Tag Archives: Christian Science Monitor

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.

Yemma to step aside at Christian Science Monitor

John Yemma with Northeastern journalism students in 2011

John Yemma with Northeastern journalism students in 2011

John Yemma, who led The Christian Science Monitor from a print newspaper to a digital-first news organization, will step aside as editor next month. According to the Monitor, Yemma will be succeeded by managing editor Marshall Ingwerson.

I don’t know Ingwerson, but I do know Yemma, who worked in various capacities for The Boston Globe between stints at the Monitor. He is a steady hand, with good news judgment and unfailing decency. He has also been very helpful to my students when we have visited his newsroom.

In 2009 I profiled Yemma for CommonWealth Magazine as the Monitor was getting ready to undergo its digital transition. Today the former newspaper has given way to a free website, a paid weekly news magazine and several speciality emails. Readership is up and the subsidy the Monitor receives from the Christian Science Church is down.

At a time when most news organizations have cut back on international coverage, Boston is the home of three interesting projects: GlobalPost, a for-profit company headed by New England Cable News founder Phil Balboni; Global Voices Online, launched at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center, which tracks citizen media around the world; and the venerable Monitor, begun in 1908 by Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy.

Yemma has expressed an interest in returning to writing, according to the Monitor. Best wishes to one of the city’s finest journalists.

Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy. Some rights reserved.

Why Latitude News deserves your support

Maria Balinska

Americans are notoriously uninterested in international news, and Maria Balinska thinks it’s because they don’t understand how it relates to their lives. Her Cambridge-based start-up, Latitude News, is aimed at bridging that gap.

“People are put off by things that seem very far away,” she told Paul Gillin of Newspaper Death Watch shortly after her site launched in late 2011. “Our view is that if there isn’t a local angle, we shouldn’t do it.”

Now Balinska is ready to take the next step. The former BBC correspondent and Nieman Fellow has launched a Kickstarter campaign to pay for a weekly half-hour podcast, “The Local Global Mashup Show,” hosted by journalist Dan Moulthrop. The show would build on a monthly project begun last August with PRX, the Public Radio Exchange, as reported by Justin Ellis of the Nieman Journalism Lab.

As of this morning, she had raised $20,839. But if she doesn’t meet her $44,250 goal by Feb. 15, she has to give it back. It’s an interesting, worthwhile project, and I’m going to donate as soon as I post this.

Not long after Latitude News launched, Northeastern University journalism student Brenda Maguire produced a multimedia story about the site for my Reinventing the News class. It’s well worth having a look. Balinska told Maguire that her goal was to pursue news along three tracks:

“So many of the issues that we deal with as human beings actually are shared,” Balinska said in her interview with Maguire.

The Latitude News site is clean and attractive, and doesn’t overwhelm you with quantity. Instead, you’ll find high-quality, often off-beat stories on topics such as how parental controls developed in the United States are being used to monitor activists in repressive Arab countries; an extralegal marriage between two gay men in China and how it played out on social media; and the story of a lucky man in Britain who stumbled across whale vomit valued at nearly $70,000 while walking along the beach. Latitude News’ stories combine original reporting, commentary and aggregation.

With all but the largest news organizations closing foreign bureaus and cutting back on international coverage, Greater Boston has proved to be a hotbed of experimentation in how to make up for that shortfall. The fledgling online-only news site GlobalPost and the venerable online-mostly Christian Science Monitor cover international news seriously and in quite a bit of depth. Global Voices Online, started at Harvard Law’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, tracks and compiles citizen media around the world.

You can add Latitude News to that mix. We’ve never needed to understand the world around us more than we do today.

Correction: I originally described Latitude News as a nonprofit. In fact, it is a limited liability corporation.

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

Editor hangs up after accusing reporter of “harangue”

I want to share this exchange between Christian Science Monitor correspondent Jessica Bruder and Al White, editor of the North Andover-based Eagle-Tribune.

Bruder wrote a story about what happens to civic life in a community when newspapers die or shrink. And one of the topics she touches on is the Banyan Project, which is scheduled to roll out a cooperatively owned news site in Haverhill next year to be called Haverhill Matters.

The Eagle-Tribune covers Haverhill, as does an affiliated weekly, the Haverhill Gazette. So let’s check in, shall we? Bruder writes:

Dissenting from the notion that Haverhill is undercovered is Al White, editor of the Eagle-Tribune. The company, whose downtown Haverhill office closed in March, still publishes a regional paper covering more than a dozen towns including Haverhill, along with the weekly Haverhill Gazette.

“Name one community where people won’t say that,” Mr. White says, addressing local claims of inadequate coverage. “This is a silly conversation.” Asked in a phone interview about the home page of the Haverhill Gazette’s website, where the most recent story in the schools section was more than 100 days old, he replied, “Do you want to have a conversation, or do you just want to harangue me?” Then he hung up the phone.

Wow. And yes, as of this moment the most recent story in the Haverhill Gazette online schools section is exactly 123 days old.

Yet the daily Eagle-Tribune features fairly robust coverage of Haverhill as well as a separate Haverhill print edition. These are tough times. Just last week the Eagle-Tribune and its sister papers — owned by an out-of-state chain — eliminated 21 jobs.

In other words, Al White and his staff appear to be doing the best they can under difficult conditions. I’d like to think if he had simply said that, then the Christian Science Monitor — not exactly known for snarky negativity — would have given him a respectful hearing.

Three local projects keep an eye on Egypt


Not the first time I’ve said this, but whenever a big international story develops, you can’t go wrong checking in on three news organizations with Boston roots that specialize in foreign coverage.

The most venerable is the Christian Science Monitor, whose commitment to serious journalism extend back more than a century. Now mostly online, the Boston-based news site has correspondents on the ground in Egypt and other stations in the Middle East. Here is a telling passage by Kristen Chick, who’s been covering the protests:

Reinforced, the crowd marched onto the bridge, gathering around two troop carriers the police had been forced to leave behind, along with several of their members. A crowd surrounded the policemen angrily, but some protesters pushed them back.

“This is a peaceful protest,” they yelled. “Don’t hurt them!”

A young policeman walked past, sobbing uncontrollably on the shoulder of a protester.

“It’s OK, you are our brother, you are with us now,” said the protester.

Reporting from Israel, the Monitor’s Joshua Mitnick finds that the Israeli government is anxiously watching what is unfolding in Arab states all around them.

You can follow the Monitor’s coverage of Middle East protests here.

Also well worth following is GlobalPost, the international news agency started by New England Cable News founder Phil Balboni and former Boston Globe foreign correspondent Charles Sennott. GlobalPost reporter Jon Jensen supplements his work with a video report (above).

In an attempt to get ahead of the story, Hugh Macleod considers whether Syria’s repressive regime could be the next to tumble. His conclusion: no, because President Bashar al-Assad has taken steps to spare his people from the grinding poverty that afflicts Egyptians.

You can follow GlobalPost’s coverage of the unfolding Middle East story here.

The most unconventional of the three is Global Voices Online, begun at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center a half-dozen years ago and dedicated to rounding up and synthesizing citizen journalism of all kinds.

Before the Twitter crackdown, Global Voices’ Ivan Sigal posted a fascinating compilation of tweets, blog posts and videos, including a harrowing scene of protesters falling off a water truck. And here is a comment from something called the Angry Arab News Service, in a piece written by Global Voices’ Amira Al Hussaini, reacting to yesterday’s speech by Egyptian President (at least as of this writing) Hosni Mubarak:

Mubarak is speaking live. He is digging a bigger hole for himself. He is insulting the protesters. HE said that he has been sympathetic to the poor all his life. Is that why billionaires surround you, you dictator?

Global Voices has put together a special section called Egypt Protests 2011.

Chile and earthquake fatigue

I hope I’m not just channeling my own dysfunction, but it seems to me that interest in the Chilean earthquake is pretty limited. There’s plenty of coverage out there. But this is not a story people are talking about, especially in comparison to the Haitian earthquake. The reasons are pretty obvious:

  • Haiti is close to the United States, and Chile is on the other side of the world. Related to that is the fact that Haitian-Americans are a large minority group. Chilean-Americans are not.
  • Media consumers are suffering from earthquake fatigue.
  • Even though the Chilean earthquake was much more powerful, it appears that the death toll and the suffering will be far less than was the case in Haiti.

With that, a few ever-so-slightly non-mainstream sources for you to look at: If you’re not accustomed to heading for the Boston Globe’s Big Picture blog after something like this, well you should be. The New York Times is gathering user-submitted photos. Global Voices Online — which is holding its annual conference in Santiago, Chile, in May — has posted two blog round-ups, here and here. And Boston-based GlobalPost has uploaded a number of stories and photos from the scene and the surrounding area.

And let’s not leave out Boston’s Christian Science Monitor, a leading non-profit source of international news. A story on why Chile seemed so well-prepared, for instance, yields this gem:

Chileans are well versed in what to do during earthquakes, with drills part of every child’s schooling. “Just in case” attitudes, which might seem obsessive in other parts of the world, are the norm here. One woman says she turns off the gas valve every time she leaves the house, just in case a quake strikes when she is out.

George Merry’s local legacy

George Merry, a longtime political reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, who died on July 1, is someone I knew slightly. We were both graduates of Northeastern University, and George often attended events organized by our journalism alumni group in the 1980s.

He was a proper gentleman, and though I can’t say I was intimately familiar with his coverage of Massachusetts politics, I could tell from talking with him that he was a fine journalist, fair-minded and curious about the world around him.

Gloria Negri has a lengthy obit in today’s Boston Globe. The Monitor ran a tribute on July 7.

Last fall I was reporting a story on the Monitor for CommonWealth Magazine. Monitor executives had just announced they were going to eliminate the daily print edition, going instead with their already-excellent Web site and a new weekly magazine.

Among the angles I wanted to explore was whether it might make sense for the Monitor — which is, after all, based in Boston — to re-establish its local presence at a time when the Globe and the Boston Herald were getting smaller and smaller.

The angle didn’t pan out. But I did have a chance to interview Merry, reaching him by phone at his home in Hyde Park. He clearly wasn’t well, and he labored to speak. Yet he was as courteous and helpful as he could be.

The Monitor, of course, is known for its national and especially its international reporting. Merry, though, told me that the Monitor took its local coverage very seriously at one time, and that it was an ideal training ground for the paper’s stars of the future.

“When I first went on the New England bureau staff, there were at least a dozen reporters,” he said. “I think we brought a different viewpoint. It was a different voice. It wasn’t so commercially oriented.” He added, though, that “it got very expensive to maintain.”

Merry was also skeptical of the Monitor’s plan to eliminate the daily print edition. “The Internet’s a wonderful thing, but I think it’s somewhat of a risk,” he said.

George Merry was not well-known outside of local media and political circles. But he was a good guy and a pro, and he’ll be missed.