Tag Archives: Boston Globe

The Globe’s John Henry disclosures are a work in progress

Previously published at WGBH News.

Q: Does The Boston Globe disclose that John Henry owns the paper whenever it reports on one of his other business interests? Or does it omit that information, leaving less-savvy readers in the dark?

A: Yes.

Tuesday was a case in point. On page one, the Globe’s Brian MacQuarrie reported that the Stop Handgun Violence billboard on Lansdowne Street facing the Massachusetts Turnpike may be coming down by next March. The new owner of the property — Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Red Sox — declined to comment, according to the story. Nowhere did we learn that Henry is Fenway’s lead investor.

On the front of the Metro section, though, Travis Andersen disclosed the connection in an update on an elevator accident at Fenway Park that left a woman seriously injured. Andersen wrote: “A spokeswoman for the Red Sox, whose principal owner, John Henry, also owns The Boston Globe, declined to comment Monday, citing the ongoing review.”

And so it goes — the most prominent recent example being the Globe’s reporting on Jared Remy, who has been charged with murdering his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel. Remy is the son of Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy, and the Globe has weighed in with some extremely tough stories on the entire family (original here; most recent follow-up here). Those articles, though, omitted the Henry connection, even as op-ed columnist Alex Beam included it when he wrote a piece arguing that Jerry Remy should be able to keep his job in the broadcast booth.

I asked Globe editor Brian McGrory whether he thought the Henry connection should have been made clear in the Remy coverage and the billboard story. “Our disclosure policy would apply to the stories that you mention,” McGrory replied by email, saying he would “renew our vigor in terms of letting readers know.”

I also asked Globe spokeswoman Ellen Clegg whether there was any specific policy she could cite. Her response, also by email:

Our policy is to disclose John Henry’s business interests when it’s relevant to the story.

By now, we assume the vast majority of Boston Globe readers are aware of Mr. Henry’s ownership of the Red Sox and therefore do not feel the need to disclose it in every story about the team.

There’s an additional factor in the case of Jerry Remy’s ongoing employment: he works for New England Sports Network, not the Red Sox. Eighty percent of NESN is owned by Fenway Sports Group, so Henry is essentially the top executive. When I asked Clegg if she thought most Globe readers were aware of that, she responded, “No, I don’t assume that most people know about NESN.”

Disclosure may be good for the soul, but when you think about some of the larger conflicts of interest that news organizations have to navigate, the Globe-Red Sox connection can seem trivial. To take just one example: Wouldn’t it have been nice to know that the media companies that own all of our network news divisions and cable news channels were lobbying the FCC for deregulatory goodies at the same time they were providing supine coverage of the run-up to the war in Iraq? So yes, the Globe should disclose, but some perspective is necessary as well.

Few would argue that the Globe should run a disclosure when it covers the Red Sox as a baseball team (although columnist Dan Shaughnessy did this morning, jokingly calling Henry the “greatest person ever”). The paper’s coverage of the boss’ other businesses has been tough and independent. We’re still in the early stages of Henry’s ownership of the Globe, and it’s going to take a while to get the disclosure thing right.

And it could be worse. After all, Amazon.com, founded by Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, does business with the CIA.

Bezos’ bucks may re-ignite Post-Times competition

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos

When Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post last year for the paltry sum (especially for him) of $250 million, newspaper observers hoped that it presaged a new era for the struggling daily. For now, at least, it looks like those hopes are becoming a reality.

The Post is ramping up. Michael Calderone of The Huffington Post reported recently that the paper has hired 50 full-time staff journalists so far in 2014, and that it is making at least a partial return to its status as a national newspaper — a status it had retreated from during the final years of Graham family ownership. Executive editor Marty Baron told Calderone:

We’ve talked a lot about the need to grow. We’ve said that in order to grow, we have to look outside our own immediate region and the only opportunity for growth is digital. We are looking at growth opportunities around the country.

Richard Byrne Reilly recently wrote in VentureBeat that Bezos isn’t quite the hands-off owner that he appears to be, taking a deep interest in the paper’s digital initiatives. According to Reilly:

With chief information officer and technology vice president Shailesh Prakash at the helm, Bezos is pumping cash into the once staid company’s IT infrastructure. Lots of it. The new leadership has put 25 computer engineers into the newsroom, helping reporters craft multifaceted digital stories for mobile devices.

The Post’s expansion is a heartening development, and it’s one we’re seeing unfold in Boston as well. Red Sox principal owner John Henry, whose $75 million purchase of The Boston Globe was announced just days before Bezos said he was buying the Post, has, like Bezos, shown a willingness to try to grow his news organization out of the doldrums into which it had fallen.

The Globe is making some interesting moves into video; has redesigned its nearly two-decade-old free Boston.com site while moving all Globe content behind a flexible paywall at BostonGlobe.com; has developed new verticals for innovation and technology (BetaBoston) and arts and entertainment (RadioBDC and BDCWire); and will soon unveil a standalone site covering the Catholic Church.

As for the Post, it’s notable that its comeback coincides with a serious misstep at The New York Times — the botched firing of executive editor Jill Abramson. Combined with the loss this week of the Times’ chief digital strategist, Aron Pilhofer, to The Guardian, and the release of an internal report criticizing the Times’ own digital strategy, it may not be an exaggeration to suggest that energy and momentum have swung from the Times to the Post. (To be sure, the Times’ new executive editor, Dean Baquet, enjoys an excellent reputation.)

From the Pentagon Papers and Watergate in the early 1970s until about a decade ago, the Times and the Post were often mentioned in the same breath as our two leading newspapers. Good as the Post was during the final years of the Graham era, budget-cutting allowed the Times to open up a lead and remain in a category of its own.

It would be great for journalism and for all of us if Bezos, Baron and company are able to level the playing field once again.

Photo (cc) by Steve Jurvetson and used under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Walter Robinson to return to the Globe

Walter Robinson

Walter Robinson

The legendary Walter Robinson is returning to The Boston Globe after seven years as a distinguished professor of journalism at Northeastern University.

All of us in the School of Journalism were saddened when he told us recently that he planned to leave for an undisclosed new position. Today we learned that he’s been called back to the Mothership.

While at Northeastern, Robby led a pioneering class in investigative journalism that regularly produced front-page stories for the Globe. He is going to be difficult to replace. What follows is Globe editor Brian McGrory’s memo to the staff.

I am delighted to share the news that Walter Robinson, the highly decorated former Globe editor and reporter, is returning to our newsroom for what he describes as a “third act,” and what I say is a great development for our organization.

Robby, fresh from seven years of teaching investigative reporting at Northeastern University, will assume the position of part-time editor at-large. In practical terms, this means we’ll get his services about 20 hours a week, more often, I suspect, in shoulder seasons, and perhaps less when the fairways or his two grandsons beckon. We’ll work all that out.

Robby will apply his monumental talents to his own projects, meaning the town’s power brokers will again live in dread of his strangely low voice on the other end of the line. I’ve also asked Robby to help reporters and editors across the enterprise think in more investigative terms. This work will be in addition to the Spotlight Team and our Metro-based investigative squad, not any part of either. Robby will report to [managing editor for news] Chris Chinlund and me.

I feel a bit foolish reciting the accomplishments of someone so well-known and pivotal to the Globe across so many decades. But Robby has won virtually every major reporting award to be had, most notably the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003 when he led the Spotlight series on pedophilic priests and the efforts by the Boston archdiocese to protect them. Robby has been the Spotlight editor, the Metro editor, City editor, White House correspondent, Middle East bureau chief, a lead reporter on four presidential campaigns, and as a pup, a City Hall and State House reporter. In truth, Robby, who is 68, never entirely left the Globe fold, having been a consultant to the newsroom for the past seven years, and a very valuable one. Over that time, he worked with more than 100 Northeastern students to produce a steady stream of page one stories. Indeed, one more is in the writing stages now.

Our investigative reporting is quite simply the most vital work we do; look no further than last week’s extraordinary Spotlight series on off-campus student housing, or Maria Sacchetti’s stunning story this week on the FBI agent who shot Ibragim Todashev, for proof of that. We need more, and Robby’s return will help guarantee we get it.

Look for a restart date on June 15.

Brian

Naming names: Did the Globe make the right call?

redactedPreviously published at WGBH News.

We’re going to be hearing a lot about The Boston Globe’s decision to publish the names of the FBI agent and State Police troopers who were involved in the Florida shooting death of Ibragim Todashev, the Tamerlan Tsarnaev associate suspected of taking part in a triple murder in Waltham.

The story, by Globe reporter Maria Sacchetti, reveals that FBI agent Aaron McFarlane is a former Oakland police officer with a troubling past. The article raises serious questions about how law enforcement handled the investigation of perhaps the single most important figure connected to the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. Here is some background to keep in mind as the discussion unfolds.

This past January, David Boeri of WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) reported on the FBI-State Police interrogation that ended in Todashev’s death. Here’s what Boeri had to say about the names of the agent and the two troopers:

In the course of our investigation, WBUR has learned the names of the law enforcement officers involved in the shooting. We are not releasing the names at the request of both the FBI and the Massachusetts State Police, which cited specific concerns for their safety.

In today’s Globe article, we learn that the FBI agent’s name is Aaron McFarlane, and that he “has previously been publicly identified in a blog about the Boston Marathon case.”

That prompted Boston magazine editor-in-chief Carly Carioli to tweet:

(And by the way, in March Boston published its own long investigation into the shooting. The article, by Susan Zalkind, was also the subject of a one-hour segment on public radio’s “This American Life.”)

Carioli’s tweet leads to a site called “The Boston Marathon Bombings: What Happened?”, which on May 3 revealed the names of McFarlane and the two Massachusetts troopers, Joel Gagne and Curtis Cinelli. (As best as I can tell, that’s the first time any of the three officers was named.) According to the site, the names and uncensored crime-scene photos were obtained from PDFs of public records using techniques that sound similar to what the Globe did. The Globe offers this description:

The Globe obtained their names by removing improperly created redactions from an electronic copy of Florida prosecutor Jeffrey L. Ashton’s report — which in March found the shooting of Todashev justified — and then verifying their identities through interviews and multiple government records. Those records include voting, birth, and pension documents.

On May 5, the same “What Happened?” website revealed some of the problems McFarlane had as a member of the Oakland Police Department that are at the heart of today’s Globe story.

I should note that though the “What Happened?” site appears to have broken some important stories, it also traffics in rather, uh, unusual rhetoric. For instance, here is a photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, bloody and injured as he surrendered in Watertown, beneath the headline “2013: THE YEAR AMERICA BEGAN HUNTING DOWN AND SHOOTINGS[sic] IT’S [sic] OWN TEENAGERS. WHY?”

By all indications the Globe has been careful to do its own reporting — which it would in any case, but which is especially important when dealing with material like this.

Which brings us to the question I imagine we’ll be debating in the days to come: Should the Globe have released the names of McFarlane, Gagne and Cinelli? I’d like to hear arguments on both sides. But keep these three things in mind:

  • The official investigation into Todashev’s death had not been completed when Boeri was doing his reporting for WBUR in January. Since then the three have been cleared by investigators, and the matter is no longer pending.
  • Police officers are doing the public’s business, and we have a right to know as much information as possible about serious matters such as the Todashev shooting. Consider a much more routine example, reported by the Salem News, in which the Essex County district attorney’s office named officers involved in a fatal shooting in the course of disclosing the results of their investigation.
  • Because of the “What Happened?” report, the three names were, in fact, already out there. Whatever calculation Globe editors might have made if this had occurred 20 years ago, it is simply a reality that a mainstream news organization can no longer act as a gatekeeper to prevent the public from learning information that it can find out elsewhere. This change doesn’t call for lower standards, but it does call for different standards.

I realize I’m putting my thumb on the disclosure side of the scale. But I think withholding the names would have been a respectable decision as well. As Sacchetti writes today, “Even Florida, which often identifies such officers, declined to do so in this case, citing concerns for the investigators’ safety.”

At this early stage, I can be persuaded either way, and I’m curious to see and hear what others have to say.

How Clay Christensen’s thinking has influenced John Henry

Fall2012_185wHarvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has an important article in The Boston Globe today on the disruptive changes coming to higher education, arguing that the fading away of MOOCs (massive online open courses) will amount to nothing more than a temporary reprieve for the old way of doing things.

Ultimately, Christensen and his co-author Michelle Weise argue, college and university administrators will have to deal with “disruptive innovations” coming from the outside as they find that their high and increasing costs are unsustainable.

But what I find at least as interesting as Christensen’s views on education is connecting the dots between him and the Globe. Consider:

  • In the fall of 2012, Christensen and two co-authors — David Skok and James Allworth — wrote the cover story for Nieman Reports, “Breaking News,” on the challenges facing the news business in a time of disruptive innovation.
  • Last October, John Henry, shortly after completing his purchase of the Globe, wrote a piece for his new paper outlining his vision — and citing Christensen’s oft-repeated mantra that business leaders should think in terms of “jobs to be done.”
  • A month later, Christensen’s co-author Skok, the former head of a Canadian news site called Global News, was hired as the digital adviser to Globe editor Brian McGrory. (And here is an article by Skok that accompanied the main Nieman Reports essay.)
  • In an exchange of emails with Boston magazine earlier this year, Henry expressed admiration for Christensen and Skok, adding, “I’m not sure it is necessarily up to the disrupted to be disruptive as a strategy, but virtually everything these days is subject to disruption.”

Given that context, Christensen’s appearance in today’s Globe would appear to be a side effect of the “jobs to be done” thinking that has already permeated John Henry’s news organization.

Worcester Telegram to retirees: No more free papers

A copy of a letter arrived at Media Nation earlier this morning informing retirees of the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester that they will no longer receive free delivery of the print edition. The perk has been eliminated, writes Anthony Simollardes, director of readership and circulation, though retirees will continue to receive online access for free.

The T&G is owned by Boston Globe publisher John Henry, who is currently attempting to sell the paper.

You can read a copy of the letter below. (For a clearer view, click on it, then enlarge it.) I have redacted the name and address of the recipient at that person’s request.

Update: I’m behind on my reading. Romenesko had this Monday.

free papers T and G

A tale of two headlines

The BostonGlobe.com headline on Michael Levenson and Jim O’Sullivan’s front-page story about Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman today is laugh-out-loud funny: “Steve Grossman hopes endorsements will pave the path to victory.”

Yes, like that works so well in the age of weak parties and relentless media campaigns. Indeed, Levenson and O’Sullivan provide plenty of evidence that Grossman is pursuing a dubious strategy.

In the print edition, though, the headline is strictly bland-on-bland: “Grossman campaign leans on local ties; Chasing Coakley, one handshake at a time.”

Now, I realize that the online headline wouldn’t fit into the available space in the print edition. But it seems to me they shouldn’t diverge that much. Both headlines are accurate with respect to the facts; but the Web version fits the tone of the story better.

Would John Henry sell the T&G to an out-of-state chain?

Worcester skyline. The Telegram & Gazette headquarters is the larger building on the left.

Worcester skyline. The Telegram & Gazette headquarters is the larger building on the left.

This article was previously published at WGBH News.

John Henry has some explaining to do to the people of Central Massachusetts. According to the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, a paper that Henry acquired along with The Boston Globe last year, Henry may be preparing to sell the T&G to Halifax Media Group, a chain based in Daytona Beach, Fla. Halifax owns 35 daily papers, mainly in the Southeast.

Rick Edmonds, who analyzes the news business for the Poynter Institute, writes, “Halifax’s way of operating remains mysterious but appears typically to involve newsroom layoffs and a booster-ish editorial tone.” Edmonds’ article is recommended reading, as it has a lot of details about Halifax and its competitors in the community-newspaper business — including GateHouse Media, which owns about 100 papers in Eastern Massachusetts.

The idea that Henry might sell the T&G to an out-of-state chain with a penchant for cost-cutting is alarming. But would he really do it? Back in November, he met with the T&G staff and said his preference was to sell to local owners — and that if such owners didn’t materialize, he might keep the paper. Here’s some of what T&G reporter Lisa Eckelbecker reported on Nov. 26 about Henry’s visit:

“I think it’s important for the Telegram & Gazette to be under local ownership,” he [Henry] told a gathering of the newspaper’s staff in the newsroom Tuesday afternoon. “I have been talking to local people who have expressed an interest. There’s absolutely nothing imminent.”

Mr. Henry told the newspaper’s employees that a potential sale would not happen until 2014 and that it would only be to the “right buyer.”

“I think you need a local owner,” he said. “A local owner can sit down with advertisers, readers and community leaders and ask for their support. I’m looking for someone with tremendous energy and a passion for this newspaper.”

Mr. Henry also said that if he cannot find the right owner, he would keep the T&G.

“This is not a forced sale,” he said. “If we don’t find the right owner, you’re stuck with me.”

In March, the T&G’s Shaun Sutner reported that the chances of a sale to local ownership had all but evaporated, as a group led by retired T&G editor Harry Whitin and Polar Beverages chief executive Ralph Crowley had taken itself out of the running. But Henry, rather than reasserting his love for Worcester and its environs, has apparently been quietly pushing ahead with a possible sale.

Now, a couple of caveats. First, just because Halifax executives are nosing around the T&Gdoesn’t mean that Henry would sell to them. Let’s not forget that the New York Times Co. let the truly alarming “Papa Doug” Manchester of U-T San Diego kick the tires on the Globe, but in the end handcrafted a deal that allowed Henry to take charge. Perhaps Henry will do something similar now that the situation has been reversed.

In addition, even if Halifax did acquire the T&G, we don’t really know what kind of a steward it would be. Virtually all newspaper companies lay people off when they acquire a new property. The real issue is whether they cut so deeply that their papers are no longer able to fulfill their journalistic mission. According to Edmonds, Halifax’s papers still engage in investigative journalism; its largest paper, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, won a Pulitzer in 2011 (although that predated the paper’s 2012 acquisition by Halifax).

Still, there’s little question that the Telegram & Gazette would be better off in the hands of local owners. Given that the paper’s reported value is just $7 million, it would be nice to think that the local owner might prove to be John Henry himself.

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

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.