Tag Archives: John Carroll

Flashback: Emily Rooney and public broadcasting in 1997

On Feb. 6, 1997, just after the debut of “Greater Boston” on WGBH-TV (Channel 2), I wrote an article for The Boston Phoenix on the state of the city’s two major public broadcasters, WGBH and WBUR. It was the first time I’d met the host, Emily Rooney. The original is online here, but, as you will see, it’s unreadable; thus, I have reproduced it in full below. In re-reading it, I was struck by what an interesting moment in time that was, with many of the same names and issues still with us 17 years later.

Making waves

With commercial stations going lowbrow, Boston’s public broadcasters are fine-tuning their strategies. The question: are WGBH & WBUR doing their duty?

Copyright © 1997 by the Phoenix Media/Communications Group. All rights reserved.

GB_largeplayerEmily Rooney is taping the intro to a segment of WGBH-TV’s new local public-affairs show, Greater Boston. Or trying to, anyway. It’s been a long day. Her feet are killing her. And her first few attempts at hyping an interview with Charles Murray, the controversial academic who’s currently promoting his new book on libertarianism, haven’t gone particularly well.

After several tries, though, she nails it. “That was warmer,” says a voice in the control room. “That was very nice.”

She sighs, visibly relieved at getting a break from the unblinking eye of the lens.

Rooney, the former news director of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), may be a respected newswoman, but the debut of Greater Boston last week showed that her transition to an on-camera role is going to take some time. And if Rooney and Greater Boston are struggling to find their voice, so, too, is WGBH.

This is, after all, the first significant foray into local public-affairs programming for WGBH (Channels 2 and 44, plus a radio station) since 1991, when it canceled The Ten O’Clock News. The new show is a huge improvement over the one it replaces, The Group, an unmoderated roundtable discussion that rose from the ashes of the News. (“A tawdry, pathetic little show,” huffs one industry observer of The Group, widely derided as “The Grope.”) Still, Greater Boston is going to need some work. Week One’s topics, which included the Super Bowl and cute animals, were too light and fluffy to qualify the show as a must-watch. And Rooney, who doubles as Greater Boston‘s executive editor, needs to overcome her on-the-set jitters.

It’s crucial that ’GBH get it right. With commercial broadcasters in full retreat from serious news and public affairs, public-broadcasting stations are the last redoubt. Boston’s two major public stations — WGBH-TV and WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) — are among the most admired in the country. It’s by no means clear, however, that the people who run those stations are willing or able to fill the gap created by the commercial stations’ retreat into sensationalism and frivolity. Continue reading

The hazards of granting anonymity, Part Infinity

fnc-20130311-scottbrownI’ll leave it to my friend John Carroll to analyze the dust-up between the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald over whether former senator Scott Brown is or isn’t still working for Fox News. (Short answer: he is.) No doubt that’s coming later today.

So just a quick observation. On Wednesday the Globe’s Joshua Miller quoted an unnamed source at Fox who told him that Brown was “out of contract,” thus fueling speculation that Brown was about to jump into New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate race. It turns out, according to the Herald’s Hillary Chabot and Miller’s follow-up report, that Brown was merely between contracts, and that he’s now re-upped.

If I were Miller or an editor at the Globe, I would love to be able to point to a named source at Fox for passing along information that may have been technically accurate but was not actually true. But they can’t, and that’s one of the hazards of granting anonymity.

It’s especially dangerous with Fox. According to NPR media reporter David Folkenflik’s book “Murdoch’s World,” the fair-and-balanced folks once went so far as to leak a false story to a journalist — anonymously, of course — and then denounce him in public after he reported it.

Of course, this all leads to the political question of the moment: Does this mean Brown isn’t running for senator? Or president? Or whatever office he is thought to be flirting with this week?

Update: And here comes John Carroll.

Screen image via Media Matters for America.

Herald questions Globe over account of cab accident

In case you missed it, in part three of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team series on the Boston cab industry we learned that Globe staff member Bob Hohler got in an accident while driving a taxi in the course of his reporting:

Before his stint behind the wheel ends, the reporter will see what it means to be cheated by a taxi company and his ­passengers. And he will survive a harrowing crash — a ­not-uncommon occupational hazard — after a motorist runs a red light near Copley Square. The collision will send the reporter and his passengers to the hospital and destroy the taxicab.

Today the Boston Herald comes back with a front-page story by Matt Stout questioning the Globe’s account of the accident as well as Hohler’s hands-on reporting technique:

A Boston Globe reporter masquerading as a Hub taxi driver gave a disputed version of a two-car crash that sent him and his two passengers to the hospital in a front-page story yesterday that’s raising questions about liability and whether he misrepresented himself.

The Herald also quotes a statement from the Globe that appears to deny Hohler was under cover — it says Hohler identified himself to Boston Police and his passengers. It’s a little unclear, though, whether that was before or after the accident. [Update: The police knew ahead of time, but the cab company didn't, though Hohler says he would have identified himself if asked.]*

Coincidentally, last week I had an opportunity to spend some time with New York University journalism professor Brooke Kroeger, who argues in her book “Undercover Reporting: The Truth about Deception” that such techniques have gotten an undeserved bad rap. Kroeger, among other things, is the biographer of Nelly Bly, the ultimate undercover reporter.

I am reasonably sure that John Carroll will weigh in on the latest Globe-Herald dust-up later today. Should make for interesting reading.

*More: Hohler talks about the experience in a Globe video.

Still more: John Carroll takes his first cut, but appears to be withholding his judgment for the time being.

More and more: Earlier today, I had the following Twitter exchange with the redoubtable Seth Mnookin:

Now Carroll has taken his second cut, and characterizes Mnookin and me as taking the position that the Herald’s reporting is “totally without merit.” In fact, I wouldn’t characterize it that way. I was agreeing with Mnookin as to why the Herald jumped into the fray, but I didn’t mean to imply that the tabloid was shooting nothing but blanks.

Essentially, I agree with Carroll: the Herald raised a legitimate question, but overplayed it, as is its wont.

At the Boston Herald, 30 years down the road

The Boston Herald has put together a video to mark the paper’s 30th anniversary of its current incarnation. In December 1982, Hearst nearly closed the doors before Rupert Murdoch swept in and rescued the tabloid in return for concessions from the paper’s union.

The video, featuring Herald columnists Joe Fitzgerald, Margery Eagan and Howie Carr, publisher Pat Purcell (who bought the paper from Murdoch in 1994) and others, is a self-celebration over Boston’s having remained a two-daily town — rare then and even more rare today. It’s accompanied by a column in which Fitzgerald remembers the emotional rollercoaster everyone was on.

I should add that Fitzgerald was the subject recently of a touching column by his colleague Jessica Heslam following the death of his wife, Carol. Heslam’s piece has slipped into the paid archives, but John Carroll recently excerpted parts of it. Media Nation extends its best wishes to Fitzgerald and his family.

A tale of true love — and sexual misconduct

Looks like the folks at the Boston Globe didn’t do their homework on a story of true love at Occupy Boston — and the Boston Herald nailed them on it. John Carroll has the details.

Herald taken to task on sexual-assault stories

John Carroll takes the Boston Herald to task for two stories about underage sexual-assault victims — one of whom is a 14-year-old girl described as allegedly having an “affair” with a 30-year-old school security officer (it’s called rape, people), the other depicted (but not named) in a photo in the print edition.

“Something’s out of whack at the feisty local tabloid,” writes Carroll.

A new blog by John Carroll

I want to call your attention this morning to a terrific new local blog. Campaign Outsider is written by John Carroll, formerly a fellow panelist on “Beat the Press” on WGBH-TV (Channel 2) and now senior media analyst on WBUR Radio (90.9 FM).

John and I worked on the set-up outside Northeastern’s Au Bon Pain a couple of weeks ago. He’s off to a strong start, weighing in today with a tough piece on the Washington Post’s pay-for-play scandal.

Currently a mass-communications professor at Boston University, Carroll has a long and distinguished career in print, radio and television. I’ve already plugged Campaign Outsider into Google Reader, and suggest you do the same.