy, Chris Gasper, Julian Benbow and me. The Extra Bases blog on Boston.com will not have contributions from Globe baseball reporters.

The move is in accord with an announcement recently made by Globe editor Brian McGrory, so it’s not really a surprise — more of a confirmation. With the Globe’s online paywall a lot leakier than it used to be, there’s really no need for cross-platform sharing anymore.

Designing for human-centered journalism

Last night I attended a terrific panel discussion at the GlobeLab sponsored by the Boston chapter of the Online News Association and Hacks/Hackers Boston.

Titled “Human-Centered Journalism: Designing for Engagement,” the discussion focused on the idea that the right design for a news project can bring the community into the conversation.

There was, for instance, quite a bit of talk about The Boston Globe’s “68 Blocks” series, which included multimedia elements such as Instagrams and self-shot videos by teenagers in Bowdoin-Geneva, a poor, mostly African-American neighborhood that was the subject of the series.

Despite those interactive touches, “68 Blocks” was controversial within some elements of the community. I can’t speak for them, but the general complaint seemed to be that they resented outsiders coming in and observing them as though they were exotic specimens.

One of the panelists, Kenneth Bailey of the Design Studio for Social Innovation, put his finger on a possible problem when he said that too many journalists see themselves as “literary types” rather than fostering relationships with the communities they cover.

Another, Alvin Chang, a data journalist who was involved in “68 Blocks,” said, “The people we are covering are not necessarily the people who read the Globe.”

The third panelist was Laura Amico, co-founder of Homicide Watch and a colleague of mine at Northeastern. The moderator was Adrienne Debigare, the “new media catalyst” at the GlobeLab.

Tiffany Campbell of WBUR put together a Storify that does a good job of summarizing the discussion. Please have a look.