Al Green at the Apollo, 1990

I had a chance Tuesday night to watch this video of Al Green performing at the Apollo Theater in 1990. This was at the height of Green’s reinvention as a minister and gospel singer, so there’s not much secular here. Lots of shoutouts for Jesus. The concentration and intensity he brought to the stage that night has to be experienced. Prepare to be dazzled.

The First Amendment and Mayor Wu: What press restrictions and vile demonstrations have in common

Photo of protesters by Saraya Wintersmith for GBH News

Over the past week, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has been caught up in two seemingly unrelated controversies. What they have in common is that they touch on important First Amendment issues.

Read the rest at GBH News.

Jaida Grey Eagle on Sahan Journal, Report for America and telling the stories of Native American women

Jaida Grey Eagle. Photo via Indigenous Goddess Gang.

Our latest “What Works” podcast features Jaida Grey Eagle, a photojournalist working for Sahan Journal in Minneapolis through Report for America. She is Oglala Lakota and was born in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and raised in Minneapolis.

Launched in 2019, Sahan Journal covers immigrants and communities of color in Minnesota. Report for America places young journalists at local news outlets across the country for two- and three-year stints.

Grey Eagle’s photography has been published in a wide range of publications and featured on a billboard on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. She is also a co-producer of “Sisters Rising,” a documentary film about six Native American women reclaiming person and tribal sovereignty in the face of sexual violence.

Ellen Clegg and I also offer our quick takes on paywalls and media companies that target well-heeled readers, and on Evan Smith’s announcement that he’s stepping down as chief executive officer of The Texas Tribune.

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

Antitrust suit brought by states claims Google and Facebook had a secret deal

Photo (cc) by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

There’s been a significant new development in the antitrust cases being brought against Google and Facebook.

On Friday, Richard Nieva reported in BuzzFeed News that a lawsuit filed in December 2020 by Texas and several other states claims that Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg “personally signed off on a secret advertising deal that allegedly gave Facebook special privileges on Google’s ad platform.” That information was recently unredacted.

Nieva writes:

The revelation comes as both Google and Facebook face a crackdown from state and federal officials over antitrust concerns for their business practices. Earlier this week, a judge rejected Facebook’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission that accuses the social network of using anticompetitive tactics.

The action being led by Texas is separate from an antitrust suit brought against Google and Facebook by more than 200 newspapers around the country. The suit essentially claims that Google has monopolized the digital ad marketplace in violation of antitrust law and has cut Facebook in on the deal in order to stave off competition. Writing in Business Insider, Martin Coulter puts it this way:

Most of the allegations in the suit hinge on Google’s fear of “header bidding,” an alternative to its own ad auctioning practices described as an “existential threat” to the company.

As I’ve written previously, the antitrust actions are potentially more interesting than the usual complaint made by newspapers — that Google and Facebook have repurposed their journalism and should pay for it. That’s never struck me as an especially strong legal argument, although it’s starting to happen in Australia and Western Europe.

The antitrust claims, on the other hand, are pretty straightforward. You can’t control all aspects of a market, and you can’t give special treatment to a would-be competitor. Google and Facebook, of course, have denied any wrongdoing, and that needs to be taken seriously. But keep an eye on this. It could shake the relationship between the platforms and the publishers to the very core.

Protests outside elected officials’ homes will lead to actions none of us want

We don’t have official residences for elected leaders in Massachusetts, and that’s a good thing. I like it that Gov. Charlie Baker still lives in Swampscott, where he was once a selectman, and that Boston Mayor Michelle Wu lives in a two-family home in Roslindale with her husband, children and mother.

Sadly, the breakdown of civility in our society is making it untenable. Bullhorn-wielding anti-vaxxers have been protesting outside Wu’s house, and they’re becoming increasingly hateful. Have a look at what Wu tweeted this morning:

It’s happened to Baker, too. Last September, climate-change protesters were arrested after they chained themselves to a pink boat labeled “Climate Emergency” that they had brought with them.

Even if you believe there’s nothing wrong with verbally abusing elected officials outside their homes, it’s certainly not something their neighbors signed up for.

This is going to lead to actions that none of us want. Heavy security is just a start. The Legislature is considering a bill that would outlaw protests within 100 yards of an elected official’s home. That’s almost certainly unconstitutional, as it would ban legally protected speech on public streets and sidewalks.

Or we could see a move toward official residences that are not in residential areas. The city of Boston already owns the Parkman House, near the Statehouse. If I’m remembering correctly, Mayor Kevin White lived there for at least part of his time in office.

The best solution would be for protesters to decide that elected officials’ homes are off limits. I doubt that’s going to happen, though. And so, inevitably, politicians are going to decide they have to remove themselves from normal life even more than they already are. That’s not good for them, or for us.

Most Gannett dailies will cut their Saturday print editions

Photo (cc) 2011 by Michael Licht

On Wednesday afternoon a source sent me a memo from four top Gannett executives announcing that Saturday print editions will be eliminated at daily papers in 136 of the chain’s markets across the country.

I don’t know why they didn’t just say “136 dailies,” but maybe there’s a nuance that I’m missing. It sounds like the edict will pertain to pretty much all of Gannett’s  dailies except for a few of the larger ones (I hear that The Providence Journal and the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester will be exempted) and those that already have just one weekend edition (like The Patriot Ledger of Quincy).

Among the local papers that will be affected, Adam Gaffin notes at Universal Hub, are the MetroWest Daily News of Framingham and the Milford Daily News. Also affected, according to announcements I found, are The Standard-Times of New Bedford, The Herald News of Fall River and the Cape Cod Times. But obviously there are many, many more.

Amusingly enough, the memo refers to this as “a new Saturday experience.”

Now, I’m a frequent critic of Gannett, but this doesn’t strike me as a terrible move — even though the price of a subscription is not being cut. The dailies already offer an e-edition that looks like print, and that will continue on Saturdays. The move cuts costs on a day when advertising is minimal. It seems likely that, eventually, all dailies, not just Gannett’s, will offer one big print edition on the weekends and go digital-only the rest of the week. This is an incremental step in that direction.

The problem, needless to say, is that Gannett has a record of cutting for the sole purpose of cutting — laying off journalists and shutting down smaller weeklies in order to bolster its bottom line and pay down its debt. The salaries it pays its reporters are a disgrace. Take, for instance, this tweet from Bethany Freudenthal, a veteran reporter for The Newport Daily News in Rhode Island, whose weekly take-home pay is just under $400 a week.

Given all that, it’s hard to credit Gannett’s elimination of Saturday print as a forward-looking move — even though it may turn out to be exactly that.

The memo, by the way, is a model of corporate-speak. Here it is in full.

Dear team,

As we kick off the new year energized with a keen focus on our North Stars, we are working collaboratively to enable our growth and further accelerate our digital strategy by evolving the print delivery experience.

To make bold progress toward our goal of 10 million digital subscribers requires that we embrace the multi-platform, connected experiences our audiences and customers expect. Our customer-obsessed approach will ensure we remain a vital part of the communities we serve across the country.

As more of our readers engage with our content online, we are introducing a new Saturday experience in 136 of our markets which transitions from delivering the Saturday print edition to providing exclusive access to the full Saturday e-Edition. Committing to our digital future ensures our resources are laser-focused on delivering unlimited access to the premium news, sports, events, and information our loyal subscribers value most. A number of markets will not be included in this transition based on specific market data. Details will be included by local managers in the coming weeks. In addition, we plan to introduce different delivery models in select markets to stimulate further learning and insights as we address the rapidly evolving digital landscape to provide our subscribers with the best experience.

We recognize the importance of Saturday for our advertising clients, and our advertising sales and service teams will be working closely with our customers to provide them with innovative, impactful digital and print options for their Saturday investment. These solutions include high impact and targeted digital display campaigns on our local websites, opportunities within our e-Editions, our industry-leading LOCALiQ digital marketing solutions, as well as alternative print advertising programs.

Our mission is unwavering: to empower communities to thrive by delivering impactful, trusted news coverage and best-in-class marketing solutions for our customers.

Thank you for being part of this team as we work together to serve our customers, execute our digital strategy, and prioritize community-focused journalism in the year (and years) ahead.

— Mayur, Maribel, Kevin & Bernie

Mayur Gupta, Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer
Maribel Perez Wadsworth, President/News at Gannett & Publisher/USA TODAY
Kevin Gentzel, Chief Revenue Officer
Bernie Szachara, President of U.S. Publishing

Mayor Wu’s Mass and Cass coverage guidelines violate press freedoms

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu campaigns in 2021. Photo by Lex Weaver via Global Observer, a publication of Northeastern University’s School of Journalism.

The day before city workers were set to dismantle the tents occupied by homeless people at Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s press office sent out some instructions to members of the media: keep 50 feet away; don’t take photos or videos of people’s faces; allow outreach workers to talk with people in private.

Later on, the 50-foot rule was amended to 10 feet.

The area around Mass and Cass, it should go without saying, is public property. The media are free to do what they like. They should act ethically, of course, but that’s on the reporters and photographers, not on the city. And Wu’s rules go beyond basic ethics and decency. Why shouldn’t the press be able to get close enough to interview people as long as they’re not interfering with city workers? Why shouldn’t they be able to take photos and shoot video of people who’ve given their consent?

Bad move by the mayor. We’ll see how it plays out.

Why The New York Times’ acquisition of The Athletic could create an existential crisis for local news

Imagine that you’re the editor of a big-city daily newspaper whose reporting staff has been slashed by its corporate owner. You struggle to cover the basics — local politics, business, the arts. But you’ve managed to preserve a fairly robust sports section. After all, a lot of your readers are avid fans. If they no longer needed to come to you for coverage of their favorite teams, then your circulation, already sliding, would fall off a cliff.

Well, your worst nightmare just came true.

Read the rest at GBH News.

A terrific biopic about Hearst overlooks his most dangerous successor

William Randolph Hearst. Photo via the Library of Congress.

I recently had a chance to see “Citizen Hearst” on PBS’s “American Experience.” It was extraordinarily well done. Despite clocking in at nearly four hours, with much of the time given over to talking heads, my attention never flagged. Partly it’s because there was so much high-quality archival footage. Partly it was because the subject, the newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, is just so compelling.

There was only one aspect of Hearst’s career that I thought got short shrift. Years ago I read William Andrew Swanberg’s 1961 biography of Hearst. (Confusingly enough, Swanberg’s book was also called “Citizen Hearst,” but the documentary is based on a different book — “The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst,” by David Nasaw, who appears in the film.) I distinctly recall that Hearst’s papers were sympathetic to Germany during the early years of World War I,  so he faced a crisis when the U.S. entered the war. His solution: adding the name “American” to many of his papers.

Another omission from the documentary is more conceptual than factual. The film seems to take it for granted that we’ll never see another media figure who wields power the way Hearst did. Well, what about Rupert Murdoch? If anything, Murdoch has more power and is more dangerous. His Fox News Channel has become the single most important force driving the crisis of democracy that we’re contending with at the moment.

In that sense, “Citizen Hearst” is not just a well-made film about a historical figure. It’s a cautionary tale.

How local news can ease polarization: Our conversation with Joshua Darr

Joshua Darr

Joshua Darr, a professor at Louisiana State University, is right in the “What Works” sweet spot: His research delves into the divisive partisan rhetoric that infuses our national political debate and whether communities with a vibrant local news source experience less polarization.

In the latest “What Works” podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Darr about his research, as well as the Trusting News project report on how local and regional news organizations can do a better job of connecting with conservative audiences.

In addition, I offer a quick take on plans by Axios to expand local news sites into 25 cities in 2022, and Ellen looks at a promising network of nonprofit newsrooms planned across Ohio.

You can listen here or on your favorite podcast app.