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

Andrea Estes has left the Globe following an error-riddled story about the MBTA

Photo (cc) 2022 by Dan Kennedy

Update: Globe spokeswoman Heidi Flood confirmed this morning that Andrea Estes “no longer works at the Globe.” I have edited the headline to reflect that.

Update 2: Globe editor Nancy Barnes has told her staff that she’s working to unravel what went wrong.

Boston Globe reporter Andrea Estes, an investigative journalist whose recent error-riddled story about absentee managers at the MBTA led to a lengthy correction, has disappeared from the Globe’s online staff directory. You can still find her official Globe listing, though. She’s described as a “former reporter,” and her bio begins: “Estes was an investigative reporter specializing in government accountability.”

On Wednesday evening I sent an email to Globe spokeswoman Heidi Flood asking, “Has Andrea Estes left the Globe?” Flood’s response: “Thanks for reaching out. The company does not comment on personnel matters.” I also emailed Globe editor Nancy Barnes, who did not respond. I tried emailing Estes at her Globe address earlier this morning, and it bounced back.

It seems pretty clear that Estes is gone. And though no reason has been given, her most recent story, which led the Sunday paper on April 23, has proved to be an embarrassment for the Globe. The idea that some of the T’s leading executives were working virtually from distant places while bus drivers, subway operators and maintenance workers were putting themselves on the line every day was enraging. Here’s the heart of her story, which comes from a PDF of the print edition:

The MBTA is facing an unprecedented crisis of confidence in its service, punctuated by slow trains, endless delays, and gruesome accidents. Yet, many top T managers live far from the troubled system they’re trying to rescue and some are rarely seen in person by their employees. A Globe review has found that nine senior managers (including one who has left the agency) have a primary residence more than 100 miles from the nearest T station — and some much farther.

The story was later revised to cut that number from nine to six, and was appended with a lengthy correction:

Earlier versions of this story incorrectly reported that three MBTA managers live primarily in homes far from the T’s service area. Dennis Lytton, the deputy safety chief, has an apartment in Brighton and says he has not worked remotely since starting the job in February. Michele Stiehler, the T’s chief of paratransit, lives in Boston and walks to work. Jennifer Tabakin, who oversees the T’s South Coast Rail project, also has a home in Boston within walking distance of T headquarters. In addition, the story incorrectly reported that Ronald Ester’s “primary residence” is in Chicago; Ester said he considers his home in Massachusetts as his primary residence.

Estes’ story led to an editorial that has now also been appended with a correction. That correction includes a wrinkle that doesn’t appear in the one attached to Estes’ article: “The original editorial also incorrectly stated where Dennis Lytton, an MBTA safety official, was when reached by reporters. He was in Boston.” Estes’ original story said, “When contacted by the Globe recently, Lytton, who makes $175,000 a year, said he was home in Los Angeles at the time.” That sentence was deleted from the revised version.

Reporters make mistakes. We’ve all had corrections appended to our work. But to level such a serious accusation against three MBTA managers by name and then have to retract it is unusual.

As for Flood’s comment that the Globe doesn’t comment on personnel matters, I would note that there have been a number of prominent situations in the past when people have been fired, pushed into leaving or suspended, and the paper has gone into considerable detail in telling its audience what happened. We all know who they are, and I’m not going to drag their names into this.

I wrote last week that the Globe should have an ombudsman — an in-house reader advocate paid to look into fiascoes like this and write about them. At one time, many news outlets, including the Globe, had such a person on their staffs, but that’s pretty rare these days.

Even in the absence of an ombudsman, though, the Globe still owes us an explanation of what went wrong, and it should be published in a prominent spot.

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9 Comments

  1. Exactly. The Globe owes us some kind of explanation. We all recall what happened at the NYT after the Jayson Blair disaster and at the LAT after the Staples fiasco. Not that this latest at the Globe is as severe, but I think it does rise to the level of explaining how the reporter got so much wrong and how editors failed to catch it before publication.

  2. Emily Rooney

    Dan: Well said. Many newspapers have dragged their own reporters (and reporters from other news outlets,) through the mud over plagiarism and “me-too”issues so why not explain something equally egregious, faulty reporting. Andrea Estes made a living taking people down, some deservedly. Now the ax has fallen on her and we deserve an explanation.

    • mydogmel

      A fallen axe is a huge assumption. Jealousy and glee at someone’s misfortune is not a flattering look. And if this post is about Andrea’s leaving, it does absolutely nothing to honor the unparalleled mega talent she brought to Boston during an amazing career.

      • mydogmel

        Sincerely, Franci Richardson

  3. Great write up

  4. Jim Mathews

    Dan –

    Thanks for your continuous attention to this story. I know Dennis personally and professionally, and before I was working in rail I spent three decades in daily journalism. As result, he reached out to me to ask what to do and the first thing I thought of was to reach out to the ombudsman. Later that day, when I tried to do that myself on Dennis’ behalf, I discovered that there was no ombudsman. I spelled out my own criticisms of the story to the desk editor who handled it, and got a very polite but very standard “we stand by our reporting” reply. To his credit, he offered to speak to Dennis directly and so I connected the two of them. And here we are.

    This story was very painful for me not only because I know Dennis and I know how much he has gone through — and is going through — to work at this job, but because as someone who worked in daily journalism and ran newsrooms myself I’m dismayed by this kind of behavior. I’m glad it seems the Globe is working to put it right.

  5. T.J. Girsch

    I agree that a prominently-placed explanation of what went wrong is in order, but that should also include an apology to the MBTA employees that the story and related Op/Ed libeled.

  6. ACK

    I think an enquiry into the editorial process that allowed this to happen would be far more fruitful. The Globe has devolved to such a point that the line between editorializing and reporting has completely dissolved, and the opinions given by reporters are often devoid of if not contrary to fact. I was emailing with a reporter during the “wealth tax” debate who, when purporting to write a news article, threw in the comment that it doesn’t matter anyway – millionaires all find a way to avoid paying taxes. a. that’s a statement of opinion, not reporting, and b. if that’s true I sure would like to know how it’s done. Environmental reporting is no better. Outlandish commentary with no source passing as news. It’s become the newspaper of outrage and often crosses a line to tap into that sentiment. I don’t think the MBTA article was an outlier, but it’s lessons will be wasted if no one digs deeper to see how this happened.

  7. Fred Grosso

    Isn’t high level managers living at a distance from their jobs still an issue that the MBTA is working on?

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