By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Fill in the blanks

Three or four times a year, the Boston Herald comes up with an easy answer to the arduous question of what to put on the front page. The editors follow a formula, reliable, predictable and simple. Just fill in the blanks:

___, the city’s/state’s (pick one) czar/czarina (pick one) of ___, has been running up exorbitant tabs at posh resorts and swank hotels in the Caribbean/ Hawaii/ Austria (pick one) instead of attending to taxpayer business.

During a stay at the ___, according to public records, ___ spent $110 wining and dining ___, head of the ___. The menu features such chi-chi fare as fire-roasted lobster with pine nuts and scallop-encrusted steak. Even a cheeseburger costs $24.95.

___ justified the trip by claiming ___ has promised to open a ___ in the city that would generate $__ million of economic activity every year. But ___, dragging her two/four/six (pick one) toddlers through a local Burger King yesterday, voiced outrage.

“Why should ___ get to travel to ___ when I’m stuck here?” she demanded. “Let him/her (pick one) see how the rest of us gotta live. Ya know?”

Put together a front page featuring the word “JUNKET.” Bake for 15 minutes. Serve when ready.

Today it’s Julie Burns, the city’s “$100,000-a-year arts and tourism czarina,” who, reporter Michele McPhee breathlessly tells us, “has traveled to Austria, Taiwan, Chicago and Philadelphia, but has yet to ink a deal due to her globe-trotting.” Burns has been on the job for only eight months. And, gee, why on earth would a tourism “czarina” be traveling, when she could, you know, be signing documents or something.

Then there’s this: according to McPhee, “most” of Burns’ junkets haven’t cost the taxpayers a dime, since they’ve been paid for by private groups. But hey, she traveled while on city time.

There’s also the matter of a proposed Montreal-to-Boston bicycle tour, which isn’t a done deal, but which was the subject of her trip to Austria. McPhee gleefully reports that Burns is worried the bike tour won’t happen if the Herald were to reveal it. And City Councilor John Tobin, who ought to know better, helps out by saying Burns should be bringing movies to Boston rather than cyclists. (Hey, John: Why not both?)

All of this is wrapped up with the front-page headline “PAGING JULIE JUNKET!”

This is the very definition of a non-story, fueled mainly by class resentment and the hope that readers are too stupid to understand why a tourism “czarina” can’t do her job holed up at City Hall all day. Enjoy.

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  1. Anonymous

    EB3 here1. John Tobin shows what a joke he is. Movies. Meaning more b-list celebs for him to have his pic taken with. We don’t need a pretty boy as our next mayor.2. Michelle McPhee’s swagger will not be long lasting. Her talk radio gig exploits her short comings and her reporting has been nothing more than cop sniff stuff with a flair to antagonize others. But if the Herald is to survive the first thing it must do is win back creibility with many lost readers. It can be credible and entertaining. Instead, with exceptions, it is a joke. Michelle’s style and ignorance may work with a niche in a huge market like NYC. But we don’t have the numbers in Boston that can allow her to hide her lack of talent and insight.P.S. Did you know Michelle was at the scene on 911?

  2. Anonymous

    Maybe the Herald could work a deal with the people who publish “Mad Libs.” It’s not new until you supply three adjectives, a number and a famous person.

  3. Anonymous

    Yeah, but I bet you love those regular Globe front-page boilerplates. You know, the ones about how some obscure college professor at American International University or BU who has fudged his background as a __________. Of course, the goal is get said obscure professor to resign or be fired, which of course has zero impact on 99.999 percent of the Globe’s readers. Tell you what: I’d much rather read about the arrogant pol who is being paid by taxpayers and goes globetrotting to exotic locales than some college professor who misled his students about being one of the original authors of the Port Huron Statement. Class resentment? What ever happened to the old saw that reporters were supposed to “afflict the comfortable?” Or mabye that’s only OK when your beloved Globe is doing it. Or maybe it’s a just a matter of who they’re reporting on – I bet if the Herald did a front-pager on Dick Cheney taking junkets, you’d be breathlessly complimenting the story.

  4. Anonymous

    Hey,Class warfare is the mother’s milk of Boston. For ANYONE around here to try to take the high road on this one is pretty hypocritical. In NC or TX, they would mock McPhee as a fool. Perhaps we deserve her?

  5. Anonymous

    drgonzo here. The Herald needs to hire some new copy eds and hed-writers, b/c very rarely is it that the hedline reflects the article in that rag. which is a shame. Boston benefits by having two daily print publications (the Herald routinely scoops the Globe, and, occasionally, forces the Globe to actually run a story it wouldn’t have otherwise) but would benefit more by having two serious daily news outfits.The Herald makes an ass of itself regularly by hyping non-stories (not altogether unlike CNN’s wall to wall coverage of the snow-bound mounatin climbers in Oregon) and pushing some of its better coverage, like Kim Atkins campaign reporting, to the inside pages.many of the Herald reporters know how to scrap it out (e.g. Casey Ross) but the larger question is how long before the Herald scraps them. Front-paging McPhee’s non-story is endemic of the Herald’s larger money problems. It takes staff to do good reporting, and the Herald is not hiring. So, I’d enjoy the Herald while it’s still here. In five years, we’ll all be missing graphic photos of Victoria Snelgrove laying face-down in a pool of blood, splattered across the front page and breathless (b/c that is the only word to describe this schlock)exposes about “the taxpayer” being screwed, perpetually by everything imaginable, from police protection to garbage collection.Happy Kwanzaa, Dr. Gonzo

  6. neil

    So McPhee “breathlessly” told us about this eh. Does that mean she must have said it out loud, not written it? Okay all you anonymous McNamara sneer snipers, jump in here (hint: I never read anything written breathlessly before…).Having a tourism and arts er, czarina, travelling, even not on the city’s nickel, begs the question in terms of wastefulness. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the person with the job “Facilitator of Junkets” travels. Rather the issue is its inherent wastefulness. It’s a patronage plum-style job that shouldn’t exist in the first place. If I had that job I’d be all woohoo, trips to Vienna and uh, Chicago! Thanks Mayor!I just learned what “begging the question” meant a few years ago so like to try it out. He sneered breathlessly.

  7. Anonymous

    Well, whatever the merits of the Herald story, you obviously devoured every word of it eagerly — and it sure elicited from you a long, strong, almost frighteningly “breathless” reaction. Try getting half that excited over today’s Globe page one “story” that leads with the revelation that the president of Bridgewater State College went to — are you sitting down? — college. Is it possible that more than 200K people a day still buy the Herald because it’s an entertaining read? And is that really so terrible?

  8. Gary McGath

    It’s corporate welfare on a grand scale. The city pays a “tourism czarina” to advertise for Boston businesses in order to save them from advertising with their own money. This is justified, no doubt, by claiming that this creates jobs in Boston and puts money in people’s pockets, ignoring the fact that it was taken out of their pockets in taxes in the first place. Businesses would spend their own money a lot more responsibly if they had to do it themselves.

  9. Anonymous

    I think the real question is who called the shot on the front page, Chandler or Convey. Is the Status Quo good enough or does Convey have better ideas on how to run the newsroom.

  10. o-fish-l

    I’m not a huge fan of McPhee’s personality. I felt John DePetro raised a valid point and was wrongly condemned by McPhee and others on the Imette St. Guillen murder. McPhee didn’t come across well on his then-radio show, particularly when she became boisterous and later hung-up. That said, McPhee and her ability to get close to our police officers is invaluable to the Herald and its readers. Speaking as a retired Detective, I can tell you that most front-line cops don’t like or trust the Globe. Nor do they like or trust Mayor Menino. I would bet dollars to donuts (insert cop joke here) that this junket story eminated from a cop, or a cop’s City Hall girlfriend who believed there was a story here and passed it to McPhee. Today, it’s the city’s tourism person but as the saying goes, “Old Cops Know Stuff” and if McPhee can maintain their trust, then the cops will tell her everything. Some of the tips may be better than others, but I guarantee there will be info given to McPhee that Menino and the brass would prefer our prying eyes not see.I’ve been busy with Christmas errands today and haven’t yet read the Herald but based on the above comments I can pretty much guarantee that the city’s $100,000-a-year arts and tourism czarina will be mindful not to spend our money excesively and that’s a good thing.

  11. Anonymous

    EB3 heresee what I mean. Cop sniff.p.s. christmas for kids and cops

  12. Anonymous

    Dan, You’re so far off on this one. I ‘m sorry you don’t care for watchdogs guarding the public trough, but then you are NOT a newspaperman. You are a professor. Your mediocre stint at the weekly hooker hawker, where you and Seth Gitell, another giant douche bag, ate lunch … a lot, does not qualify you to be a reporter, nor does it qualify you to be an editor at the Tri-Town Transcript. It does however win you a university job, a tenure, and a pulpit. Do not criticize that which you don’t understand, namely, journalism. We, working reporters, are vigorous watchdogs of the public dollar. The only power the government has to levy taxes is the legal use of force. Thank god there are reporters who labor day in and day out to ensure the money that is torn from our checks is not misspent on these junkets. The professors are certainly not doing it.

  13. amusedbutinformed observer

    More panic mode stunting by the doomed daily.amBreathless prose is breathless prose, no need to apologize to those who don’t understand the notion.or for lovers of Tom Swifties: “More breathless prose from the Herald,” Tom gasped.Oh, and the reason the Herald sells 200,000 copies a day is because its size makes it easier to read on the john, at the lunch counter and on the train.

  14. Anonymous

    EB3 here to anon 11:53Hi Michelle, thanks for checkin’ in. I knew you couldn’t resist.As for your assertion”I ‘m sorry you don’t care for watchdogs guarding the public trough”,perhaps you could protect the public by reporting honestly on the problems of Boston police.Rather you are simply a mouthpiece for them. Disgraceful journalism.But what matters is you are stll one of the boys at J.J. Foleys.I would be harder on you, but I an showing some respect. You were on the scene at 9/11.You Go Girl!

  15. Anonymous

    EB3 here again;anon 11:53, ( I mean Michelle)calls the Phoenix a “hooker hawker”Agreed.But that hookerhawker has reported on terrible goings on in the BPD.Michelle McPhee has not.Sports reporters show more professionalism than Michelle. Make no mistake. Michelle McPhee is a mouth piece for the BPD.

  16. Anonymous

    I have to hand it to a couple of commenters here, the fishy guy and the Anon 11:53 .I was floored when I first saw Dan complaining about this worthy story and WORTHY first page.Absolutely appropriate and cannot be lumped with other Herald stories that might qualify as needles hit pieces.I wouldn’t go as far as questioning Dan’s professional qualifications. That goes beyond criticism and a bit unfair. I do wish he didn’t go into academia this early in his career. There is a dearth of talent in the media nationally and locally and across different platforms and it seems he would be needed in other ventures and would make a lot more money. I would describe his work lately as timid and overly careful.Dan could have one of the top media sites sought on the internet and yet he is so hesistant to broach certain areas, offend or criticize at times. His rolodex is impressive and the noted visitors here that peak their head out at times out of anonymity tells us he is noteworthy.Dan should be full out on the media front scene and shouldn’t contemplate the prestige of acadeima until his late sixites. He could do more good teaching interns on the job than in a classroom dealing with Journ101. What a waste!!I usually hate it when journalists and broadcasters pull an O’reilly or Gerry Callahan and take off two weeks before the holidays. (even O’Reilly’s sliding popularity has curbed that lately) but I am starting to think Dan should have taken the last two weeks off. He has just been odd on a few fronts, beginning with the Carroll quick sand, the Dkos war, the Whalen show flop, the Carter smear, the herald attack, the needless Mea Culpa post (it’s YOUR post dan, after all no need to apologize) and finally “[your] reservations about former ambassador Joseph Wilson” hmmm …what might those be again???What is wrong with you Dan? How about another Mt Washington hike to tune your brain cells??To go back to this media-czar or czarina matter, here is how I judged it in my own mind: by RESULTS.I do not mind if this Julie-chick or lady was being paid 500k a year if only she was delivering for the city of Boston.The answer is a big fat NO. There is SO MUCH lost opportunity here, it is hard to know where to start. It isn’t unusal for financial and entertainement execs to be paid millions but only when they deliver, you have to pay for top notch talent. But this Julie seems overpaid even at 100k. and the Herald is right to wonder whether she is using her time productively and to the benefit of the city entertainment revenue and profile, and not to her touristic tastes so she has soemthing to talk about in the next posh fundraiser with a bunch of fake beautiful people. The public barely knows her name, let alone her impact.Tourism is alreadly like #3 or 4 top income sectors for the state, so this is not small potatoes we are talking about potentially. Why would Toronto and Vancouver be THAT much more successful to get that business? Boston could be a great recipient of that opportunity.Montreal to Boston bike tour?? Take a hike, Julie! That’s lame. It’s a good thing that plan has not been made public. No need to embarrass yourself and the city, please. Pitiful.So kudos to Michelle. She is one of my must-reads on the Herald staff and I hope people would stop piling on her. She has still a bright future. I remember reading a couple of excellent pieces by her.I disagreed with her, like Fish mentioned, in the Depetro hubhub. There was a clear need for personall responsibility there or in other much-publicized -read exploited- stories like the one on the Sleaze news channel, the Beth Holloway case. As much as it may unintentionally come out as hurtful and recriminating -very-un-PC-, it is sadly true that parents don’t ingrain in their kids how to behave in public, what are their DUTIES before their RIGHTS and what are the limits of fun and when does caution, good beahvior, common sense and carefulness kick in. Parents and young people don’t want to be blamed for anything and simply want the compassion of ALL people watching. Michelle might have identified with a period of her life where she had safely transied through that youthful stage without a scratch or with a scratch – we don’t need to know- and didn’t seem it was fair to point the finger, but Michelle was overboard in her reaction. She is till an outstanding reporter in my book. (Just please stay from the sensational stuff they may tempt you with)N.

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