WBZ Radio’s new corporate owner fires program director on Thanksgiving eve

The dismantling of WBZ Radio (AM 1030) has begun. New owner iHeartMedia, the corporate behemoth formerly known as Clear Channel, has fired veteran program director Peter Casey on the day before Thanksgiving. Boston Radio Watch got the memo:

Best wishes to Casey, a good guy who has presided over a successful operation for many years. There is a bit more to Sprague’s memo, and since a source just sent it to me, I’m posting the full text below:

This past weekend marked the beginning of the transition of WBZ-AM to iHeartMedia, and I want to let you know how excited we all are to have the WBZ-AM team join the iHeart family. WBZ is a Boston institution, and we have enormous respect and admiration for what you have accomplished to date — and what we know you will continue to accomplish.

I also wanted to update you on a change in programming leadership as we continue this transition.  Bill Flaherty, WBZ-AM’s Assistant Program Director, will now serve as interim Program Director for WBZ-AM.  I am impressed with Bill’s operational knowledge, strategic thinking and can-do attitude, and believe he will be the perfect leader to guide us through the transition. I also know that change can be hard, but when we embrace change we often discover fresh opportunities for growth and innovation. I am excited for what the future will bring for you, for us and for this great brand, and I’m committed to working with you to ensure that WBZ continues on its path as Boston’s most respected news and information leader.

I also want to say a few words about Peter Casey. There is no doubt that under his leadership this brand has excelled and established its leadership in the market. We deeply respect Peter and the contributions he has made to WBZ-AM over the years, and the impact he has left on WBZ and Boston radio will be felt for years to come. I also know that the WBZ-AM brand is strong and will continue to be powered by a team of expert, skilled professionals performing at the highest level, and I look forward to partnering with you to help WBZ reach its full potential.

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The final days of net neutrality?

We may be in the final days of net neutrality if President Trump’s FCC gets its way. I wrote this for WGBH News last April.

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How Boston media were shaped by the FCC and dirty politics

Tip O’Neill (center) and the Kennedy family were on opposite sides in the battle that gave rise to modern Boston media. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The Federal Communications Commission overturned a decades-old rule last week that prohibited common ownership of a television or radio station and a daily newspaper in the same city. At a time when newspapers are hemorrhaging money and the broadcast news business is shrinking, the FCC argued, the so-called cross-ownership ban had become obsolete, and was standing in the way of possible joint enterprises that could reinvigorate news coverage.

The more likely outcome of such hybrids would be combined newsrooms, layoffs, and a dumbed-down product. Here in Boston, it would mean something else as well: the end of a regulatory regime that was instrumental in shaping our media environment. It was an epic battle over cross-ownership that led to the rise of The Boston Globe, the Boston Herald’s slide into perpetual also-ran status, and the emergence of WCVB-TV (Channel 5) as one of the best local television stations in the country.

Read the rest at WGBHNews.org. And talk about this post at Facebook.

The Batavian moves to bolster its ad-supported free site with a subscription-based app

The Batavian, a hyperlocal news project in western New York, has long been among the more successful independent for-profit ventures  in community journalism. Launched by GateHouse Media in 2008 and operated by former GateHouse executive Howard Owens after the company eliminated his job the following year, the free site is an intriguing jumble of news, press releases, photos, promotions and vast amounts of local advertising. (The Batavian is prominently featured in “The Wired City,” my 2013 book about new forms of online local and regional journalism.)

Now Owens is trying something new — an ad-free mobile app designed with the idea of signing up paid subscribers. In a recent interview with Tom Grubisich of StreetFight, Owens said it took him two years to hone the app. The challenge, he said, is that though The Batavian is profitable, it has stopped growing. His goal for the app is not only to come up with a new revenue stream but to expand into other communities. He told Grubisich:

I’m interested in building a more native experience, which means it’s built around the feed, allows for more personalization and makes engagement more seamless. I’ll either do that for The Batavian, or if I’m fortunate enough to acquire funding, we’ll look for ways to expand that model into other communities. I’m most interested in being able to help aspiring local publishers get into the game and providing them the resources to be successful but we’ll also look software as a service and whole ownership of local news businesses.

At a moment when big, sexy digital media projects such as BuzzFeed are facing possible financial troubles, it’s important to keep an eye on the go-it-slow approach taken by independent publishers like Owens.

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Approving the AT&T-Time Warner deal would save CNN, enrage Trump and leave Murdoch out in the cold

CNN’s Jim Acosta. Photo (cc) 2016 by Gage Skidmore.

Thanks to the U.S. Department of Justice, AT&T’s monopolistic dreams may not come true after all. According to media reports, the government may block AT&T’s proposed $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner. Even if the deal is approved, AT&T may be required to sell off CNN, one of Time Warner’s crown jewels.

Under normal circumstances, such action would be welcome news for those who have long opposed media concentration and its accompanying ills: fewer choices, higher prices, and more power for corporate executives to control what we watch, listen to, and read. But nothing is normal in the Age of Trump. And in this case, it appears that opposition to the deal may be driven less by antitrust law and more by the president’s ongoing fury at CNN.

Read the rest at WGBHNews.org. And talk about this post on Facebook.

Bob Schieffer writes the book on old journalism, new media and #fakenews

Bob Schieffer recently talked with WGBH News’ Emily Rooney in this Facebook Live interview.

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Is there a more amiable personality in television news than Bob Schieffer? The longtime CBS News journalist, who turned 80 earlier this year, harks back to a time when social consensus of a sort prevailed over the bitter polarization that defines the Age of Trump. Rather than get left behind, though, Schieffer has worked to understand the forces that are shaping the new media environment.

Now Schieffer and several of his colleagues have written a book that serves as a quick and useful survey of the current moment. “Overload: Finding the Truth in Today’s Deluge of News” is part guidebook, part lament for an era when people could at least agree on what they were arguing about. Schieffer quotes the late New York Times reporter Jim Naughton, who described the effects of the media fragmentation caused by the rise of Fox News and talk radio:

Now, we’re no longer basing our opinions on the same stuff — some folks get one set of facts from one outlet and other folks get another set of facts from another outlet, no wonder they come to different conclusions.

In retrospect, of course, the fragmentation described by Naughton seems rather benign compared to more recent developments such as the rise of white-nationalist outlets like Breitbart News and conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones of Infowars. And Schieffer does not like what he sees. Though Schieffer celebrates the cornucopia of news that digital media have made possible, he understands the problems that have come with that as well. As he once put it before a gathering at Harvard, “Now all the nuts can find each other.”

Parts of “Overload” are repurposed from “About the News,” a podcast that Schieffer hosts with his co-author, H. Andrew Schwartz of the Center for Strategic & International Studies. I cannot offer an unbiased view of “Overload.” In 2016 Schieffer and I overlapped as fellows at the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy, part of the Harvard Kennedy School. He and Schwartz interviewed me on “About the News” to talk about my Shorenstein paper on Jeff Bezos’ ownership of The Washington Post. Schieffer also quotes me in “Overload” and blurbed “The Return of the Moguls,” my forthcoming book on Bezos, John Henry of The Boston Globe, and other wealthy newspaper publishers.

Schieffer examines the passing of the old, the rise of the new, and the phenomenon of “fake news,” which took the form of falsehoods and rumors even before the internet was flooded with viral content farms and Russian propaganda. “Since 9/11, we have come to realize that reporting accurate information is only part of our job; equally important is our responsibility to knock down false and misleading information and to do it as quickly as possible,” Schieffer writes. Then, too, we live at a time when the president of the United States denounces journalism he doesn’t like as “fake news,” thus reinforcing in the minds of his supporters that there is no fundamental difference between, say, the “failing” New York Times and the latest foolishness that Tucker Carlson is attempting to foist upon his viewers.

Among the journalists Schieffer interviews are Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron, New York Times Washington bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller, Texas Tribune founder Evan Smith, and the veteran digital journalist Walt Mossberg. It is Mossberg who reminds us that the good old days weren’t always so good (“If an idealistic reporter wanted to write a story about how a local car dealer was ripping off the public and the car dealer was the newspaper’s biggest advertiser, a lot of those papers would have killed the story”) and who neatly describes the most serious problem created by the explosion of digital media outlets: “Today we have way more journalists, way more information providers, and way less curation.”

Schieffer closes on a note of humility, reminding his readers of the role of a free press at a time when the White House has labeled news organizations as “the enemy of the American People!”

“We are not the opposition party. We are reporters,” Schieffer writes. “Our role is simply to ask questions and to keep asking until we get an answer.” It’s no longer that simple, of course, and Schieffer knows it. But we would all be better off if we could return to a time when the president and the public understood as well as Schieffer does exactly what journalism’s role is. And isn’t.

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Boston Globe Media president Vinay Mehra weighs in on sexual harassment

At a moment when large swaths of the entertainment business and news media are melting down as long-suppressed tales of sexual harassment are coming out into the open, Boston Globe Media president and chief financial officer Vinay Mehra has sent a memo to the staff on how the Globe would handle such issues. Among other things, Mehra said that employees will undergo mandatory training, and that anyone who has been subjected to harassment “should not hesitate to speak confidentially and without fear of retaliation with whomever you feel comfortable.”

The Globe recently published a couple of important articles on sexual harassment at the Statehouse (by columnist Yvonne Abraham) and in the restaurant business (by food critic Devra First). No institution is immune, of course, and it would be interesting to see how the Globe — or any news organization — would report on itself if such accusations were leveled. NPR has certainly had to dive deeply into this with the exposure and subsequent firing of top news executive Michael Oreskes. NPR chief executive Jarl Mohn, who has come under criticism for his handling of the Oreskes matter, said Tuesday that he will take a health-related leave of absence.

A source sent a copy of Mehra’s memo to me a short time ago. Here is the full text.

Dear Staff,

I’m reaching out to address the many conversations that are happening in and outside of Boston Globe Media about sexual harassment and overall conduct in the workplace, particularly in the media industry.

We are a company that deeply values equality, diversity, and individuality. We know that we thrive individually and collectively when everyone feels safe and respected. We do not tolerate harassment of any kind, and we have a set of policies and processes for reporting and responding to misconduct, which I’d like to lay out here.

We will look into all allegations of harassment and related conduct, and will act on them accordingly. Please find attached, the company’s sexual harassment policy that has been in effect since ownership under the New York Times. We have made updates to make our policy more comprehensive and have identified specific individuals within HR to address issues.

You should not hesitate to speak confidentially and without fear of retaliation with whomever you feel comfortable — your manager, HR, Legal, or with any team leader or executive in this company.  If you experience misconduct of any kind, we want to give you every opportunity to be heard through a vehicle of your choice so that we can attempt to address your concerns promptly and confidentially.

We also hope you’ll take seriously the workplace conduct trainings we will be conducting online and in person over the next few months. Employees will receive an invitation from HR within the next month to a mandatory online training.

We are a stronger and more inclusive company when these issues are raised and acted on. Thank you as always for your hard work and your commitment to our organization.

Vinay

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