Tag Archives: David Bernstein

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.

 

A big year for Remy-related blog posts at Media Nation

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Photo (cc) by Paul. Some rights reserved.

On Tuesday I posted WordPress’ robo-generated report on my year in blogging. But you knew I wasn’t going to stop there, didn’t you? For the past several years I’ve been writing an end-of-the-year round-up of my top 10 posts. It’s always interesting to me to see what resonates most with my readers.

These lists always come with caveats, and this year’s has a big one. Starting last spring, I began offering what I thought were my better blog posts to my friends at WGBHNews.org, who published them first and promoted them on social media. Though I later reposted them on Media Nation, they had already lost a lot of their juice by that point. So it’s hard to know what my top 10 list really means. Maybe I should call this list “The Best of the Rest.”

And away we go.

1. Is Jerry Remy’s broadcasting career finally over? (March 23). The answer, as it turned out, was “no.” But following a devastating story in The Boston Globe by Eric Moskowitz on Remy’s homicidal son, Jared, and the lengths to which Jerry Remy and his wife, Phoebe, had enabled his violent behavior, it sure looked that way, if only for a brief moment. Within days, though, Jerry Remy was back in the broadcast booth, yukking it up uncomfortably with Don Orsillo during Red Sox games. There was all kinds of internal intrigue to this. Both the Globe and the Red Sox are owned by John Henry, who is also a part-owner of Remy’s employer, New England Sports Network. (Page views: 7,714.)

2. Boston.com retracts claim about racist email from professor (Dec. 11). In early December, Boston.com had a phenomenon on its hands: contentious, legalistic emails from Harvard Business School professor (and lawyer) Ben Edelman complaining to a Chinese restaurant about having been overcharged by $4. But then the Boston Globe Media-owned site overreached. Hilary Sargent, who had written the original story, cowrote a follow-up reporting that Edelman had sent one of the owners, Ran Duan, a racist email. It couldn’t be verified, and the story was pulled back. It got worse: It turned out that Sargent had also designed a T-shirt making fun of Edelman that she was selling online. Sargent, the site’s deputy editor (the top editing job was vacant), was suspended for a week. David Bernstein has a good overview of the whole affair at Boston magazine. (Page views: 2,827.)

3. Boston.com’s anonymous sports blogger to be unmasked (March 24). (Page views: 2,648.)

4. Meet the Obnoxious Boston Fan (March 25). I am startled that these two posts received the attention that they did. After the Globe’s exposé about the Remy family, an anonymous Boston.com blogger who writes as the Obnoxious Boston Fan posted a harsh commentary about Remy. It struck me as inappropriate that a Globe-affiliated site would allow anonymous attacks on anyone. Globe digital adviser David Skok told me that Mr. OBF would soon drop the anonymity — and in my follow-up post, I was able to identify him ahead of the official unveiling as Bill Speros. (Page views: 2,178.)

5. Big moves as Globe prepares to expand its business section (Nov. 13). (Page views: 1,870.)

6. Eagan leaves Herald, will write for Globe’s Catholic site (July 30). (Page views: 1,685.)

7. Globe executive announces digital moves (July 29). Probably the biggest ongoing local media story is Boston Globe owner John Henry’s various investments in growth — a new weekly political section (Capital), a Catholic website (Crux) and an expanded business section. These three posts documented a few of those developments. (Page views: 1,609.)

8. Jared Remy joins his dad in attacking Margery Eagan (April 25). The fourth Remy-related item in the top 10. Eagan, then with the Boston Herald, had the temerity to criticize Jerry Remy in her column. Jerry Remy went after her on the air — and Jared Remy joined in from his prison cell. (Page views: 1,495.)

9. Globe to offer buyouts to some staff members (Aug. 1). Not all the news from Globe headquarters in 2014 was about investment and expansion. Even as the news organization grew, it announced cuts in other areas. (Page views: 1,338.)

10. Boston Herald loses libel suit over false prison sex story (March 19). The plaintiff, Joanna Marinova, was awarded $563,000 over a story that falsely claimed she had engaged in “sexual acts” with an inmate during a 2009 trip to Bridgewater State Prison. Marinova and state Rep. Gloria Fox had visited the prison in order to investigate claims of inmate abuse. (Page views: 1,187.)

David Bernstein is out of here

David Bernstein and Kristin McGrath

Bernstein and McGrath

One of the more original political voices to pass through Boston in many years is fleeing the scene. My former Boston Phoenix colleague David Bernstein, who’s been contributing to Boston magazine and WGBH since the Phoenix’s demise in 2013, is heading to Richmond, Virginia, where his wife, Kristin McGrath, is starting “an exciting new job.”

Bernstein’s political analysis is smart and straight from a liberal perspective. But it’s his use of social media that sets him apart. His Twitter feed, which has nearly 14,000 followers, is a great source of news, political humor and hashtag games. On Facebook, he pays tribute to the birthdays of often-obscure politicos with music trivia contests. A recent example:

Today’s Massachusetts political birthday is Segun Idowu of the Edward M. Kennedy Insititute, currently under construction. In his honor, what are the best songs with the word “build,” “shape,” or “make” in the title? I’ll start with Foundations “Build Me Up Buttercup”; Nirvana “Heart-Shaped Box”; and Nick Lowe “You Make Me.”

Then there is Bernstein’s #mapoli With Animals, a Tumblr consisting of photos of Massachusetts politicians posing with their (and other people’s) pets. If you haven’t seen it, you should. I’m sure you’ll agree that it is one of the signal accomplishments of the Internet age.

Bernstein says he’ll “still write and comment about Massachusetts politics beyond 2014,” and that he expects to continue with BoMag and WGBH. But it won’t be the same with him checking in from afar. Best of luck to both David and Kristin.

Where are they now? (Boston Phoenix edition)

Jim Romenesko has posted an update on what happened to Boston Phoenix staff members who lost their jobs when the alt-weekly — a glossy magazine known simply as The Phoenix in its final incarnation — went out of business last March.

phoenixhedIt’s heartening to see how many of my former colleagues landed on their feet, although it would be good to see more of them find full-time media jobs. Among those who did: Carly Carioli, the editor of The Phoenix, and who’s now the executive editor (the number two position) at Boston magazine following a cup of coffee at Boston.com.

Also working full-time at BoMag is S.I. Rosenbaum; political reporter David Bernstein is a contributor there and to WGBH as well. Former editor Peter Kadzis is working part-time at WGBH, and was instrumental in bringing the Boston leg of the Muzzle Awards to WGBHNews.org earlier this summer.

Anyway, not to repeat Romenesko’s entire item. It’s well worth a look. Romenesko is also updating it as new information about ex-Phoenicians becomes available.

Ex-Phoenician David Bernstein’s big Menino win

Tom Menino in 2008

My former Boston Phoenix colleague David Bernstein, now looking for work, scored a big win on Wednesday, reporting before anyone that Mayor Tom Menino would not seek re-election. With the Phoenix now history, Bernstein posted the news on his blog — first as rumor, later as confirmed fact.

Given that Menino gave major interviews Wednesday to the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, it strikes me as exceedingly likely that a media embargo was in place — and I received additional, direct confirmation of that this morning. Which just goes to show the futility of embargoes in the Internet age. Good for Bernstein for operating outside the system, even if it’s not by his own choice. News organizations might consider rethinking their participation in such attempts at media manipulation.

Both the Globe and the Herald offer excellent coverage of the Menino era today. And how about Globe editor Brian McGrory jumping back into the fray by interviewing Menino and writing a column? McGrory was the Globe’s signature voice for years. Returning to the trenches for one day was a smart move.

More: Andrew Beaujon of Poynter has a nice Storify on how Bernstein’s scoop played out on Twitter.

Photo (cc) by Dan4th Nicholas and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Ex-Phoenician David Bernstein is still Talking Politics

Former Boston Phoenix political columnist David Bernstein hasn’t skipped a beat, moving his Talking Politics blog from thephoenix.com to his own domain. I’ve changed the link in the blogroll. And, of course, as I learn about new homes for Phoenix staffers, both virtual and terrestrial, I will post the information here.

The Boston Phoenix comes to the end of the road

I’m not even going to try to write a real post about this today. I’m getting bombarded from all directions, and besides that, I’m devastated. But I did want to note quickly, in case you haven’t heard, that The Phoenix — the erstwhile Boston Phoenix, reinvented as a glossy magazine last fall — is closing down, as is its affiliated Internet radio station, WFNX.com.

The Providence and Portland Phoenixes will continue, as well as a few non-journalism businesses.

Here is Doug Most’s report for Boston.com. [5:07 p.m. update: That report now carries Joe Kahn’s byline.]

The Phoenix gave me 14 great years, and it’s hard to believe that the end has come. There are way too many people to mention, so I’ll leave it at this: Peter Kadzis and Stephen Mindich were great bosses, smart, tough and loyal. Carly Carioli has done tremendous work on the reinvention, and it’s a tragedy that he ran out of time. I rely on David Bernstein for his deep reporting on politics and Chris Faraone for an alternative look at the news. Here is Mindich in a statement to the staff:

What I can and will say is I am extremely proud, as all of you should be, of the highest standards of journalism we have set and maintained throughout the decades in all of our areas of coverage and the important role we have played in driving political and socially progressive and responsible agendas; in covering the worlds of arts and entertainment, food and fashion – always with a critical view, while at the same time promoting their enormous importance in maintaining a healthy society; and in advocating for the recognition and acceptance of a wide range of lifestyles that are so valuable for a vibrant society….

We have had an extraordinary run.

And this is an incredibly sad day.

More: Unlike many who got their start at the Phoenix in their early 20s, I was 34 years old and thought my journalism career was over. In the late 1980s I had tried my hand at launching a regional lifestyle magazine in the suburbs northwest of Boston following some years at the Daily Times Chronicle of Woburn. The magazine failed, and I was doing what I could to survive.

I was picked up on waivers in 1991 from the Pilot — yes, the Catholic paper — where I had been doing layout and production. The Phoenix hired me as a copy editor, but I kept an eye out in case something better came along. Yes, I had grown up reading the Phoenix, Boston After Dark and the Real Paper, but any romantic notions I’d had of the alternative press had pretty much dissipated.

Gradually, though, I got sucked in. And when I inherited the media beat in late 1994 from Mark Jurkowitz, I became a made member of the Phoenix family. It was the most formative experience of my career. Without the Phoenix, I can’t imagine what I’d be doing today — PR for some politician? Ugh.