The Globe hires a Gannett executive to run its printing operations

The Boston Globe has hired a new top executive to oversee print operations, according to a memo to staff members from Vinay Mehra, the Globe’s new president and chief financial officer. Dale Carpenter, who’ll be a senior vice president, previously held a top print position with Gannett. He sounds like the sort of person who should have been hired before the Globe opened its troubled Taunton printing facility. Maybe he’ll be the guy who straightens it out.

The full text of Mehra’s memo follows.

Dear Colleagues,

I am happy to announce the following additions to our Executive Team.

Dale Carpenter joins us as Senior Vice President of Print Operations where he will oversee the production, distribution, and customer service functions. Dale was most recently Vice President of Operations at Gannett Publishing where he had oversight of more than 70 print locations across the country and had responsibility for national printing and packaging. Dale is a nationally known print and production expert and we are delighted to have him join our team. He will start on October 23.

Dan Krockmalnic will join us at the end of this month as our new General Counsel as Maura McAuliffe has chosen to step into a part-time role. Dan was most recently Assistant Attorney General at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office where he focused on consumer protection cases. He began his career at the law firm of Ropes & Gray.

Please join me in welcoming them to Boston Globe Media.

Vinay

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Some thoughts about the Boy Scouts’ move to admit girls

Photo (cc) 2013 by Phoebe Baker

I’m no longer involved with the Boy Scouts (not boycotting; just at a different stage of my life), but I continue to take an interest in what they’re up to. Admitting girls and giving them a chance to become Eagle Scouts strikes me as odd, given that both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts were set up with the idea that there is value in having single-gender youth programs. The Girl Scouts aren’t admitting boys, so this comes across as an effort by the Boy Scouts to encroach on the Girl Scouts’ turf in order to bolster their own shrinking programs.

When our kids were younger, I was a Boy Scout leader and my wife was a Girl Scout leader. It was my impression that the Girl Scouts was a better-run program with none of the issues that bedeviled the Boy Scouts such as its longtime ban on gay scouts and leaders (since lifted) and atheists (still in effect).

I’m not sure how the Girl Scouts can respond to this latest move. The Boy Scouts may well have some success in recruiting girls who would rather be in a program integrated by gender. In our Facebook discussion, a few people have suggested that the Boy Scouts have a more robust outdoors program than the Girl Scouts, and that girls interested in that should be welcomed. Still, I’m skeptical as to whether this is a good move.

Over at The Boston Globe, Derrick Jackson offers a different perspective.

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Why the press embraces false equivalence — and why it needs to stop

The press on a bad day. Photo (cc) 2003 by James Good.

The Democrats are moving left. This is objectively true, but it also represents a challenge for those mainstream journalists whose equilibrium has been disrupted by the Republican lurch to the extreme right over the past several decades and, more recently, by the rise of Donald Trump.

The challenge can be described this way: Can the media report plainly on what the Democrats are up to without falling back onto false notions of balance? In other words, can they tell us how and why the Democrats are embracing increasingly progressive positions without resorting to the old nostrum that it’s just like the Republicans’ rightward march?

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

Margaret Sullivan on the media’s terrible coverage of the Clinton campaign

There’s a very strong Margaret Sullivan column in today’s Washington Post on the media’s terrible coverage of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It’s especially good to see her call out The New York Times, for whom she was its best public editor before moving on to the Post.

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What if the First Amendment were as untouchable as the Second?

I’ve been trying to think through what would change if the First Amendment were as untouchable as the Second. I’m sure this is an incomplete list, but here are a few ideas that come to mind:

  • Child pornography would be legal. It might still be illegal to make it because of the horrific child abuse it would entail. But sell, distribute or possess it? No problem.
  • Obscenity in general would be legal. This is a very slippery concept, and in fact it is difficult to know exactly what would be considered obscene circa 2017. But depictions of bestiality or rape would be fine. As with child pornography, it’s possible that someone could be prosecuted for the underlying acts, but not for selling, distributing or possessing it.
  • Libel would cease to exist. Want to publish something false and defamatory about someone? Go for it. And don’t worry about whether she’s a private figure. That distinction is so 20th-century.
  • If the United States is at war, and you somehow come into possession of plans detailing the specifics of an operation against enemy troops, well, go ahead and publish them. Under our new, absolutist First Amendment, Col. Robert McCormick did nothing wrong.
  • If you’re, say, a Ku Klux Klan leader, and you exhort a mob to lynch a black man standing at the periphery of the crowd, and they do it, you have nothing to worry about. The criminals who actually carry out the deed could be prosecuted for murder, of course, but under an absolutist view of the First Amendment there would be no such thing as incitement.

No rational person, of course, would support any of these changes to the First Amendment. Even someone who considers himself pretty much an absolutist, as I do, has to acknowledge that not every single form of expression can be protected by the Constitution. So why can’t extreme gun-rights advocates see that they’ve abandoned all rationality?

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The rise and fall of Digital First; or, how to get rich plundering newspapers

The Nation recently published a splendid takedown of Randall Smith, a little-known Wall Street tycoon whose avarice has hollowed out daily newspapers from coast to coast. By “gutting” his papers, Julie Reynolds reports, Smith was able to amass the $57 million he needed to buy 16 mansions in Palm Beach, Florida. “Don’t just blame the Internet for journalism’s decline,” she writes. “Old-fashioned capitalist greed also strangles newspapers.”

The name of Smith’s newspaper empire is Digital First Media, an ironic moniker for an enterprise dedicated to the proposition that every last penny should be squeezed out of the shrinking print business. But the name isn’t just ironic — it’s also iconic. Although Reynolds doesn’t mention it in her story, it wasn’t that long ago that Digital First was created by a charismatic, foul-mouthed executive who was hailed as a possible savior of the news business.

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

The kids are all right: Why concerns about free speech on campus may be overblown

Demonstration at Berkeley Free Speech Week. Photo (cc) 2017 by Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Do college students fear the First Amendment? You would think so, based on the results of a survey published last week by the Brookings Institution, which found that the nation’s campuses are a bastion of political correctness whose coddled denizens favor the warmth of safety and like-mindedness over the brisk waters of vigorous, uncomfortable debate.

But as someone who has been teaching college students for a dozen years, the results struck me as entirely at odds with what I hear from the smart, thoughtful young men and women I deal with every day. Last week I put that proposition to the test. I’ll get to that in a bit — but first some background.

The study was led by Brookings and UCLA scholar John Villasenor, who said he surveyed some 1,500 students in 49 states. Certainly if Villasenor’s findings are accurate, then there is plenty of cause for concern. Among other things, he found that a plurality of students (44 percent to 39 percent) wrongly believe that the First Amendment doesn’t protect hate speech; that 51 percent say it is acceptable for students to shout down a speaker “known for making offensive and hurtful statements”; and that 19 percent even think it’s all right to engage in “violence to prevent the speaker from speaking.” Villasenor wrote:

The survey results establish with data what has been clear anecdotally to anyone who has been observing campus dynamics in recent years: Freedom of expression is deeply imperiled on U.S. campuses.

Villasenor’s work created something of a media sensation, playing as it did into stereotypes that today’s generation of students are delicate snowflakes who’d rather walk out on a speaker whose views they disagree with than listen to ideas that challenge their preconceived notions. Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell put it this way: “Here’s the problem with suggesting that upsetting speech warrants ‘safe spaces,’ or otherwise conflating mere words with physical assault: If speech is violence, then violence becomes a justifiable response to speech.”

And for a public saturated by media reports of campus intolerance directed at controversial right-wing speakers such as Ann Coulter and Milos Yiannopoulos, the findings seem like they must be true. Attorney General Jeff Sessions joined in the pile-on this week, telling an audience at Georgetown University that “freedom of thought and speech on the American campus are under attack.” But if you’re looking to the Brookings survey for confirmation of such sentiments, you may find that you need to look elsewhere: the methodology is being seriously questioned.

Lois Beckett of The Guardian administered a thorough thrashing to Villasenor, quoting a polling expert that his results amounted to “malpractice” and “junk science” and that “it never should have appeared in the press.” Beckett’s most serious charge was that, rather than polling 1,500 randomly selected students, Villasenor relied on an opt-in online panel of respondents who said they were college students. In other words, the survey was not much different from being urged to visit a political website after a candidates’ debate and registering your opinion as to who won. “If it’s not a probability sample, it’s not a sample of anyone, it’s just 1,500 college students who happen to respond,” the polling expert, Cliff Zukin, told Beckett.

Some of Beckett’s complaints seem petty. For instance, she notes — as Villasenor acknowledges — that the study was funded by the libertarian Charles Koch Foundation. Frankly, though, a reputable organization like Brookings is accustomed to dealing with such funding issues, and it seems unlikely that the malign hand of the Koch brothers reached in to alter the results. (As you may know, David Koch’s service on the WGBH board was the source of some controversy several years ago. He is not currently a member.) Beckett also dismisses Villasenor on the grounds that he is an electrical engineer. But according to his Brookings biography, he appears to be something of a polymath whose academic interests include public policy and law. Still, Villasenor’s use of an opt-in questionnaire rather than a random survey calls his findings into question.

Last week I conducted my own non-scientific survey of the nearly 50 students who are enrolled in my introductory course at Northeastern University on journalism and the news media. About half are journalism majors; the rest are from across the university and are studying in fields such as business, computer science, and, yes, electrical engineering.

We went into some depth. I organized the class into five teams, each of which spent about 20 minutes wrestling with one of the five questions on Villasenor’s survey. That was followed by team presentations and, finally, a show of hands on the five questions.

Now, obviously, asking people to take a stand in full view of their peers is problematic, so I don’t want to make any great claims for the accuracy of my survey. But the findings matched the comments made during class discussion. And they were heartening. Thanks to one well-informed student, they all learned that hate speech is, in fact, protected by the First Amendment. What impressed me was that after hearing that, an overwhelming majority agreed that such speech should be protected.

Only a handful of students thought it was acceptable to shout down a speaker — and they made it clear that they believed as they did because protesters also have First Amendment rights. Not a single student came out in favor of violence. On the question of whether a university must balance controversial speakers with those of opposing views, the consensus was that such balance should emerge in the selection of speakers over time — not that every controversial speaker should be expected to debate an opponent. They also overwhelmingly agreed with the proposition that a university should foster an “open learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints” (to use the survey’s wording) rather than create “a positive learning environment for all students by prohibiting certain speech or expression of viewpoints.”

Every year my friend and colleague Harvey Silverglate, a leading civil-liberties lawyer, writes a round-up of outrages against free speech at colleges and universities called the “Campus Muzzles.” Free speech is a real issue on many campuses, and I don’t want to assume that Northeastern is an exception.

Neither, though, am I worried about the future of political discourse as the next generation assumes positions of influence and power. The anti-First Amendment forces are a minority. Antifa is real but tiny. My experience is that most college students are smart, tolerant, and eager to hear all points of view — including those that clash with their own beliefs.

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