Tag Archives: Boston Phoenix

The fate of The Boston Phoenix’s online archives

The fate of The Boston Phoenix’s online archives has been a matter of great concern to all of us who worked there. Some of us — me included — have hundreds of articles stored on the late alt-weekly’s servers with no other way to access them. (Yes, I know. Stupid me.)

Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, former Phoenix contributor Valerie Vande Panne details some of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that’s been going on to try to save a vitally important piece of journalistic history. I’ve been involved in efforts to come up with a solution, and I’m hopeful we’ll have a good answer to this problem. Patience.

Barry Crimmins gets his overdue due in ‘Call Me Lucky’

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Barry Crimmins in “Call Me Lucky”

What can you say about a film that stars someone you know and admire telling the world about being raped repeatedly — and nearly killed — when he was 3 years old?

Since we’re talking about Barry Crimmins, I would say that you should see it as soon as you can.

“Call Me Lucky,” directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, had its New England premiere on Saturday at the Somerville Theatre as part of the Independent Film Festival. As befits the subject, the documentary almost feels like two films. In the first part we meet Crimmins the caustic left-wing performer, who almost single-handedly created Boston’s comedy scene in the 1980s. In the second part, Crimmins comes to terms with his past as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

It was during this second phase that I got to know Barry. He revealed what had happened to him in the early 1990s in a harrowing front-page essay for The Boston Phoenix headlined “Baby Rape.” (I had a small role in copy-editing it, but most of the heavy lifting was handled by the late Caroline Knapp — and, of course, by Barry himself.) Later, Barry was a valuable resource as I was doing my own reporting about child sexual abuse. This was around the time Barry was engaged in a very public campaign against AOL and the pedophiles it allowed to run rampant in its chatrooms, a centerpiece of “Call Me Lucky.” Even though I can’t pretend to be a close friend of Barry’s, I’ve always been struck by his fundamental kindness and decency — a quality that comes through repeatedly in the film. (I was among many people Goldthwait interviewed, but I didn’t make the cut.)

Barry was a regular in the Phoenix, writing a satirical year-in-review piece every Christmas as well as other humor pieces. This 2003 takedown of Dennis Miller works as well today as it did 12 years ago. I still laugh when I recall his referring to George W. Bush as “the court-appointed president.” Barry was a big part of the Phoenix, and vice-versa. So I was pleased to see him pay tribute to the late managing editor Clif Garboden in the credits, saying he learned to write through Clif’s editing. Fittingly, Clif’s own classic apex as an angry humorist begins with a quote from Barry.

Despite its somber subject matter, there are plenty of laughs in “Call Me Lucky” — not just from Crimmins, but from many other comedians, including Jimmy Tingle, Margaret Cho and Lenny Clarke. The biggest laughs, though, are reserved for Ronald Reagan, who is seen attempting to explain what he knew and didn’t know about the Iran-Contra scandal. The man was a comic genius.

Barry was — and is — a comic genius as well. Because I wasn’t taking notes, I’ll rely on the press release for one of my favorite bits from the movie. A protégé of Barry’s, Bill Hicks, recalls that a member of the audience once yelled, “If you don’t love America why don’t you get out?” Crimmins’ response: “Because I don’t want to be a victim of its foreign policy!”

Also posted at WGBHNews.org.

Henry Santoro joins WGBH Radio as a news anchor

Henry Santoro

Henry Santoro

Big news from my other employer, WGBH: Henry Santoro will be joining WGBH Radio (89.7 FM) as a news anchor. Henry announced the move this morning on The Boston Globe’s online radio station, RadioBDC, where he had worked since 2012.

Henry and I worked together for years at The Boston Phoenix, where he was the morning news guy on WFNX Radio. His then-future wife, Thea Singer, showed me the ropes when I started as a copy editor at the Phoenix in 1991. When ’FNX closed three years ago, the Globe responded by creating RadioBDC — and hired Henry, Julie Kramer and other longtime ’FNX people. I enjoyed my occasional appearances with Henry on ’FNX, and it would be fun if we could do it at ’GBH as well.

WGBH has proved to be a magnet for members of the Phoenix diaspora. Henry joins WGBHNews.org senior editor Peter Kadzis, staff reporter Adam Reilly, political commentator David Bernstein and me. Congratulations to Henry, for whom I have one piece of advice: in public broadcasting, we spell it D-E-A-D.

Here’s the memo to the staff from WGBH Radio general manager Phil Redo:

Hi all:

I am very happy to announce that Henry Santoro will be joining our daytime line-up of news anchors.

Since Jordan [Weinstein]’s departure both Cristina Quinn and Lynne Ashminov have been handling anchor responsibilities — I thank them both for their excellent work and I’m pleased they will each continue to be part of our on-air news team.

Henry joins us from The Boston Globe’s radio property “RadioBDC” where he has been news director since 2012….

Before The Globe, from 1983 until 2012, Henry was a fixture on the morning radio dial, serving as the award winning news director and morning news anchor for WFNX-FM, owned by the Boston Phoenix. He worked very closely with several of our current WGBH News staff and contributors, including Peter Kadzis, Adam Reilly, David Bernstein and Dan Kennedy.

During the more than 30 years he has been a morning anchor, Henry has brought to audiences many of the most significant stories of our era beginning with the AIDS crisis in the early 1980’s to 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan, the first election of Mayor Menino to the election if the first African American President. Along the way he has interviewed cultural and political personalities as wide ranging as Andy Warhol, Mitt Romney, Allen Ginsberg and Yoko Ono. And, so important to us, he is extremely plugged in to the local scene and should help us continue to deepen our commitment to being Boston’s LOCAL NPR. We may even consider bringing to WGBH his popular feature about community happenings called “Henry in the Hub.”

A strong communicator with a very conversational delivery, Henry has done both long and short form content and is a big proponent of the team approach within newsrooms, critical to our continuing development.

For ten years Henry was an Adjunct professor at Emerson College where he taught radio and journalism courses. He is himself a graduate of Emerson [see correction below], and also an Associate of Arts in Communication and Journalism from Northeast College of Communications.

He is an art collector ( he lectures on Andy Warhol 2-3 times a year), loves cooking ( he owns more than 5-thousand cookbooks!) and music.

Please join me in welcoming Henry Santoro to WGBH News. His first day will most likely be Tuesday, April 21st.

P

Correction. Henry posted this on Facebook: “Just for the record, I am not a graduate of Emerson College. I did teach there for over ten years, and I am an honorary member of their Phi Alpha Tau fraternity. I am a graduate of the now defunct Northeast College of Communications. That is all.”

Photo via LinkedIn.

At Rolling Stone, doubt preceded publication

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 12.26.06 PMSabrina Rubin Erdely, the journalist at the heart of the Rolling Stone rape-story scandal, harbored doubts about “Jackie,” her principal source, all along — or, at the very least, had come to doubt her by the time the story was published.

That’s the only way I can make sense of a remarkable section that appears fairly early in the Columbia Journalism Review’s 12,000-word report on Rolling Stone’s article about a gang rape at the University of Virginia for which there turned out to be no credible evidence. The report was written by Steve Coll, dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism; Sheila Coronel, dean of academic affairs; and Derek Kravitz, a postgraduate researcher. According to the report:

A week after publication, on the day before Thanksgiving, Erdely spoke with Jackie by phone. “She thanked me many times,” Erdely said. Jackie seemed “adrenaline-charged … feeling really good.”

Erdely chose this moment to revisit the mystery of the lifeguard who had lured Jackie and overseen her assault. Jackie’s unwillingness to name him continued to bother Erdely. Apparently, the man was still dangerous and at large. “This is not going to be published,” the writer said, as she recalled. “Can you just tell me?”

Jackie gave Erdely a name. But as the reporter typed, her fingers stopped. Jackie was unsure how to spell the lifeguard’s last name. Jackie speculated aloud about possible variations.

“An alarm bell went off in my head,” Erdely said. How could Jackie not know the exact name of someone she said had carried out such a terrible crime against her — a man she professed to fear deeply?

Over the next few days, worried about the integrity of her story, the reporter investigated the name Jackie had provided, but she was unable to confirm that he worked at the pool, was a member of the fraternity Jackie had identified or had other connections to Jackie or her description of her assault. She discussed her concerns with her editors. Her work faced new pressures. The writer Richard Bradley had published early if speculative doubts about the plausibility of Jackie’s account. Writers at Slate had challenged Erdely’s reporting during a podcast interview. She also learned that T. Rees Shapiro, a Washington Post reporter, was preparing a story based on interviews at the University of Virginia that would raise serious doubts about Rolling Stone’s reporting.

Late on Dec. 4, Jackie texted Erdely, and the writer called back. It was by now after midnight. “We proceeded to have a conversation that led me to have serious doubts,” Erdely said.

You can see the problem. The story had already been published and had created a sensation. “I was shocked to have a story that was going to go viral in this way,” Erdely told the report’s authors. “My phone was ringing off the hook.” And Erdely felt queasy enough about what she had written that she was still bugging Jackie for the name of the guy who led the gang rape she claimed to have been subjected to at a UVA fraternity house.

From the time that Erdely’s story unraveled, I’ve been wondering what lessons journalists could take away from Rolling Stone’s institutional failures. Those failures were so profound and so basic that it’s hard to know how we can even look at this as a teachable moment. The lesson is “don’t do any of this.” As the CJR report makes clear:

  • Erdely had just one source, Jackie, for her account of the gang rape.
  • She made no more than a passing attempt at interviewing the alleged rapists — and, as we have seen, she never did find out the name of the supposed ringleader.
  • She also did not interview three friends of Jackie’s who supposedly spoke with Jackie shortly after the rape. As the author’s reports note, that stands out as the key failure, since they would have debunked many of the details, which in turn would likely have led to the unraveling of the entire story.

Jay Rosen of New York University has posted a must-read analysis of the CJR report. He writes, “The most consequential decision Rolling Stone made was made at the beginning: to settle on a narrative and go in search of the story that would work just right for that narrative.” Making the facts fit the story, in other words.

In reading the full CJR report, I think there are two other major problems: an understandable instinct to believe the victim (while less understandably ignoring the small internal voice saying, “No, wait, there’s something wrong here”). And a culture inside Rolling Stone that for whatever reason did not allow the story to be derailed even though everyone involved knew there were problems.

Sexual assault on campus is an enormous problem. I know there are those who question the oft-cited statistic that 20 percent of female students are victims. But whatever the true number is, it’s too high. Rolling Stone’s failures have set back efforts to do something about it. So I’ll close by noting that the CJR quotes my former Boston Phoenix colleague Kristen Lombardi on the right way to do this kind of reporting. Lombardi’s work in this area for the Center for Public Integrity truly represents the gold standard. From the report:

Problems arise when the terms of the compact between survivor and journalist are not spelled out. Kristen Lombardi, who spent a year and a half reporting the Center for Public Integrity’s series on campus sexual assault, said she made it explicit to the women she interviewed that the reporting process required her to obtain documents, collect evidence and talk to as many people involved in the case as possible, including the accused. She prefaced her interviews by assuring the women that she believed in them but that it was in their best interest to make sure there were no questions about the veracity of their accounts. She also allowed victims some control, including determining the time, place and pace of their interviews.

If a woman was not ready for such a process, Lombardi said, she was prepared to walk away.

In “The Elements of Journalism,” Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel write, “In the end, the discipline of verification is what separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction, or art.”

Sabrina Rubin Erdely and her colleagues at Rolling Stone trusted (sort of) but did not verify.

This commentary also appears at WGBHNews.org.

The story behind the Barry Crimmins documentary

Barry Crimmins (via Twitter)

Barry Crimmins (via Twitter)

Don Aucoin’s feature on the new Barry Crimmins documentary in today’s Boston Globe goes into harrowing detail about the sexual abuse Crimmins suffered at the hands of a babysitter and, years later, his battle with AOL, which he believed wasn’t doing enough to get child pornography off its site.

What Aucoin does not mention is that Crimmins first told his story in 1992 in a long, impassioned front-page essay for The Boston Phoenix. His piece was edited by Caroline Knapp, to whom Barry paid tribute when she died in 2002 at the age of 42:

She wisely, gently and calmly guided me through the most difficult piece of writing I have ever had to do. And then, long after her job was done, she followed up again and again to see how I was handling things after the piece was published.

The documentary, “Call Me Lucky,” directed by Crimmins’ friend and protégé Bobcat Goldthwait, is making its debut this week at the Sundance Film Festival. (Disclosure: I was among a large number of Crimmins’ Boston friends who was interviewed by Goldthwait last winter. I doubt very much that I made the cut.)

Barry is a caustic humorist who is also one of the most humane people I know. He was a big help to me when I was doing some of my own reporting on child sexual abuse. I’m looking forward to seeing “Call Me Lucky.”

Jim Braude will succeed Emily Rooney at ‘Greater Boston’

Jim Braude. Photo by Tracy Powell/WGBH.

Jim Braude. Photo by Tracy Powell/WGBH.

Congratulations to Jim Braude, who has been named Emily Rooney’s successor as host of “Greater Boston” on WGBH-TV (Channel 2). Given that Braude already co-hosts “Boston Public Radio” with Margery Eagan on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM), the move makes a great deal of sense.

(Conflict alert: I am a paid panelist on Channel 2’s Friday “Beat the Press” and an unpaid contributor to WGBHNews.org. And yes, Rooney will continue to host “Beat the Press.”)

I covered Braude as far back as the 1980s, when he was head of the liberal Tax Equity Alliance for Massachusetts and I was a reporter for the Daily Times Chronicle of Woburn. He and Barbara Anderson, who ran Citizens for Limited Taxation, often debated in public, even traveling together despite their different ideological viewpoints.

In 1996 I interviewed Braude when he was launching a liberal magazine called Otherwise and I was covering the media for The Boston Phoenix. The idea, he told me at the time, was motivated in part by complaints on the left that they were too often ignored by the mainstream.

“We’ve done so much bitching about media access for so long that my reaction is to just do it,” Braude said. “The environment is as ripe as it could be.”

Otherwise had a decent run, but as is generally the case with startup magazines, it eventually faded away. Braude hasn’t. His program on New England Cable News, “BroadSide,” which he’s leaving, has been a bastion of intelligence for years. His radio show with Eagan — the only listenable program on the late, unlamented WTKK — was so good that it brought both of them to WGBH.

The big question is how “Greater Boston” will change with Braude at the helm. “I love Emily,” he tells The Boston Globe’s Shirley Leung. “We are different people with different styles. Beyond that, stay tuned.”

Here’s an idea for how to fix Boston.com

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

I have an idea for how to fix Boston.com, whose executives on Wednesday found themselves apologizing yet again — this time for some juvenile humor about House Speaker John Boehner’s alleged drinking problem following a death threat against him.

The screw-up has gotten widespread coverage from, among others, Politico, the Boston Herald (where the story landed on page one) and The Boston Globe.

First, some context on why John Henry and company find themselves in this situation.

When Boston Globe Media Partners decided to remove all Globe content from its free Boston.com site, a strategy that Justin Ellis explained at the Nieman Journalism Lab last April, they created a difficult challenge. Boston.com was one of the first and most successful newspaper websites, and had spent most of its existence primarily as a place where you could read the Globe for free. The challenge was to create a compelling news site without running anything from the Globe — and, at least based on what I’ve seen, to do it on the cheap.

The route that Boston.com has taken is a lot of aggregation, a lot of attitude and a lot of viral content — such as the phenomenon it had on its hands in December with Harvard Business School professor (and lawyer) Ben Edelman, who was revealed to have sent a series of legalistic, threatening emails to a Chinese restaurant owner because he’d been overcharged by $4 when he placed an online order.

The story went sour after the site published and then pulled a post falsely claiming that Edelman had sent a racist email. It then turned out that deputy editor Hilary Sargent, the lead reporter on all things Edelman, was selling T-shirts online making fun of him, which led to her suspension. (My former Boston Phoenix colleague David Bernstein, a WGBH News contributor, recently wrote a good summing-up of the Edelman affair, with links, for Boston magazine. We also talked about it on “Beat the Press.”)

It hasn’t helped that Boston.com has been without a top editor for most of its reincarnated existence. Globe Media chief executive Mike Sheehan told his own paper Wednesday that he hoped to have an editor in place soon, though he didn’t specify a timetable.

The deeper problem, though, is that Boston.com has a fundamentally different mission — maybe even an impossible mission — compared to the Globe’s other online verticals.

Both Crux, which covers the Catholic Church, and BetaBoston, which follows the local innovation economy, are free to excel and be the best that they can be. Stories that have broad appeal can be picked up and run in the Globe.

Boston.com, by contrast, is hampered by being a general news site that in some respects overlaps with the Globe but can’t really be allowed to compete in any serious way. There are exceptions, of course. For instance, the Globe — and news organizations around the world — picked up on the Edelman story, an entertaining morality tale about a hardworking restaurateur being harassed by an arrogant Harvard professor. And Globe editor Brian McGrory told Justin Ellis he expected to “compete like crazy” with Boston.com.

In the main, though, Boston.com has suffered by what we might think of as an imperfectly applied example of Clay Christensen’s disruption theory — by which I mean that the free Boston.com site can’t be allowed to disrupt the Globe’s business model, which is based on paid print and digital subscriptions as well as advertising. (Henry is known to be an aficionado of Christensen’s work. I wrote in some depth about disruption theory and journalism last summer for Medium.)

I disagree with critics who say Henry ought to shut down Boston.com (it still has great value, built up over nearly 20 years) or sell it (and let the Herald or another competitor grab it?). So what do I think the solution might be?

How about a first-rate arts-and-entertainment site with a truly comprehensive, searchable database of listings? It would fill a real need, and it might attract high-quality local ads. And it would be more like Crux and BetaBoston than the current Boston.com in that it could function as a Globe vertical rather than as a separate-but-not-quite-separate-enough enterprise.

I don’t know whether such an idea would work, and I would observe that the Phoenix didn’t have a lot of success with that model during the last few years of its existence. But the Henry ownership is supposed to be all about experimentation. And the Globe has two advantages the Phoenix lacked: great technology and a huge built-in audience. Some experiments will pan out; some won’t. This one strikes me as worth trying.

Boston.com 2.0 has been troubled from the start. Maybe the right editor can fix it. But maybe it’s not too soon to be thinking about version 3.0.