An activist-journalist SLAPPs back

Adam Gaffin has posted an excellent summary of an important press-freedom case that will be argued before the state’s Supreme Judicial Court on Monday.

Fredda Hollander, an activist-journalist who once wrote for a local newspaper called the Regional Review, is arguing that a libel suit filed against her by a North End developer should be thrown out on the grounds that it amounts to harassment illegally aimed at silencing her.

The developer, Steven Fustolo, counters that the law on which Hollander is basing her claim — a state law that bans “strategic lawsuits against public participation” — was never intended to protect journalists.

Disclosure: I was a paid expert for Hollander, writing an affidavit arguing that community-based advocacy journalism should be protected under the so-called anti-SLAPP law.


The Globe’s ancien regime makes a comeback

Christopher Mayer
Christopher Mayer

I have no particular insight into Boston Globe publisher Steven Ainsley’s retirement announcement, or why senior vice president Christopher Mayer was chosen as his replacement. But I do think Adam Reilly of the Boston Phoenix gets at two important possible reasons.

First, Mayer, despite being just 47, is a holdover from the Taylor regime. That might prove reassuring to the jittery Globe newsroom, especially given that a group led by former Globe executive Stephen Taylor recently fell short in its attempt to buy the paper back from the New York Times Co.

Second, Mayer is described in Beth Healy’s Globe story as “an architect” of the recent dramatic price increase, which, despite plummeting circulation, reportedly led to an 18.4 percent rise in circulation revenue at the Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette during the third quarter.

More than anything, I’m reminded of editor Matt Storin’s retirement in the summer of 2001. Earlier in the year, Storin presided over what had been up to that time the most wrenching downsizing in the paper’s history. By sticking around until after all the blood had been spilled, Storin gave Marty Baron a chance to start with a clean slate.

Though we don’t know whether Ainsley’s retirement is voluntary, it strikes me that he performed the same role during this year’s labor-management war that Storin did in 2001.

Finally, Ainsley showed a sense of humor, though I suspect it was inadvertent. According to Healy’s story, Ainsley “is interested in nonprofit work.” Insert cymbal crash.

Ralph Ranalli has further thoughts at Beat the Press. At the Boston Herald, Jessica Heslam and Christine McConville note that Ainsley made $1.9 million last year. A good job at a good wage, for sure.

(Not) tweeting from City Hall

OK, one quick one, then I’m out of here.

The Boston Herald today follows up its social-media story with more from Dave Wedge and Jessica Heslam and a column by Margery Eagan.

In order to bolster her argument that Amy Derjue, spokeswoman for Boston City Council president Mike Ross, is tweeting when she ought to be working, Eagan quotes something Derjue posted on Monday at 10:11 p.m.

I’m not here to defend Derjue, Mac Daniel or David Isberg, who have created something of an appearance problem for their bosses, even though I’ve seen no real evidence that they’ve been slacking off. (In fact, I think Heslam gets at the appearance problem nicely here.)

But quoting something a city employee posted at a time when she was clearly off-duty is out of bounds.

On hiatus

I’m in New Haven on business today and will be dealing with some family business on Friday. Which means I might not get to post again for a few days.

Go, Pedro!

Tweeting from City Hall

Amy Derjue (from Twitter)
Amy Derjue (from Twitter)

Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub has some big-time fun with the Boston Herald’s story on city employees who use Facebook and Twitter during work hours. Gaffin reproduces a photo of the Herald reporters who wrote the story, Jessica Heslam and Dave Wedge, from — yes — Heslam’s Facebook account.

“What are they using them for?” asks Gaffin. “What are they hiding? Ooh, insinuation is fun!”

Kidding aside, you have to admit that there’s an appearance problem with the way some city employees are using social media. Heslam and Wedge focus on Amy Derjue, a former Boston Magazine blogger who was hired earlier this year to serve as City Council president Mike Ross’ $39,000-a-year spokeswoman.

Derjue is something of a young-woman-about-town, and I follow her on both Facebook and Twitter. (If you page through her 340 Facebook friends, you’ll see a wide array of local media and political folks, including Gaffin, me — and Wedge.) Some of her posts make me cringe, and Heslam and Wedge dutifully provide some cringe-worthy examples. But I’ve never heard anyone suggest she wasn’t smart, hard-working and energetic. For what it’s worth, she has complained to me on behalf of her boss, which suggests dedication to her job.

More to the point, most of us — and you can be sure Derjue falls into this category — are never fully off work. If we’re expected to tend to business when we’re off-duty, then we have to be allowed some fun during the formal workday as well. And, as Gaffin writes, “Why, it takes sheer seconds to post something to Facebook or Twitter.”

An aside that may help illustrate my point. Yesterday John Robinson, editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C., tweeted that he was being yelled at by a “legislator who resigned in disgrace.” When I responded at how impressed I was with his multi-tasking, he replied, “Yes, tweeting while yelling. What else am I supposed to do? Listen?” This was not a private conversation — it was seen by all 1,196 of Robinson’s followers and all 2,019 of mine. Welcome to 2009.

Ross tells the Herald that he hired Derjue in part for her social-networking expertise. And, indeed, Ross has a pretty lively Twitter feed and Facebook account. For Derjue to post to her personal sites while working on her boss’ would, as Gaffin says, take “sheer seconds.” You can question her judgment, but her social-media activities are not evidence of dereliction.

Derjue seems to have partly disabled her Facebook account (I could be wrong; Facebook mystifies and annoys me), and she hasn’t posted to Twitter since last night. No doubt she’s licking her wounds at the moment. I’m interested to see how she’ll respond.

How news orgs should use social media

Why, to cater to their audience’s every whim, of course. So kudos to WBUR Radio (90.9 FM), which responded to my whining on Twitter about the lack of a downloadable MP3 of last night’s Massachusetts Senate debate by posting one this afternoon.

I was able to download it onto my iPod and listen while driving home. The experience was enlightening — and, no, I definitely don’t mean the debate.

A double whammy for the newspaper business

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that the long-predicted newspaper-circulation death spiral now under way wouldn’t be such a big deal if online advertisers weren’t fleeing newspaper Web sites as well.

On a cheerier note, Jonathan Knee writes in Barron’s that recession and crushing debt are masking the fundamental soundness of many newspapers — especially monopoly papers with a circulation of 100,000 or less.