Tag Archives: WGBH

Billionaires’ bash: Big moves by Henry’s Globe, Bezos’ Post

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 10.40.06 AM

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Tuesday may have been the biggest day yet for billionaire newspaper owners John Henry and Jeff Bezos. Henry’s Boston Globe launched the long-anticipated Crux, a free standalone website that covers the Catholic Church. And Bezos replaced Katharine Weymouth as publisher of The Washington Post, bringing an end to the 81-year reign of the Meyer-Graham family.

At a time when the newspaper business remains besieged by cuts (including 22 Newspaper Guild positions at The Providence Journal this week, according to a report by Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio), Henry and Bezos are taking the opposite approach.

“You can’t shrink your way to success,” new Washington Post publisher Frederick Ryan told Michael Calderone of The Huffington Post. “Growth is the way to continue to build a strong news organization.” Ryan’s words were nearly identical to those of the Globe’s chief executive officer, Michael Sheehan, at the unveiling of the paper’s weekly political section, Capital, in June: “You can’t cut your way to success. You can only grow you way to success.”

First Crux. To my non-Catholic eyes, the site appears to offer an interesting mix of the serious and the not-so-serious. The centerpiece is John Allen’s deeply knowledgeable reporting and analysis, some of which will continue to appear in the Globe. (In late August, Publishers Marketplace reported that Allen is writing a biography of Pope Francis with the working title of “The Francis Miracle.” No publisher was named, but according to this, Time Home Entertainment will release it in March 2015.)

Crux national reporter Michael O’Loughlin has weighed in with features on Native American Catholics who blend tribal and Roman traditions and on the Vatican Secret Archives, whose contents turn out to be not as interesting as the phrase makes them sound. Vatican correspondent Inés San Martín covers stories such as Pope Francis’ call for peace in Gaza. WGBH’s Margery Eagan, a former Boston Herald columnist, is writing a column called “On Spirituality.” The events calendar makes it clear that Crux is a very Catholic venture.

There’s a lighter side to Crux, too, such as a trivia quiz on the saints and updates on football teams from Catholic colleges. Crux’s own reporters are supplemented with wire services, including the Associated Press, Catholic News Service and Religion News Service, as well as personal essays such as the Rev. Jonathan Duncan’s rumination on life as a married Catholic priest with children (he used to be an Episcopalian). Crux is also asking readers to write brief essays; the debut topic is illegal immigration.

Two quibbles. An article on the suffering of Iraqi Christians was published as a straight news story, even though the tagline identifies it as coming from “the pontifical organization Aid to the Church in Need.” When you click to “learn more,” you find out that Church in Need is an advocacy organization that is actively seeking donations. The disclosure is sufficient, but the placement strikes me as problematic. If Crux were a print newspaper, the article could have appeared on the op-ed page. Crux needs a clearly marked place for such material as well.

My other quibble is that content is undated, leaving the impression that everything is now. That can cause confusion, as with a John Allen Globe piece on immigration that refers to “Friday night” — and links to an Associated Press story published on Aug. 2. (Dates do appear on author bios.)

The site is beautifully designed, and it’s responsive, so it looks good on tablets and smartphones. There are a decent number of ads, though given the state of digital advertising, I think it would make sense — as I wrote earlier this summer — to take the best stuff and publish it in a paid, ad-supported print product.

Globe editor Brian McGrory, Crux editor Teresa Hanafin, digital adviser David Skok and company are off to a fine start. For more on Crux, see this article by David Uberti in the Columbia Journalism Review and this, by Justin Ellis, at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

***

A torrent of punditry has already accompanied the news that Frederick Ryan, a former chief executive of Politico, will become publisher of The Washington Post on Oct. 1.

The irony is thick. When Post political reporters John Harris and Jim VanDeHei proposed launching Politico under the newspaper’s auspices in 2006, they were turned down. Today, Politico often dominates the political conversation in a way that the Post used to (and, of course, sometimes still does). I’m not always a fan of Politico’s emphasis on politics as insider gamesmanship, but there’s no doubt the site has been successful.

As the Post’s own account makes clear, Ryan is a longtime Republican activist, and was close to both Ronald and Nancy Reagan. That shouldn’t affect the Post’s news operations, though it could affect the editorial page — hardly a bastion of liberalism even now. In another Post story, Ryan “endorsed” executive editor Marty Baron and editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt. Baron, a former Globe editor, may be the best newspaper editor working on this side of the Atlantic.

What concerns me is the strong scent of insiderism that is attached to Ryan. In an address to the staff, Ryan said one of his goals is “winning the morning,” according to a series of tweets by Post media blogger Erik Wemple (reported by Jim Romenesko). That might seem unremarkable, except that it sounds like something right out of the Politico playbook — um, make that “Playbook.”

A New York Times account by Ravi Somaiya dwells on Ryan’s obsession with the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, and quotes Ryan as calling it “an important event.” Those of us who find the dinner to be an unseemly display of Beltway clubbiness might agree that it’s important, but for different reasons.

Then again, if Ryan can fix the Post’s business model and show the way for other news organizations, all will be forgiven. The Post, like the Globe, has been expanding under new ownership. On Tuesday, the Post unveiled its most recent venture, The Most, an aggregation site.

Bezos’ track record at Amazon shows that he’s willing to take the long view. I suspect that he’s still just getting started with the Washington Post.

 

Eagan leaves Herald, will write for Globe’s Catholic site

Margery Eagan

Margery Eagan

Longtime Boston Herald columnist Margery Eagan has left the paper and will write for The Boston Globe’s Catholic website when it debuts later this summer. Eagan is a colleague at WGBH, where she cohosts “Boston Public Radio” with Jim Braude.

“I’ll be joining the Catholic site when it begins,” Eagan tells me by email. “And I am thrilled.”

Eagan has been one of the Herald’s signature columnists for quite a few years; here is her most recent effort. This is a big loss for the local tabloid — a day after the paper announced it had hired Kimberly Atkins to be its first full-time Washington reporter in a decade.

“Boston Public Radio” to add a third hour this September

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 9.07.18 AMWGBH Radio (89.7 FM) is adding a third hour of “Boston Public Radio” with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan this September, when it will be on the air weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

In addition, the program — and WGBH in general — will partner with The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit venture recently begun by the Boston-based international news site GlobalPost and its co-founder and editor-at-large, Charles Sennott.

You can find the full announcement here — and my standard disclosure here.

They Posted Clickbait So They’d All Get Rich. What Happened Next Made Them Cry.

WGBH forum

From left: Raney Aronson Rath, deputy executive producer of “Frontline,” who introduced the panel: moderator Joshua Benton, Tim O’Brien, Clay Shirky and Ethan Zuckerman. Photo by Lisa Palone via Twitter.

Cross-posted at WGBH News.

Have we reached the limits of clickbait media exemplified by The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed? According to three experts on Internet journalism, the answer is yes.

At a forum on the future of journalism held in WGBH’s Yawkey Theater on Wednesday, the consensus was that aggregating as many eyeballs as possible in order to show them advertising does not produce enough revenue to support quality journalism. Instead, news organizations like The New York Times are succeeding by persuading a small percentage of their audience to support them through subscription fees. (Click here for some tweets from the session.)

“One of the things that interests me is the end of the audience as a discrete category that can be treated as an aggregate,” said Clay Shirky of New York University. “Scale was the business model,” he said, describing the attitude among Web publishers as “‘At some point scale will play out.’ And it didn’t.”

As it turns out, Shirky continued, pushing people to “a hot new story” didn’t really matter that much. “What really matters,” he said, “is that there’s about 3 percent of that audience who really cares whether that newspaper lives or dies. We’re just at the beginning of that.”

Shirky and his fellow panelists — Tim O’Brien, publisher of Bloomberg View, and Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media, moderated by Nieman Journalism Lab editor Joshua Benton — noted that the revenue model being pursued by the Times and others is essentially the same as the system that funds public media outlets such as WGBH, WBUR, NPR and the like.

O’Brien and Zuckerman disagreed over the need for mass media. O’Brien argued that the audience for an entertainment program can come up with ways of paying for it that don’t depend on attracting a larger audience. “We’re talking about different ways to finance passion,” he said.

To which Zuckerman retorted: “We’re not just talking about ‘Downton Abbey.’ We’re talking about news.” The challenge, Zuckerman said, is to find ways not just of funding journalism but of building enough of an audience so that investigative reporting at the local level can have enough clout to influence events.

Zuckerman also raised the issue of how news organizations do and don’t foster civic engagement, offering the example of the sudden closing of North Adams Regional Hospital in western Massachusetts. The closing put about 500 people out of work and left residents about 45 minutes away from the nearest emergency room.

Zuckerman praised the Berkshire Eagle’s coverage, but said the paper offered little sense of what the public could do. That, he said, would require “advocacy journalism” of the sort that makes traditional journalists uncomfortable.

That led to an observation by Shirky that newspaper editors are actually well-versed in telling their readers how to get involved when it comes to something like a theater review. Not only do readers learn whether the critic liked the play or not, but they are also told when and where it is being performed, how much tickets cost and how to buy them. But when covering a political story, Shirky continued, readers never learn how to make a donation or get involved.

Zuckerman said the problem is that news organizations don’t like to promote what-you-can-do measures when it comes to partisan politics.

By contrast, he added, news organizations have no issues with telling their audience how they can help after a natural disaster, explaining: “There is not a huge pro-hurricane constituency.”

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

Emily Rooney to scale back her duties at WGBH

Emily Rooney

Emily Rooney

Emily Rooney is scaling back her duties at WGBH, although you will be as relieved as I was to learn that she will continue to host our Friday-evening media show on Channel 2, “Beat the Press.”

Rooney, the daughter of the late Andy Rooney and a broadcasting legend in her own right, will be stepping aside from “Greater Boston” on Monday though Thursday evenings next January. She’ll become a special correspondent and will continue to be involved in “Boston Public Radio” on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM).

Rooney’s changing role will be a big loss for the city and the region. Since the late 1990s, she has been the face of WGBH locally, hosting not just her nightly program but also countless political debates and other events.

And here’s a bit of trivia for you. When “Greater Boston” made its debut in 1997, it was strictly a four-day show. Friday evenings were taken up by a left-right political talk show hosted by former secretary of labor Robert Reich and former senator Alan Simpson called “The Long and the Short of It.” When that program ran its course, Emily was ready with an idea she’d been developing to hold the media to account.

This is a huge change, although, thankfully, not for viewers of “Beat the Press” or for those of us who take part in it. I wish my very best to Emily. Below is the complete press release from WGBH.

***

Emily Rooney to Step Back from Daily News Role
Greater Boston host to focus on and continue to moderate Beat the Press
Named Special Correspondent for WGBH News

BOSTON, Mass. (May 29, 2014) — After hosting WGBH’s award-winning Greater Boston for 18 years and working the daily grind in newsrooms at WCVB, ABC and FOX for 25 years before that, Emily Rooney has decided to step back from her daily newsroom and Greater Boston hosting duties to focus on the weekly Beat the Press program. In addition to moderating Beat the Press, Rooney will move into a role in January as a Special Correspondent to WGBH News and will continue to appear regularly on 89.7 WGBH’s Boston Public Radio.

“When I came to WGBH in 1997, I was an on-air rookie tasked with shaping a nightly news and public affairs show that would be accessible to everyone,” said Rooney. “I’m proud of the program we’ve fine-tuned over the years and grateful to WGBH for giving me the chance to reinvent myself. It all happened in large part due to the loyal and dedicated staff who have stayed with the show all these years.”

Over the years, Rooney has cultivated a loyal viewership, producing the last remaining daily broadcast in-depth talk show in the city attracting local and national dignitaries and everyday people to a community roundtable of ideas and hot-button topics.

“We are extremely indebted to Emily for her guidance and commitment to WGBH’s local coverage of issues and newsmakers. For so many years Emily was WGBH News,” said WGBH Radio General Manager Phil Redo, who also oversees WGBH News. “On behalf of everyone connected to the news department, we thank her for the first 18 years with WGBH, and look forward to the many still ahead in her new and only slightly adjusted role.”

Under Rooney’s leadership in the WGBH newsroom, Greater Boston and Beat the Press have won a number of awards, including Regional Edward R. Murrow broadcast awards and New England Emmy Awards. Beat the Press is a five-time winner of the National Press Club’s Arthur Rowse Award for Media Criticism. Last week Beat the Press picked up Penn State’s Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism for coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings among other issues. Rooney herself has been honored with the Dennis Kauff Award for Excellence in Reporting, Reporter of the Year from the Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Yankee Quill Award from the American Newspaper Society. She was recently inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Before joining WGBH, Rooney was director of political coverage and special events at FOX Network in New York. Prior to that, she was executive producer of ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. She worked at WCVB-TV in Boston from 1979-1993, including three years as the local ABC affiliate’s news director.

In recent years, the WGBH News division has expanded from the strong foundation laid by Rooney and the Greater Boston production. The entire newsroom works collaboratively across all electronic platforms — television, radio and digital. In addition to Greater Boston and Beat the Press, WGBH News produces the weekly television program Basic Black for WGBH 2, as well as Boston Public Radio, Innovation Hub and Under the Radar with Callie Crossley for 89.7 WGBH. It is also a co-producer of The Takeaway and The World radio programs.

In the coming months, Redo will consider options for filling Rooney’s role on Greater Boston.

Jared Remy joins his dad in attacking Margery Eagan

So now both Jerry and Jared Remy have gone after Boston Herald columnist Margery Eagan for daring to criticize the RemDawg for taking legal action to gain access to his granddaughter, left motherless by the allegedly homicidal actions of his son. And there was Jerry yucking it up with Don Orsillo during last night’s Red Sox game. (Herald story here; Eagan column here.)

How long is NESN prepared to let this on-air debacle continue? (Note: Eagan is a WGBH colleague.)