An allegation of intimidation

Lucas Mearian, a reporter for the trade publication Computerworld, writes on his blog that the John Hancock insurance company is using legal threats in an attempt to intimidate him and his editors into disappearing a story. Mearian writes:

Today, I received a phone call from someone who claimed to be a lawyer with John Hancock asking me if I’d obtained a legal release to post a story about the company. “No,” I said. I was then told by a rather zealous attorney that I must immediately take the story off our Web site.

Mearian comes back with the First Amendment, which is a very good comeback indeed.

Note to John Hancock’s lawyers: I’d be happy to post your response.


Rooney and Severin

The Herald goes public with some news that’s been brewing for a while: Emily Rooney, the host of “Greater Boston” on WGBH-TV (Channel 2), will be sparring with WTKK Radio (96.9 FM) talk-show host Jay Severin every Friday at 6 p.m., starting today. (The Herald Web site is down at the moment, but I think the story will pop up here.)

Severin thinks Rooney is a liberal, which shows that he’s wrong about at least two things: he also thinks his audience is callers are “the best and the brightest.” Anyway, Severin’s going to have his hands full unless he uses the mute button — and I can guarantee you that won’t go over well at all.

(Disclosure: I’m a paid contributor to “Greater Boston”‘s Friday media panel, “Beat the Press.”)

Tag (or don’t tag) this

I’ve got a question for the more technically oriented members of Media Nation’s readership. Ever since I switched to Blogger 2.0, I’ve been attaching “labels” — what most folks call “tags” — to my posts.

But I’ve got to tell you, I’m not sure why. After all, you can already search Media Nation for anything that might be buried within a post. What do tags add?

From what I’ve seen, tags are great within a community of other users. For instance, go to Flickr, search for photos that have been tagged “northeasternuniversity,” and you’ll find 710 photos taken by a number of different people. If readers could use my tags to find other blogs using the same tags, that would be great. But I don’t think that’s the case.

WordPress lets you stack up your tags in “Categories,” as Seth Gitell has done, and which also makes sense. (Seth is also considerably more disciplined than Media Nation in separating his posts into broad categories.)

So what about it? Am I missing something? Or is Blogger’s tagging feature just too lame to be bothered with?

A lot more than inconvenient

In what reads like a culture-war parody, the Washington Post reports that a father who’s an evangelical Christian has intimidated public-school officials into not showing Al Gore’s documentary on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

What really makes this story special is that the father, Frosty Hardison, who lives in the Seattle suburbs, actually accepts the reality of global warming — with a twist. The Post’s Blaine Harden writes, “The 43-year-old computer consultant is an evangelical Christian who says he believes that a warming planet is ‘one of the signs’ of Jesus Christ’s imminent return for Judgment Day.”

So even though Hardison refers to “An Inconvenient Truth” as “that propagandist Al Gore video,” it appears his problem isn’t with Gore’s findings (which amount to nothing more than the consensus scientific view) but, rather, that Gore thinks we should do something.

Yet Hardison won. The screening was canceled, and the teacher has been told she’ll receive a disciplinary letter for not seeking permission to show a “controversial” film.

I’m not familiar with Hardison’s community, Federal Way, Wash., but it’s probably safe to say that it has more in common with Cambridge and Ann Arbor, Mich., than it does with Lubbock, Texas, or Tupelo, Miss. It is incredible — and incredibly disturbing — that school officials would cave in to the idiosyncratic religious views of a few outspoken parents.

The public schools’ mission, after all, is to teach science. If that tiny minority of scientists who deny the existence of human-caused global warming wants to speak up, well fine. It’s possible that they’re right. But Hardison’s complaint has nothing to do with science. If he can’t handle reality-based education, let him home-school his seven kids.

By the way, I know I’m late to this. Check out Google Blogsearch for what others have been saying.

Department of self-promotion

I’ll be on “The Paul Sullivan Show,” on WBZ Radio (AM 1030), tonight at 9 to talk about Wolf Blitzer’s question to Dick Cheney about right-wing criticism over the pregnancy of his lesbian daughter, Mary Cheney.

Also, in the new issue of CommonWealth Magazine I’ve got a profile of Joe Heisler and Chris Lovett of Boston Neighborhood Network, who specialize in grassroots-level local journalism.

Defining the local vision

Following news earlier this week that the Boston Globe is closing its remaining foreign bureaus, I received a challenge from inside the Globe newsroom: to define a positive future for major regional papers like the Globe beyond the mostly local/mostly online formula that I and many other media observers have been espousing.

In a sense, of course, it’s an impossible challenge. Figuring out that future is something those of us who care about the news will be doing for the rest of our careers. There’s obviously no easy answer. And the first priority, of necessity, is fairly uninspiring. The Globe, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Miami Herald and others in their weight class must shrink their way to financial viability without damaging the local coverage that is their principal appeal.

Beyond that? The Los Angeles Times, amid turmoil that may end in its being sold to local investors, has announced an initiative to transform itself into a 24-hour-a-day news operation, with as its main vehicle and the print edition as a secondary outlet. (Romenesko wraps up the coverage here.)

That’s exactly what the Wall Street Journal is doing with its recently shrunk print edition, too. will be the primary news outlet, and the print edition will feature a lot of analysis.

The Globe is doing more than some readers might realize. It’s got a ton of staff blogs, allowing people to go deep in certain areas that they really care about. It’s done some innovative Web journalism, such as this mashup combining campaign-contribution data from the gubernatorial race with a Google map. Its multimedia specials are a model for innovative online journalism.

But the reason I say the Globe is doing more than some might realize is that the ethos coming out of Morrissey Boulevard continues to be print first, online second. Even if that’s not the way editor Marty Baron and company are thinking, that’s the message we’re getting.

Then, too, the Globe’s Web site(s) is/are still too hard to navigate. may no longer be separate from the Globe Online, but they feel separate. Papers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post have done a better job of presenting an integrated face.

Now here’s the hard part. The key to a successful local strategy is not to use reduced national and international ambitions as nothing more than an excuse to save money. Ultimately the Globe and papers like it are going to have to reinvest in local coverage and do more than they are now. Cost-cutting may be necessary, but at some point they’ve got to start growing again.

Innovations in citizen journalism such as reader blogs and pro-am collaborations are well worth trying. But nothing brings more value to news consumers than skilled reporters — reporters who can write stories, shoot photos and video, record sound, blog, and get it all up onto the Web with minimal adult supervision. And that’s not going to happen until someone gets the economic model right.

Let’s not forget, too, how much better technology is going to get. One of the problems with the shift to online is that computers are still not a particularly satisfying way to read. That will change. I don’t want news on my cell phone, thank you very much, but I might very well want it on an Apple iPhone, with its ultra-high-resolution (so they say) screen and always-there wireless connection.

What so much of the current news meltdown is all about is that the old model is collapsing at a time when we can barely glimpse the new model. That will change, but it’s not going to happen quickly.

Coming clean on what exactly?

Scott Allen Miller demands that Gov. Deval Patrick do the right thing in handling a scandal that he can’t tell us about but that he insists is about to break. I’m not making this up. The headline is “Echoes of Cellucci?” Hmmm … the ponies? Credit-card debt? Bad Robert De Niro impersonations?

Now, don’t get me wrong. It might be true. But sometimes you should just leave the meatloaf in the oven until the dinger goes off.

Update: Scotto confirms my suspicion that he was referring to this. Good grief. Wake me when it’s over.