Tag Archives: CommonWealth

The Herald’s curious quote from CommonWealth

How did CommonWealth Magazine reporter Colman Herman’s words end up in former state inspector general Greg Sullivan’s mouth when Sullivan was quoted in the Boston Herald? It’s a great question, and John Carroll asks it at his blog It’s Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town.

Here’s what happened. As Carroll noted Friday, both The Boston Globe and the Herald ran stories about a sweetheart deal the Red Sox have had with the city since the 1940s after Herman reported the previous day that there seemed to be no legal basis for it. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is said to be investigating. The Globe credited CommonWealth; the Herald didn’t.

But what is stranger still is that the Herald story, by Richard Weir, quotes Sullivan as saying something that Herman wrote, word for word: “No other single private entity is allowed to close off a street in Boston on a regular basis.” Carroll adds he has it on “good authority” that Sullivan contends he never said it.

Perhaps it’s also worth pointing out that CommonWealth and the Herald have a poisonous relationship. For reasons that were never clear, a couple of years ago the Herald went after CommonWealth’s publisher, the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, a nonprofit think tank. Here is an example. (Note: I used to write a media column for CommonWealth and remain a friend of MassINC.)

It’s hard to know what to make of the latest weirdness without hearing from Sullivan and the Herald. Now that Carroll has documented it, I hope the principals will weigh in.

Update: A couple of people reminded me of this CommonWealth story, which challenged the Legend of Gidget, one of the foundations on which the modern Herald was built. So maybe that’s where the animus began.

Talking about data, journalism and the future

Brent Benson has written a thoughtful piece about Tuesday’s panel discussion on “Big Data and the Future of Journalism.”

I had the privilege of moderating a great panel comprising Laura Amico of Homicide Watch and WBUR Radio’s Learning Lab (she also teaches a journalism course at Northeastern); John Bracken of the Knight Foundation; Charles Kravetz, general manager of WBUR; and Paul McMorrow of CommonWealth Magazine and The Boston Globe.

The quote I’ll remember:

If you’d like to get a feel for how the discussion played out on Twitter, just click here.

Update: Catherine D’Ignazio of the MIT Center for Civic Media has posted a comprehensive live blog of the panel discussion.

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.

CommonWealth reviews “The Wired City”

Tom Fiedler, dean of Boston University’s College of Communication and a fellow “Beat the Press” panelist, reviews “The Wired City” in the new issue of CommonWealth Magazine. He writes:

Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University and author of the well-read blog Media Nation, packs a lot of other material into this book that withstands the passage of time. His explanation of how the newspaper business model fell victim to the Web’s ability to match advertisers with consumers, thus forcing publishers to trade print dollars for digital dimes, is as cogent as I have seen anywhere. I admired also Kennedy’s insights into the way online sites have upended the journalistic paradigm by enabling news consumers — formerly known as the audience — to also be news creators.

Additional disclosure: my master’s (in American history) is from BU.

Moment of truth draws closer for debt-riddled GateHouse

Since coming together in the middle of the last decade, GateHouse Media has been struggling with $1.2 billion in debt that it took on to assemble a chain of more than 300 community newspapers.

In 2008, I wrote in CommonWealth Magazine that company officials claimed they had no problems making debt payments — yet they were in the midst of dramatically downsizing their operations, including at about 100 newspapers in Massachusetts.

A year ago, Jack Sullivan, also in CommonWealth, found GateHouse was warning shareholders that bankruptcy was an option, even as the company was paying out $1.4 million in bonuses to top executives.

Now, it seems, the moment of truth is at hand. According to Emily Glazer and Mark Spector of the Wall Street Journal, GateHouse appears likely to undergo a “prepackaged bankruptcy” with the cooperation of its creditors in the hopes of emerging from the proceedings debt-free. (Non-subscribers may read the Journal story by searching for it on Google News. Don’t worry: Rupert already knows, and he says it’s OK.)

If GateHouse could put itself on sounder financial footing, that would certainly be good news for employees and readers of papers such as the Patriot Ledger of Quincy, the Enterprise of Brockton, the MetroWest Daily News and the myriad weekly papers the company continues to operate.

Media Nation’s top 10 posts of 2012

be02f758328311e2b55612313804a1b1_7Work-force reductions at The Boston Globe. The end of WFNX as an over-the-air radio station. “Local” news from the Philippines. Possible bankruptcy at GateHouse Media.

These were a few of the top 10 Media Nation posts of 2012 as determined by Google Analytics and WordPress’ own internal statistics.

Most people who read Media Nation come in via the home page, which means that any notion of a “top 10” is dubious. Usually it means that a particular post got retweeted a lot on Twitter or was linked to by a popular media website such as JimRomenesko.com.

But the list isn’t entirely without meaning — and one takeaway for me is that Media Nation’s role as an aggregator and a curator may be its most important. I’ll keep that in mind in the year ahead.

Here is my top 10 for 2012.

1. The Boston Globe keeps on shrinking (July 23). Despite some encouraging signs in the form of rising digital-subscription numbers and a continued commitment to first-rate journalism, The Boston Globe, like nearly all daily newspapers, continues to struggle financially. Last summer Media Nation obtained a memo from Globe publisher Christopher Mayer announcing another wave of downsizing at the Globe and its sister paper, the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester.

2. Donna Halper on the future of radio (May 17). Friend of Media Nation Donna Halper was kind enough to write a guest commentary, and her post turned out to be the second most popular of 2012. Halper wrote following an announcement by the Phoenix Media/Communications Group that it would sell WFNX’s broadcast frequency, 101.7 FM, to Clear Channel. Fortunately for local music fans, by the end of 2012 WFNX and the Globe’s RadioBDC were engaged in a spirited competition of online-only local music stations — the real future of radio.

3. Long-distance “local” journalism (July 5). The public radio program “This American Life” and the journalist Anna Tarkov reported extensively on Journatic, which helps community newspapers cuts costs by outsourcing some of their local coverage. At its worst, news was being compiled by underpaid Filipino workers writing under fake bylines. Dubbed “pink slime” journalism by one former practitioner, Journatic underscored what debt-ridden corporate chains will do to survive — and thus demonstrated the importance of independent local journalism.

4. And Joe Scarborough thinks “Morning Joe” is awesome (Jan. 1). A full-page ad in The New York Times for the wretched MSNBC program “Morning Joe” started the gears whirring when I noticed one of its celebrity endorsers was Tom Brokaw. Who, uh, appears on “Morning Joe.” I got to work, and soon found that Politico, which was quoted as praising the program, had an undisclosed partnership. The ad even stooped to using seemingly positive quotes from two reviewers who actually didn’t like it much at all. Disingenuous, to say the least.

5. More bad news for GateHouse Media (March 19). By now it’s not exactly news when executives at GateHouse Media, struggling with $1.2 billion in debt, pay themselves handsome bonuses. (Nor is that unusual at newspaper companies.) In 2012, though, there was a wrinkle at the chain, which owns some 100 community newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts. Jack Sullivan of CommonWealth Magazine paged through the company’s financial disclosures and discovered that officials were openly raising the possibility of a bankruptcy filing.

6. David Gregory debates himself (Oct. 1). The host of “Meet the Press” was brought in to moderate the second televised debate between Republican Sen. Scott Brown and his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren. Unfortunately, it was all about David Gregory. Good thing the candidates were forced to weigh in on whether Bobby Valentine deserved a second year as Red Sox manager. Warren blew the question but won the election.

7. From Newtown, a plea for media restraint (Dec. 17). I republished an open letter from John Voket, associate editor of The Newtown Bee, to his colleagues at the New England Newspaper & Press Association following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Voket wrote about “reporters and media crews invading the yards and space of grieving survivors, school staff and responders,” and asked editors “to remind your correspondents that most are still requesting to be left alone.” A heartfelt message from ground zero.

8. Calling foul on politicians who lie (Aug. 30). It would be hard to come up with a more falsehood-laden performance than U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s speech at the Republican National Convention. Ryan’s lies prompted me to wonder how far the balance-obsessed media would be willing to go in labeling them for what they were.

9. At CNN, getting it first and getting it wrong (June 28). My instant reaction to CNN’s false report that the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act. At least CNN executives flogged themselves in the public square. As we later learned, Fox News made the same mistake — and refused to apologize.

10. An unconscionable vote against the disabled (Dec. 5). My reaction to Senate Republicans’ rejection of a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled — a treaty modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act, championed by President George H.W. Bush, a Republican.

Ghosts of 2011. Oddly enough, the single most popular post of 2012 was one I wrote in 2011 — a fairly terse item on Jay Severin’s return to the Boston airwaves, a comeback that proved to be brief. As I wrote last year, I’ve put up several Severin posts that have generated huge traffic, and I have no idea why.

Talking about Wednesday night’s Senate debate

Right after Wednesday night’s third U.S. Senate debate between Republican incumbent Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, UMass Boston political-science professor Maurice Cunningham and I kicked it around in a video for CommonWealth Magazine. Please have a look.

Joe Sciacca speaks

Gabrielle Gurley of CommonWealth Magazine interviews Boston Herald editor Joe Sciacca, my former “Beat the Press” colleague. Sciacca moved up to the Herald’s top job in August, after Kevin Convey left for the Daily News of New York.

It’s a good read, beginning with Sciacca’s take on his paper’s feud with U.S. Rep. Barney Frank. “It’s not unusual for a politician who has been a subject of tough reporting to lash out at the messenger and I think that’s what happened in this case,” Sciacca tells Gurley. “But I think we’ve been fair in our coverage of Congressman Frank and I think we will continue to be so.”

Sciacca also says that “anybody is hipper than me,” which is a relief, as it makes me no worse than number two in the local least-hip sweepstakes.

The primitive art of measuring online audience

Lucas Graves reports in the Columbia Journalism Review that the state of the art in counting online audiences remains abysmal.

Graves notes that statistics compiled by two of the leading services that rely on user surveys — Nielsen and comScore — can differ wildly. And, as every website operator knows, those numbers are often far lower than the numbers they get from Google Analytics and other internal measurements.

Why is it so hard? User reports are notoriously unreliable, and website operators have been complaining for years that the Nielsens are useless for measuring what people do when they’re at work. But the seemingly greater accuracy afforded by simply counting incoming traffic raises other problems: users who clear their cookies are counted every time they return; search engines that robotically visit sites are counted as users; and people who use more than one computer are counted multiple times.

My first encounter with the difficulties of counting came in 2007, when I was reporting this story for CommonWealth Magazine. I learned that the internal statistics at both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald showed their Web audiences were three times larger than what Nielsen was reporting.

It hasn’t gotten much better since then. For instance, the New Haven Independent, a non-profit online news organization that I follow closely, was attracting some 70,000 unique visitors a month in 2009, according to founder and editor Paul Bass. That grew to 197,000 in September 2009, the month that Yale University graduate student Annie Le was murdered.

Yet according to Compete.com, the Independent was attracting just 25,000 to 30,000 uniques a month, a number that grew to 70,000 in September 2009. In other words, Bass’ internals placed the Independent’s traffic at about two and a half times what Compete.com was reporting, similar to what I had found with the Globe and the Herald two years earlier.

Then there’s the whole matter of “unique visitors per month” somehow becoming the most important measure of Web traffic. Wouldn’t you rather know how many people visit every day?

I’ve settled on Compete.com as being the easiest, most reliable free service available. It is supposedly based on surveying the behavior of some 2 million people. One thing I like is that its numbers seem reasonable. For instance, it regularly places the Globe’s Boston.com at roughly (very roughly) 5 million uniques per month, which is very close to the Nielsen figure.

Then again, maybe counting isn’t much better in other forms of media. As Graves’ CJR article points out, it’s easy to count how many newspapers are sold, but impossible to tell how many people read them. And television and radio audience measurements have been controversial for years.

So what is the solution? There may not be one, at least if “solution” is defined as something that is mathematically accurate. If people are reading and talking about you, you’ll know.

Before the Globe, there was CommonWealth

The Boston Globe Spotlight series on the state Patronage Department — ah, I mean Probation Department — is public-interest journalism at its best.

Commissioner Jack O’Brien has been suspended. There’s a chance for genuine reform. And the absurd gubernatorial candidacy of hacked-up state treasurer Tim Cahill has been brought to a merciful end, even if he doesn’t know it yet.

But credit should also go to CommonWealth Magazine and its blog, CW Unbound, which has been beating the drums about the Probation Department for months. CommonWealth, published by the nonpartisan Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC), has put together a compilation of stories it’s posted on the Probation Department mess. (Disclosure: I used to be a regular contributor to CommonWealth, and I’m still listed on the masthead.)

On May 3, for example, CommonWealth reporter Jack Sullivan wrote about a court case involving Stephen Anzalone, who was challenging his rejection as a probation officer even though he would have been the seventh member of his family to draw a paycheck from the agency.

And on April 14, editor Bruce Mohl interviewed House Ways and Means Committee chairman Charles Murphy on why he opposed a plan by Gov. Deval Patrick to bring the out-of-control agency under the executive branch’s wing.

The Globe, as the region’s largest and most influential news organization, is doing what it does best: driving the agenda and forcing public officials to do what they should have done a long time ago. And CommonWealth, like other smaller players, is performing its role admirably as well: by keeping the story simmering until it was ready to come to a boil.