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

GBH cuts claim three local TV shows, including its only Black-oriented program

Photo (cc) 2019 by Dan Kennedy

There are many things to say about the cuts announced Wednesday at GBH, so pardon the random nature of this post. As Aidan Ryan reports in The Boston Globe, 31 employees were laid off, comprising 4% of the staff. Now, 4% doesn’t sound like a lot, especially at a large operation that encompasses national and local programming across television, radio and digital. But management chose to decimate its local TV operation covering news and public affairs. “Greater Boston,” a Monday-to-Thursday program featuring interviews with newsmakers, was canceled; so were two weekly shows, “Basic Black” and “Talking Politics.” All told, a reported 10% of the cuts came at GBH News, as the local operation is known.

Shuttering “Basic Black” is inexplicable. Originally called “Say Brother,” it was GBH’s only local television show devoted to covering the region’s communities of color. There’s nothing in the regular radio lineup, either. This is an abdication of GBH’s responsibilities as a public media institution supported by grants, donations from “viewers like you” and taxpayer dollars. Yes, I know that chief executive Susan Goldberg says the three shows will come back as digital programs, but no one knows what that’s going to look like.

“Talking Politics” was a weekly program on local politics and public policy ably hosted by Adam Reilly, with whom I worked both at The Boston Phoenix and, later, at GBH News. It was launched after the August 2021 cancellation of “Beat the Press with Emily Rooney,” an award-winning program I was part of almost from its inception in 1998. There’s a lot I could say about the decision to end “Beat the Press,” but I’ll leave it at this: The program was pulling in strong viewership numbers right up to the end, and I still hear from people wherever I go who lament its passing.

Getting rid of “Greater Boston” strikes me as a rerun of past events. The show, with Emily Rooney at the helm, was created in 1997, six years after the cancellation of “The Ten O’Clock News,” which was anchored by Christopher Lydon and Carmen Fields. Emily presided over a compelling program characterized by her intelligence and quirky appeal. But let’s not forget that it was also cheaper to produce than “The Ten O’Clock News,” which was a full-fledged newscast. (I wrote about those early days in a long Phoenix feature.) “Beat the Press” was born a year later when the Friday slot became available and Emily was able to fulfill her ambitions of putting a media-criticism show on the air.

As Emily moved closer to retirement age, she gave up “Greater Boston” while keeping “Beat the Press.” Jim Braude, who also co-hosts GBH’s “Boston Public Radio” with Margery Eagan, took her place and proved to be popular and successful in that slot. But he gave it up in 2022 in order to concentrate on radio, and “Greater Boston” has been helmed by a rotating series of hosts ever since. One of those irregulars was Adam, and I was on with him May 15 to talk about “What Works in Community News,” the book I wrote with Ellen Clegg. We knew cuts were coming, but I certainly didn’t realize I’d be one of the last guests.

Another observation: From the moment that WBUR Radio and GBH reported financial problems earlier this year, some have questioned whether Boston could accommodate two news-focused public radio stations. In April, two dozen people took early-retirement buyouts at ’BUR while another seven were laid off. The Globe’s Ryan even raised the possibility that the two radio stations could merge.

So it’s striking that when GBH finally brought down the hammer, it was on the television rather than the radio side. Of course, television is much more expensive, and the entire institution reportedly had an operating deficit of $18.7 million last year. Still, it seems like an odd choice given that GBH has no direct public television competition while on radio it lags well behind ’BUR.

The day of reckoning at GBH also came just two days after GBH News general manager Pam Johnston announced she was leaving after four years of running all local programming — radio, television and digital. And her departure, in turn, followed a Globe story in February by Mark Shanahan in which he reported that Johnston ran a newsroom beset by turmoil and a toxic culture.

Sadly, all of this comes just as GBH News had won its first Peabody Award, for its excellent “The Big Dig” podcast. Ambitious, deeply reported podcasts are expensive, and even the best of them draw relatively small audiences — so it could be a while before we hear anything like it again.

Finally, being a part of GBH News for many years was one of the highlights of my career. My roles over the course of 24 years included being a panelist on “Beat the Press,” writing a column for the GBH News website and appearing occasionally on radio. Wednesday was a sad day. My best wishes to those who lost their jobs and to my friends and former colleagues who are still employed.

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  1. Joan Drobnis

    It is sad day when Adam Reilly and Callie Crossley lose their superb, long-running shows.I have been a regular watcher for years and will truly miss them. Hopefully they can find another venue for their excellent reporting.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Joan, Callie left “Basic Black” a while ago. She still has her weekly radio program and podcast, “Under the Radar with Callie Crossley,” and she’s part of “The Culture Show,” a one-hour daily radio program. I know that Adam kept his job, so I guess he’ll be reporting on politics for the radio newscasts.

  2. Emily Rooney

    Thanks for this Dan. There is a reason GBH local TV programming was not bringing in viewers. I’ll leave it at that.

    • Mike Chapman

      When they took “W” out of “WGBH”, they lost their “W”ay.

    • I’d like to know your view of those reasons. Thanks for considering a response.

    • Janet Zade

      Miss your honesty, cleverness and depth if knowledge

    • David Nolta

      Still miss you Emily Rooney!

    • Karen Brennan

      Friday afternoon radio and Friday evening TV have not been the same since you left. You are missed but I hope you are enjoying retirement!

  3. Mike Chapman

    When “GBH” removed the “W”, they lost their commitment to television…and their way. It’s hard to see how eliminating three local shows will stanch the bleeding. For years, there have been ever more managers at GBH, presiding over ever-fewer programs. The layoffs represent, reportedly, 8% of the workforce. What do the other 92% do?

    Emily Rooney, a former news director at WCVB, knew the importance of having reporters in the field; on her iteration of “Greater Boston”, there was at least one produced package per night. When Braude took over, he soon declared that “No one would watch a two-minute tape piece,” and GB became a radio show with pictures of “the usual suspects” talking in studio. That’s also called “Radio”, and it’s apparently the direction the station wants to go.

    One misses the earlier days of television, when a station’s license renewal was dependent on offering “necessity, value and convenience” to the audience of the market it purported to serve. Cancelling three local shows – one, the longest running program about Black issues – with a vague promise to reconstitute them as “digital” entities seems a strange way to balance a budget.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Mike, what made “Beat the Press” great was Emily’s commitment to fully reported packages that we panelists could then flap our gums about.

  4. Ben Starr

    Miss Beat the Press and enjoyed Talking Politics. Basic Black, however, was not a particularly well managed show as it was quite often filled with a panel that was generally redundant in both its ideology and its demographics (middle aged local black academics) like a version of the hold SNL public radio skit.

  5. Kristi Bates

    Another sad day for local news. I was also shocked that Basic Black was being cut. I miss Emily Rooney and Beat the Press!

  6. Elizabeth H Tipton

    Elizabeth Tipton

    I am shocked and disappointed that”Greater Boston” and “Basic Black” have been cancelled. Is there any chance that they may be reinstated?

    • Dan Kennedy

      As you saw in my post, GBH says it plans to bring all three shows back in digital, although they didn’t say when.

      • David Nolta

        What does that even mean, bringing them back in digital? I don’t mean literally, I mean really!?!

  7. Janet Zzde

    Beat The Press was must see TV for me. I had a hard time getting used to Friday nights without it.

  8. Paul Hutch


  9. Brian C. Jones

    Dan, As usual, a sober and comprehensive piece on the cutbacks at WGBH, and its abandonment of its local TV programs. I’m glad I’m not a university president or media executive, but the cuts feel wrong. Mostly, I’m bothered at the way GBH made sure there was no public comment. It is hard for news outlets to report on themselves, but they should try – and no more so when public broadcasters constantly reach out to the public for financing.

  10. Calista

    Dan, do you know why the Beat The Press podcast ended without an explanation? (I looked repeatedly but if there is one I missed, I’m happy to be directed there.) I had high hopes for it, though won’t lie that I was profoundly disappointed that Emily opted to give Bill O’Reilly more oxygen for his (already well-known) opinions on news. Thought if it had continued with a panel format (comprised of recurring voices we’d known from the Friday night version), it would have stuck the landing. As it is, the only media criticism options that are left after the BTP and later Reliable Sources cancellations are The Press Box (from The Ringer) and Brian Stelter’s Inside The Hide from Vanity Fair. Thanks in advance.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Calista, I’d like to think that Media Nation is a good source of media criticism! You have found me here, so I hope you’ll keep reading. There is no money in podcasting except for a few at the very top of the heap, and that’s why “Beat the Press” couldn’t continue. Ellen Clegg and I have solved the podcasting business model with “What Works: The Future of Local News” — we don’t spend any money and we don’t make any money, ha ha. If you’re interested, please check us out at You might be interested to know that Emily Rooney, Callie Crossley and Pam Johnston have been among our guest.

  11. Philip Wright

    Greater Boston had gone way downhill since Braude left. It wasn’t worth watching. I am sorry to see Adam go. He is a fine Journalist.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Adam did not get laid off! He’ll be reporting on politics for radio.

      • Mary Hobbins DeChillo

        Whew! Adam won’t be gone!
        My husband and I had a “date” with Adam every Friday night when he became host of Talking Politics.

        We both have appreciated that Adam is a serious, thoughtful, and respectful journalist who makes the person(s) and the subject, not himself, the center of the interview. A rare approach to journalism these days.

        My Brooklyn-born and raised husband has always thought Adam could use a tad more edginess but then realized that Adam hails from the Midwest (Minnesota?)thus his nice demeanor is probably baked in.

  12. Martin G. Evans

    What kinds of people were laid off/ Older, senior, seasoned employees. Or newcomers to WGBH?

    • Dan Kennedy

      Mainly tech and production people. I don’t know their ages, but I think they’re on the younger side.

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