Tag Archives: WGBH

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.)

Globe makes move into TV with ‘5 Runners’

This story was previously published at WGBH News.

When Boston Globe arts reporter Geoff Edgers and multimedia producer Darren Durlach proposed making a documentary about five runners who were crossing the Boston Marathon finish line at the moment that the bombings took place, editor Brian McGrory’s reaction was: Why not?

“What do you need? Two weeks?” McGrory recalled asking them.

As it turned out, it took Edgers and Durlach eight months, thousands of miles on the road and, as McGrory put it, “God knows how many dollars” to make “5 Runners,” which premiered before a crowd of several hundred people at the JFK Library Thursday evening.

The 25-minute film, which McGrory called “the first full-fledged documentary that theBoston Globe has ever produced,” will debut on NESN on Monday. It’s an early sign that a strategy to move into television, which Globe owner John Henry announced earlier this year, is beginning to take shape — although Edgers and Durlach began working on the film before Henry bought the paper. (Henry is also the principal owner of the Red Sox, which controls a chunk of NESN.)

The film, which grew out of a story Edgers wrote last April 21, follows the runners’ quest to return to the starting line of the 2014 marathon. I won’t give away how many make it. But “5 Runners” is deeply felt and unusual in its focus on how athletes — ordinary men and women who were well off the pace of the elite runners — were affected by the terrorist attack.

In a panel discussion after the film moderated by Globe deputy managing editor for features Janice Page, Edgers talked about the difficulties he and Durlach faced in staying in touch with their subjects. One of the runners, Volker Fischer, simply stopped responding, so Edgers sent him a card that read: “Volker — call me.”

When Edgers finally was able to connect with Fischer and visit his home in Illinois, he saw the card, unopened, on the refrigerator. “‘I liked the stamp,’” Edgers recalled Fischer telling him, explaining: “It was a Johnny Cash stamp.” (Disclosure: Edgers and I worked together at The Boston Phoenix in the mid-1990s. His wife, journalist Carlene Hempel, and I are colleagues at Northeastern University.)

Durlach said that the runners were “hesitant” about putting themselves forward when so many others had died or were wounded. “People were killed. Why do you want to spend time on my story?” is the way Durlach characterized their reaction.

Also joining the panelists was one of the five runners, Mary Jenkins of Ohio (spoiler alert: she’ll be running this year’s marathon), who said she will “probably be a basket case” during the race.

“It’s going to be hard, I think, Marathon Day, but I think it’s going to be exciting, too,” she said.

Edgers and Durlach plan to be at this year’s marathon as well. Their goal, they said, is to keep covering the story, and to expand “5 Runners” into an hour-long film.

WGBH’s ‘Beat the Press’ wins national award

beat-the-press-210x210“Beat the Press,” a weekly media program on WGBH-TV (Channel 2) that I’ve been part of for about 15 years, has won the national Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism from Pennsylvania State University. Here is the announcement from Penn State.

Television is a team sport, and I’m proud to be part of the amazing group of people that is responsible for “Beat the Press” every Friday, starting with host Emily Rooney. At the risk of leaving out names, I want to mention one who’s not in the announcement: Jeff Keating, who produces the show and keeps us all on the straight and narrow.

Congratulations to Jeff and everyone for making us look good.

Peter Kadzis named senior editor of WGBH News

Great news from my other employer, WGBH: My friend Peter Kadzis has been named senior editor of WGBH News. Kadzis will be in charge of building up the site’s news and commentary. I can’t think of anyone more qualified.

Peter is the former editor of The Boston Phoenix and the former executive editor of the Phoenix Media/Communications Group. It was he who took a chance by naming me the Phoenix’s media columnist in 1994, a beat I’ve been working in one capacity or another ever since. He’s been working part-time at WGBH since the Phoenix went out of business last March.

The following is an announcement to the WGBH staff from Linda Polach, executive managing editor of WGBH News.

Peter Kadzis

Peter Kadzis

I am very pleased to announce that Peter Kadzis will be our new senior editor of WGBHNews.org. He will be working closely with [web producers] Abbie [Ruzicka] and Brendan [Lynch] to oversee all facets of our website and ensure it becomes an integral part of our overall news mission.

For months, digital content editor Mac Slocum and I searched for the right candidate for this position: a strong news person with a good understanding of the web. Eventually, we realized someone in our own newsroom had those qualities and much more.

Peter has already proved to be a valuable asset to our newsroom. We’ve all come to benefit from his experience, institutional history, rolodex and engaging personality. It made sense to expand the web position to match Peter’s extensive news management background and we believe the role of growing the website is one for which Peter is well suited.

We all know Peter as the former executive editor of the Boston Phoenix. But he was also in charge of the operations, budget and personnel for all publications of the Phoenix Media Group, including the weekly papers in Providence and Portland. He was responsible for the papers’ respective websites and he was the liaison for the group’s three radio stations. During his extensive news career, he was editor of both the Boston Business Journal and Providence Business News and he has written for Forbes, the New York Daily News, the Providence Journal and the Boston Globe. I could go on and on.

In this new role, Peter will be one of the leaders of our newsroom. He will work closely with [managing director] Phil [Redo], [managing director of news] Ted [Canova] and I on setting our news agenda and making sure we properly execute the WGBH news vision.

To say Peter is excited by the challenges ahead is an understatement and we’ve already starting talking about ways to take our website to the next level.

In addition to being smart, funny and extremely knowledgeable about our community, Peter is just an all around nice guy. Please congratulate him and do what you can to make his transition smooth.

Swartz case leads Media Nation’s top 10 of 2013

Aaron Swartz speaking in 2012

Aaron Swartz speaking in 2012

Last January, not long after the young Internet genius Aaron Swartz committed suicide, civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate wrote powerfully about the abusive prosecutorial tactics that may have led to his death.

Swartz faced a lengthy federal prison sentence for downloading academic articles at MIT without authorization. Even though the publisher, JSTOR, declined to press charges, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz brought a case agains Swartz under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. As Silverglate put it, the law is “a notoriously broad statute enacted by Congress seemingly to criminalize any use of a computer to do something that could be deemed bad.”

Silverglate’s article was republished in Media Nation with the permission of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, where it originally appeared. And it was far and away the most viewed article in Media Nation in 2013.

Today we present Media Nation’s top 10 posts for 2013, based on statistics compiled by WordPress.com. They represent a range of topics — from the vicissitudes of talk radio to a media conflict of interest, from Rolling Stone’s controversial cover image of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to the sad, sudden death of The Boston Phoenix.

The top 10 is by no means representative of the year in media. Certainly the biggest story about journalism in 2013 involved the National Security Agency secrets revealed by Edward Snowden to The Guardian and The Washington Post — a story that did not make the cut at Media Nation.

Here, then, is our unrepresentative sample for the past 12 months.

1. Harvey Silverglate on the Aaron Swartz case (Jan. 24). Few people were more qualified to weigh in on U.S. Attorney Ortiz’s abusive tactics than Silverglate, my friend and occasional collaborator, who several years ago wrote “Three Felonies a Day,” a book on how the federal justice system has spun out of control. But Silverglate’s take wasn’t the only article about Swartz to generate interest in Media Nation. The aftermath of Swartz’s suicide also came in at No. 11 (“The Globe turns up the heat on Carmen Ortiz,” Jan. 11) and No. 13 (“Aaron Swartz, Carmen Ortiz and the meaning of justice,” Jan. 14). In a bit of poetic justice, a project Swartz was working on at the time of his death — software that allows whistleblowers to submit documents without being identified — was unveiled by The New Yorker just several months after his suicide.

2. The New Republic’s new owner crosses a line (Jan. 28). A little more than a year ago, the venerable New Republic was saved by Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook who is using some of his fortune to restore the magazine to relevance and fiscal health. But he crossed an ethical line last January when he took part in an interview with President Obama, whose campaign he had worked on, and tossed a series of softball questions his way. At the time I wrote that Hughes was guilty of “no more than a minor misstep.” So how did it rise to No. 2? It turns out that a number of right-leaning websites picked up on it, bringing a considerable amount of traffic to Media Nation that I normally don’t receive.

3. Dailies go wild over sports controversies (Aug. 30). Four months after publishing this item, I find it hard to make heads or tails of what was going on. But essentially Globe-turned-Herald sportswriter Ron Borges contributed to a Rolling Stone article on the Aaron Hernandez murder case, which generated some tough criticism from both the Globe and the well-known blog Boston Sports Media Watch. That was followed almost immediately by a Globe article on the ratings collapse of sports radio station WEEI (AM 850), which brought yet more tough talk from, among others, ’EEI morning co-host Gerry Callahan, who also happens to write a column for the Herald. Yes, Boston is a small town.

4. Rolling Stone’s controversial cover (July 17). I thought it was brilliant. I still do. The accusion that Rolling Stone was trying to turn Dzhokhar Tsarnaev into some sort of pop-culture hero is absurd and offensive — and not borne out by the well-reported article that the cover was designed to illustrate.

5. Glenn Ordway walks the ratings plank (Feb. 14). Ordway built sports talker WEEI into a ratings monster only to see its numbers crater in the face of competition from the Sports Hub (WBZ-FM, 98.5). Ordway was by no means the problem with WEEI. But station management decided it could no longer afford his $500,000 contract, and so that was it for the Big O.

6. A big moment for The Boston Globe (Dec. 17). It was actually a big year for the Globe, from its riveting coverage of the marathon bombing and the standoff that led to the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to the paper’s acquisition by Red Sox principal owner John Henry. But two days in mid-December were emblematic of the paper’s continuing excellence and relevance — a long, detailed exposé of the Tsarnaev family that revealed Dzhokhar, rather than his older brother, Tamerlan, may have been the driving force behind the bombing; an investigation into a case of alleged “medical child abuse” that pitted a Connecticut family against Children’s Hospital; and a nationally celebrated series of tweets by staff reporter Billy Baker about a Boston teenager from a poor family who had been admitted to Yale.

7. The Boston Phoenix reaches the end of the road (March 14). A stalwart of the alternative-weekly scene and my professional home from 1991 to 2005, the Phoenix was a voice of incalculable importance. But with even the legendary Village Voice struggling to survive, the alt-weekly moment may have passed. At the time of its death, the Phoenix had more than 100,000 readers — but little revenue, as advertising had dried up and both the print edition and the website were free. I scribbled a few preliminary thoughts in this post, and later wrote something more coherent for PBS MediaShift.

8. The return of Jim Braude and Margery Eagan (Feb. 6). Eagan and Braude’s morning show was the one bright spot on WTKK Radio, an otherwise run-of-the-mill right-wing talk station that had been taken off the air a month earlier. So it was good news indeed when the pair was hired to host “Boston Public Radio” from noon to 2 p.m. on public station WGBH (89.7 FM). (Note: (I am a paid contributor to WGBH-TV’s “Beat the Press,” where Eagan is a frequent panelist.)

9. Joe Scarborough grapples with history — and loses (Feb. 17). Asking cable blowhard Scarborough to write a review for The New York Times Book Review about the relationship between Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon could have been a smart, counterintuitive move. But it only works if the writer in question is, you know, smart.

10. The bell tolls for WTKK Radio (Jan. 3). As I already mentioned, Jim Braude and Margery Eagan were able to walk away from the rubble of WTKK, which was shut down by corporate owner Greater Media and turned into an urban music station. Just a few years earlier the station had been a ratings success with trash-talking hosts like Jay Severin and Michael Graham. But tastes change — sometimes for the better.

Photo (cc) by Maria Jesus V and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.