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

Food fight

The Boston Globe today runs a nauseating front-page story on sloppy restaurant inspections — reported by Northeastern students and edited by my colleague Walter Robinson, former editor of the Globe’s Spotlight Team. Good stuff. But don’t read it on a full stomach.

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  1. mike_b1

    Dan, I’m surprised you brought this story up without really commenting on some of its more interesting aspects. For example, what did you think of the Globe’s highlighting of infractions dating back three or more years? At least one of the restaurant spokespersons complained about that.Also, as you mention, much (all?) of the reporting was conducted by students. Were they individually up to the task, or was much handholding needed? By letting students loose on the choice investigative beat, does this signal a shift by the Globe toward cheaper labor? What does the Guild have to say about any of this?

  2. mike_b1

    Dan, you’re leaving me hanging?

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: How? I already said I thought it was a good story. To your point, I see no evidence that the Globe ignored dramatic improvements. If anything, it looks as though inspections happen so infrequently that you have to consider old data.

  4. mike_b1

    Well, saying it’s good stuff doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have any nits to pick. But there are questions regarding the general wisdom of putting students front and center on the investigative beat, and what message (if any) that sends to the other drones.

  5. Dan Kennedy

    And it’s obviously good for Northeastern students. So what would you like me to say?

  6. mike_b1

    For the third time, what are your thoughts regarding the message this sends to the Globe staff? Say you’re a Globe metro reporter. Would or should you be put off that management giving students an A1 Sunday story?And what position, if any, has the Guild typically taken in the paper’s use of outside contractors (which I would assume is what the students are)? Not trying to pick a fight here; I’m just trying to understand the insider’s POV on the politics behind this.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: Read my previous comment. Obviously if I had a problem with this, I wouldn’t express it in public. For the record, I don’t have a problem with it. But we all have our conflicts of interest, and this is one of mine.

  8. Monica

    I doubt many Globe reporters are all that concerned about their jobs or that the Globe is using “cheaper labor.” First of all, the Globe employs numerous Northeastern students every six months as part of the school’s co-op program. These students routinely write and have gotten front page stories before. It’s all about right place, right time. Secondly, the stories written as part of Walter Robinson’s graduate course at Northeastern were written over the course of a semester and overseen by the former reporter/editor of the Globe’s spotlight team. Robinson is very highly respected and competent. Finally, the students in his class had all completed the courses required for a journalism major at Northeastern and are the kinds of ambitous students you see as editors of the school newspaper, the kinds of students who go on to get internships/work at other prestigious newspapers around the country. How do I know this? My boyfriend was in the journalism program at NU. I don’t understand what your big problem with this story is Mike. It was well reported and well edited. The people at the Globe aren’t freaking out, why are you?

  9. mike_b1

    My, my, Monica, you are certainly defensive young lady, aren’t you? Let’s get one thing straight, shall we? Northeastern appears to be a decent J-school, but it is clearly not on the same level as Columbia (either one), Medill, UNC, Texas, even BU.Contrary to your assertion, I’m not freaking out at all. I don’t have a horse in this race. I am, however, trying to understand some of the background, background which Dan is understandably reluctant to share. He knows which side his bread is buttered on.There are a host of bigger issues that pieces like this raise. And I suspect, given the number of jobs the Globe has lost over the past few years, there’s more than a few folks there who are concerned about their longterm prospects at the Broadsheet.I don’t know whether folks at the Globe like or dislike college intrusions; no one who would know is answering the question. That said, Dan has in the past put down suggestions by others (not me) that big papers like the Globe simply turn to lower cost labor like students to achieve its financial objectives, saying, among other things, that students lack the proper experience, contacts and perspective (not a direct quote). This is but one step in that direction, but it is a step nonetheless. If you can do it well once, you can do it over and over. Maybe there was more merit to the point than either Dan (or I) was willing to concede.Finally, I thought there were some obvious holes in the piece, but those were problems at the editor level, not with the reporting.

  10. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: (1) That is not a fair synopsis of what I’ve said. (2) Northeastern and BU both have fine journalism programs. But what evidence can you offer that BU’s is better?

  11. mike_b1

    Perhaps you could find the direct quote (it involved a dialog between, you, Aaron Booke and me, among others, I believe).I did find this among your writings:”Newspapers are very expensive propositions, however; and having a non-profit entity such as a college or university buying a for-profit entity is always problematic.”Consider, too, that in Boston, both dailies are union shops. Union officials, understandably, are wary about the prospect of unpaid or low-paid students doing work that could be done by Guild reporters and editors. The union does not go away just because a university has bought the paper.”Nevertheless, this is worth thinking about, if only because the for-profit model may not be able to sustain newspapers as we have come to know them.”So that seems to address at least one of my questions.Re Northeastern/BU, I seem to recall a US News ranking from a year or so ago. But my memory’s not what it used to be.

  12. Dan Kennedy

    Mike:1. You’ve pulled something I wrote quite a while ago, and I was talking about student work in general — not a particular project overseen and edited by Walter Robinson, a Pulitzer winner. As I wrote just this week, I’m not bothered by that at all.2. US News rankings do put BU ahead of NU, but I’m not aware of any rankings of the two schools’ journalism programs. Journalism is just a small part of each university.

  13. mike_b1

    1. When we’re talking about letting no/low-pay students loose on highly sought-after beats, whether the work is managed by a top editor or not is no longer the question. The finished work comes at little cost to the owners, and that could be seen by the incumbent staff as threatening. Certainly Robinson isn’t the only editor around who could pull this off, and more often than once a semester.2. What I recall reading had to do specifically with the J-schools, and I tend to clip such pieces, but I can’t seem to put my fingers on it.

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