How a super-empowered minority and our outmoded Constitution upended Roe

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is so huge and terrible that it’s difficult to get our arms around it. So let me just look at a small chunk of it — the deeply undemocratic nature of our electoral system. You can find various polls with differently worded questions, but, in general, the public was firmly in favor of retaining Roe before Thursday’s decision. So how did we get here?

I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth repeating. A healthy modern democracy is based on the will of the majority, with protections in place for the minority. That’s why we have the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, we now have a situation where a minority of voters is so super-empowered that how the majority votes almost doesn’t matter. Consider:

  • Donald Trump’s three Supreme Court justices — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — were nominated by a president who lost the popular vote in 2016 by nearly 3 million votes. That’s a significant margin. But because the Electoral College favors small states, which are mostly Republican, Trump was able to defeat Hillary Clinton.
  • Those three justices were confirmed by a Republican Senate that represented far fewer Americans than the Democratic senators did. In the current 50-50 Senate, Democrats represent nearly 42 million more people than Republicans. That’s because each state gets two senators, regardless of population.
  • The skew is only getting worse as liberals move to more urban areas. Indeed, you can expect that one of the effects of the Roe decision is that young people will flock to urban areas in blue states — thus empowering small-state Republicans even more.

If something can’t go on forever, then it won’t. More than half the country isn’t going to put up with being permanently disempowered. I don’t know how we get from here to there, and make the changes we need to our outmoded 18th-century Constitution, but I’m confident that we will. Change looks impossible — then, suddenly, everything changes all at once.

Healey’s ascension coincides with the dispiriting collapse of politics in Mass.

Maura Healey. Photo (cc) 2015 by Charlie Baker. Yes, that’s what the photo credit says. Yes, I realize that’s Baker on the left-hand side of the frame.

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz’s withdrawal from the gubernatorial race on Thursday underscores the astonishing collapse of politics in Massachusetts. This is a state where politics has traditionally been a year-round sport. In the past, an open governor’s seat would have attracted multiple candidates. Instead, Attorney General Maura Healey will run uncontested for the Democratic nomination and will probably beat either of the two Republicans who are running.

The Axios Boston headline this morning puts it this way: “AG Healey on track to be Massachusetts’ first elected female governor.” In June. Nearly five months before Election Day.

Contrast what’s happening today with 1990, when Gov. Michael Dukakis retired. Three prominent Democrats sought the nomination — Boston University president John Silber, Attorney General Frank Bellotti and Lieutenant Gov. Evelyn Murphy. Although Murphy ended up withdrawing, Silber beat Bellotti in a closely fought race. Silber, in turn, was defeated by former federal prosecutor Bill Weld, who won the Republican nomination by beating House Republican leader Steve Pierce.

More recently, in 2006, a relatively unknown former Justice Department official, Deval Patrick, won the Democratic primary for governor with less than 50% of the vote against businessman Chris Gabrieli and Attorney General Tom Reilly. That November, Patrick defeated Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey and several independent candidates, the most prominent of whom was the late businessman Christy Mihos.

So how did Healey end up running unopposed for the Democratic nomination? There are some unique factors at play. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker took his time in announcing he wouldn’t seek another term, which gave a significant advantage to the well-known, well-funded Healey. Former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh decided he’d rather stay in Washington than run for governor.

I worry, though, that we’re all losing interest in politics. Healey is first-rate, smart, personable and progressive. After her, though, who? U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley? Boston Mayor Michelle Wu? Maybe. Both are at a relatively early stage of their political careers — especially Wu — so perhaps we just have to give it time.

As for the Republicans, who have produced a slew of governors over the years to act as a moderating force against the dominant Democrats, the situation is sad indeed. Two Republicans are running for governor this year. One, state Rep. Geoff Diehl, is a full-blown Trumper. The other, businessman Chris Doughty, is trying to position himself as a Baker-style moderate — but he opposes abortion rights and has taken stands that suggest he supporters deeper tax cuts than Baker would support.

For those of us who’ve been following Massachusetts politics for years, it’s a dispiriting time. I hope it’s just temporary.

A sickening gun decision that increases the danger to all of us

Photo (cc) 2014 by Thomas Hawk

Early in my career, the police chief of a smallish town and I were shooting the breeze one morning. He told me that a police groupie I was familiar with — somewhat mentally disturbed — would come in several times a year and ask for a handgun license.

Police chiefs in Massachusetts have an enormous amount of discretion in deciding who gets a handgun license, and the chief said there was no way he was going to approve one for this guy. There is no question in my mind that the chief was making the right call. This was not the sort of person you wanted to see walking around town with a gun. But presumably it’s now going to be a lot harder for local police departments to say no.

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling to overturn a gun-control law in New York State has increased the danger of falling victim to gun violence. It’s a sickening decision, and the justices should be ashamed of themselves.

Food journalism as regional news: Our conversation with Hanna Raskin

Hanna Raskin, allegedly. Photo by Allisyn K. Morgan.

On this week’s “What Works” podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Hanna Raskin, founder and editor of The Food Section, a Substack newsletter devoted to covering restaurants and trends in food across the South. Before starting her Substack last year, Hanna was food editor and critic for eight years at the family-owned Charleston Post and Courier in South Carolina.

Raskin also covered food for alternative weeklies, including the Mountain XPress in Asheville, North Carolina, and Seattle Weekly.

I offer a Quick Take on The Baltimore Banner, a nonprofit news project that finally made its long-awaited debut. I wish them all good luck but have some issues with their business model, which includes a hard paywall — not entirely compatible with a nonprofit’s public-service mission.

Ellen’s Quick Take is on a Pew Research Center study on trends in digital circulation at locally focused publications. The bottom line: digital is trending up, print circulation continues to tank, and readers are spending less time on site.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

Bob Garfield revisits his firing from ‘On the Media’ and brings his podcast to a close

Bob Garfield, right, meets Boston media guy Steve Garfield at SXSW. Photo (cc) 2011 by Steve Garfield.

It was a little over a year ago that “On the Media” fired co-host Bob Garfield, claiming he’d violated New York Public Radio’s rules against bullying. The circumstances surrounding Garfield’s departure were murky. He admitted that he’d lost his temper on several occasions over the years, but tweeted that “in all cases, the provocations were just shocking.

Now some details are emerging, at least from Garfield’s side. Recently, in a long Substack post (is there any other kind?), he wrote that he’d never bullied anyone and that his firing stemmed from a falling-out with co-host and managing editor Brooke Gladstone and executive producer Katya Rogers. Apparently Garfield was the only one of the troika not to have a role in management, which put him in a precarious position. The whole essay is worth reading if you’re an “OTM” obsessive, as I am, but it seems to me that this is the key excerpt:

My cashiering last May was based on “a pattern of misconduct” — to wit: six episodes of shouting over the previous three years. One of the angry outbursts was at a computer, which froze on me at deadline. I slammed my fist on the desk and shouted a bad word, rhyming with “fuck.” Another was at a producer, who had deceitfully re-edited a piece against my explicit directions, and tried to sneak the change past me. I discovered her mischief in literally the last two minutes of the weekly production process and hollered plenty. She cried. Another time, I grew impatient with a producer who very much wanted me to ask a certain interview question which I thought was superfluous, but also I had another thing scheduled and was out of time to argue. I was rude to him in front of the guest, for which I immediately and profusely apologized. I was also accused of using profanity at work. Hahahaha! Have you ever been in a newsroom? The OTM corner at WNYC was like Pier 17, minus only the longshoreman hooks.

All of the above generated a complaint to HR, which resulted two years ago in me taking professional coaching to guide me in workplace interactions and keep me from running afoul of WNYC policy. I argued that the complaints were weak tea, but anger-management is a lifelong problem of mine, so I’d take my medicine and hope it helps. I guess it didn’t.

Not having been there, I can’t say for sure whether Garfield’s behavior rose to the level of a fireable offense. But I’m very big on not screaming in the workplace, and Garfield in this instance is an unreliable narrator — we can’t know whether he’s playing down his offenses or not. Even by his own description, I don’t think I’d want his desk to be next to mine. Of course, a lot of this was playing out over Zoom, so make that a metaphorical desk.

The other news in Garfield’s post is that he’s ending his podcast, “Bully Pulpit,” citing health issues and the brutal economics of podcasting: “To be financially stable, in general, a podcast must be in the top 1/10th of 1 percent of all the 50 million pods out there. We were in the top 10%, which is roughly like being in the top 10% of sand.” This is true. Podcasting is the ultimate long-tail medium, with big bucks going to a few people at the top, like Joe Rogan and “The Daily” and scraps to everyone else. (Garfield’s Substack newsletter, also called “Bully Pulpit,” will continue.)

I’m involved in two podcasts — “What Works: The Future of Local News,” which I cohost with Ellen Clegg, and “Beat the Press with Emily Rooney.” The former, affiliated with Northeastern University’s School of Journalism, is strictly a labor of love. “Beat the Press” is a commercial venture. I have no insight into how it’s doing except that I’m told it’s off to a strong start. (You should subscribe to both!)

Garfield’s final podcast episode dropped a few days ago. It’s an 80-minute overview of his long career in radio, from his early days as a roving reporter with NPR to his years with “On the Media.” Wisely, he doesn’t use it to grind any axes. It’s entertaining, informative and, at the end, touching.

I’ve missed Garfield on “OTM.” Whether he and Gladstone got along or not (I guess they didn’t), they complemented each other well. That said, I wish the show would focus more on, you know, the media — a problem that goes back several years.

It’s a shame when talented people like Garfield can’t do what they’re good at. I’m not going to offer a judgment as to whether or not he should have been fired — that would require hearing from Gladstone and Rogers, not just Garfield. But “On the Media,” though still valuable, is a lesser show without him.

Congratulations to the Celtics for a thrilling ride. If they stay healthy, they’ll be back.

Jayson Tatum. Photo (cc) 2018 by Erik Drost.

I am no basketball analyst. But I watched almost every minute of the Celtics’ playoff run, which came to an end last night with a thorough thrashing at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. And I just want to say this: Don’t tell me about blown opportunities, choking or any of those other tired sports clichés. They lost to a much better team. Even those maddening turnovers were a symptom, not a cause.

Longtime Celtics fans will hark back to the Larry Bird era or, more recently, the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen trio. There are some key differences. Bird was one of those rare talents who arrived fully formed. Garnett, Pierce and Allen were veterans brought together for what turned out to be one championship run.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, by contrast, still have some learning to do. They’ve learned a lot the past few weeks, and we can all hope they’ll be better players as a result.

These opportunities don’t come along very often, and you hate to see them miss what looked like a real chance at a championship. Among other things, the Celtics were about as healthy as you can expect an NBA team to be in June. Robert Williams was hobbled, but he’s their fourth-best player. You can say they’ll be back next year, but so much of that depends on avoiding injuries.

But congratulations to the Celtics for a great ride. And congratulations to the Golden State Warriors and Steph Curry, the best pure shooter the NBA has ever seen.

The Globe’s Rhode Island initiative may be expanded across New England

The Boston Globe’s Rhode Island section could be a model for other verticals devoted to different regions in New England. That’s the main takeaway from this week’s edition of “E&P Reports,” a vodcast produced by the trade publication Editor & Publisher.

The vodcast, hosted by E&P publisher Mike Blinder, featured the Globe’s Rhode Island editor (and my “Beat the Press” crony), Lylah Alphonse; Rhode Island reporter Dan McGowan; and Michelle Micone, the Globe’s vice president for innovation and strategic initiatives.

It was Micone who talked about expanding the Globe’s coverage to other regions. She specifically mentioned New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont but not Connecticut, which was either inadvertent or, more likely, a nod to the Nutmeg State’s very different media and cultural environment. I mean, my God, they root for the Yankees down there.

Alphonse and McGowan were careful not to criticize The Providence Journal, but let’s face it — the Globe’s Rhode Island project was begun in response to Gannett’s evisceration of that once great paper. Blinder said that the Journal’s full-time staff is down to about 14. [Note: The actual number is about 30.] Alphonse told me that Globe Rhode Island now has eight full-time journalists. Of course, the folks who remain at the Journal are doing good work under trying conditions, and Alphonse and McGowan were smart to acknowledge that.

One statistic that really hit me was that McGowan’s daily newsletter, “Rhode Map,” is sent to 80,000 recipients each morning, with an open rate of about 30%. By contrast, the Journal’s combined paid print and digital circulation on weekdays, according to data the paper filed with the Alliance for Audited Media, is a little under 31,000. (About 24,000 of that is print, showing that Gannett’s push on digital subscriptions has a long way to go.)

I also want to highlight the news that staff reporter Alexa Gagosz, one of our great master’s degree alums at Northeastern, is heading up expanded food and dining coverage in Rhode Island, including a weekly newsletter.

Now, to get back to possible expansion in other regions: Rhode Island was an opportunity that may not be entirely replicable elsewhere, thanks not only to the ProJo’s shrinkage but to the state’s unique identity. The state has a range of media options, including good-quality public radio, television newscasts and independent community news outlets. But the ProJo’s decline gave the Globe a chance to slide in and quickly establish itself as one of the players.

Where else does opportunity that exist? Worcester and Central Massachusetts strike me as in serious need of more journalism. The Globe memorably walked away from the region when then-new owner John Henry sold the Telegram & Gazette to a Florida-based chain after leading the staff to believe he was committed to selling to local interests. Soon enough, the T&G became part of Gannett, and it was subjected to the same devastating cuts that the chain has imposed throughout the country. The T&G carried on but is currently in flux, having lost its respected executive editor, Dave Nordman, to Northeastern, where he’s heading up the internal news operation. Could the Henrys return to Worcester? I’ve heard that might be within the range of possibilities.

But where else? New Hampshire and Maine both have good-quality independent newspapers, though New Hampshire’s two leading papers — the Union Leader and the Concord Monitor — have shrunk quite a bit. Vermont is unique, dominated by one of the most respected nonprofit news organizations in the country, VTDigger.

Then there’s the distribution model, which, if they were asking me (they’re not), is too reliant on print. Quite a bit of the Globe’s Rhode Island coverage appears in the Globe’s print edition. But rather than take on the cost of trucking more papers to Rhode Island, why not use digital to expand your reach and drive more digital subscriptions? What the Globe is doing with Rhode Island and print simply wouldn’t work if the paper established bureaus in Central Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.

The Globe is one of the few major metropolitan dailies in the country that is growing. What it’s doing in Rhode Island is impressive, and I’d love to see it happen elsewhere.

Correction: After this item was published, I learned that the Journal’s full-time newsroom staff is actually around 30 people, supplemented by freelancers.

Meredith Clark on race, power and why the media have fallen short on diversity

Meredith Clark. Photo by Alyssa Stone / Northeastern University

On the brand new “What Works” podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Professor Meredith Clark, our colleague at Northeastern University. Dr. Clark is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern as well as founding director of the university’s new Center for Communication, Media Innovation and Social Change.

Before arriving at Northeastern, she was a faculty fellow at Data & Society, an independent nonprofit research organization based in New York that examines some of the questions being raised by the massive increase in the use of data in all aspects of society.

Dr. Clark’s research is on the intersections of race, media and power, and she’s studied everything from newsroom hiring and reporting practices to social media communities. Her media diet is wide-ranging and eclectic. Our interview touches on many cultural icons, including poet Audre Lorde and Captain Olivia Benson, the fictional “Law & Order SVU” crime-solver.

Meredith is perhaps best known in news circles for her work in trying to revive an annual diversity census conducted by the News Leaders Association, an effort that fell short earlier this year after just 303 media outlets responded out of the 2,500 that were asked to provide data. Ellen and I asked Meredith why so few were willing to participate — and what can be done to encourage diversity at small start-up news organizations.

In Quick Takes, I discuss Gannett’s recent move to dismantle some of the chain’s regional editorial pages, which I see as not entirely a negative, and Ellen tips the hat to two of the 2022 recipients of the prestigious Freedom of the Press Award: Wendi C. Thomas, founding editor and publisher of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, and Mukhtar Ibrahim, founding publisher and CEO of Sahan Journal.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

Colorado media activists save Aurora’s weekly newspaper

Photo (cc) 2012 by Ken Lund

Media activists in Colorado have stepped up once again to save a newspaper from either closing or falling into the clutches of corporate chain ownership. Colorado media watcher Corey Hutchins, a journalism professor at Colorado College, reports that Sentinel Colorado, a free weekly with a daily website in Aurora, will be acquired by a temporary holding company.

It’s a complicated transaction that involves some of the same players that pulled off the purchase of Colorado Community Media’s weekly and monthly newspapers last year. CCM is now being managed by The Colorado Sun, a digital start-up in Denver that was given an ownership stake.

Aurora, Colorado’s third-largest city, has a population of about 380,000 and is approximately a dozen miles east of Denver.

As with the CCM transaction, the Colorado News Collaborative has helped with the Aurora deal, although the Sun is not involved this time around. Laura Frank, the collaborative’s executive director, was quoted by The Sentinel as saying:

Journalism leaders and community members in Colorado are finding ways to change the narrative and the trajectory of failing news outlets. Together, we are making journalism stronger, which makes democracy stronger. I’m thrilled COLab can help support that work.

Earlier this year, the nonprofit Corporation for New Jersey Local Media acquired 14 weekly newspapers serving about 50 cities and towns. The papers will be run as a public benefit corporation — a for-profit arrangement that is geared toward serving the public rather than rewarding its owners.

That’s also the business model for the Sun and CCM, and it’s been emerging at news organizations across the country as a third-way alternative to traditional for-profit ownership and nonprofit status.

Boston Globe Media is hiring for a morning newsletter to be called Boston Local

Earlier today, in an item about the debut of Axios Boston, I expressed some puzzlement that The Boston Globe doesn’t have a morning newsletter. It sounds like that’s about to change.

A sharp-eyed reader sent me a link to this job ad for a lead writer for a newsletter to be called Boston Local. It sounds like a fairly ambitious endeavor that will encompass not just the Globe but its sister Boston Globe Media properties as well — Boston.com and Stat, which covers health and life sciences.

Boston Local, according to the ad, will publish seven days a week and will include “Big Stories, curated Community News, Event Spotlights, Weekend Guides, and additional rotating featurettes.” The newsletter will also have its own social channels and live events.

No word on when Boston Local will debut.

Update: Sarah Betancourt of GBH News snagged this a few weeks ago. I even hit the like button at the time, but then I promptly forgot about it.