Author Archives: Dan Kennedy

About Dan Kennedy

I am an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University, and I'm using for my blog, Media Nation, as well as class websites.

The Boston Globe is headed for another round of buyouts

The Boston Globe is once again downsizing its newsroom, according to an email sent to the staff from editor Brian McGrory earlier this morning and obtained by Media Nation.

We’ll have to see how this plays out. But one intriguing theme is the idea that this comes at what McGrory calls “an inflection point.” The newsroom and business operations will be moving downtown early next year, a new printing plant is coming online in Taunton, and the “reinvention effort” McGrory announced a few weeks ago will soon yield results.

The optimistic spin would seem to be that the Globe of the future will soon be in place, and that if everything works according to plan, there should be no further need for cuts. A pessimist might observe that the newspaper business continues to shrink. But let’s hope owner John Henry and company can overcome the prevailing trend.

McGrory’s email:

Hey all,

Yet again in the world’s worst-kept secret category, we plan to put another buyout on the table, probably by the end of this week. These things aren’t really meant to be a secret. They just take a while to come together, despite our vast experience with them.

There’s no complicated math involved. There’ll be two weeks for every year of service, with the package capped at a year’s pay. Everyone in the newsroom will get an offer. The company reserves the right, as with all prior buyouts, to reject anyone who puts in for it.

To the obvious question of why, as in, why again, why so soon after the prior buyout of last autumn, the answer is pretty straightforward: The Globe’s numbers aren’t as good as our words (or photos, videos, and graphics). So we need to take down costs across the company, an exercise that virtually all other news organizations in the nation, legacy and digital-only, are focused on right now. Other parts of this building are doing this as well.

This particular buyout is being offered as the Globe arrives at an inflection point, which is why I’m hopeful that it will work well for a portion of our room.

First, we’re moving downtown come January 1. While this is great for the organization, on a personal level, commutes will be different, rituals disrupted, and parking will no longer be free and easy. Second, we’re undertaking a reinvention initiative that will in all likelihood lead to a profoundly different approach to a good part of our work. Everybody in this room should be prepared for their jobs to change in ways that may be significant. Change is as exhausting as it is exhilarating, and some people have had enough. We respect that, and are offering this enticement now so we can all be prepared going forward. To be very clear here: This will be the last buyout before the move downtown.

For those who plan to stay, please know this: There are fascinating times ahead. We can curse the economic problems that have beset the entire industry, and guilty as charged: I’ve done more than enough of that myself. But at the same time, we can and should feel privileged to be part of any solutions. Between a new printing facility in Taunton that will produce papers far sharper than anything in our history, to new offices downtown that will put us in the flow of this city, to the surge in readership on, the success in digital subscriptions, and the consistently amazing journalism that you produce day after day in the face of ferocious industry forces, there’s not a newsroom in this nation better positioned to succeed than ours. None of it is easy. All of it is vital – and noble. We, meaning you, can do this. You already are.

I’ll be in the Winship Room today at 11, 2, and 6 to talk a bit more, take your questions, and hear what’s on your mind.


Firing the manager: An idea that never made much sense


Grounds crew before the Red Sox’ 8-7 soggy win over the Yankees. Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy.

At the end of the Red Sox’ disastrous 2011 season, Terry Francona—the greatest manager in team history—was fired (and kicked hard on his way out). The excuse: Well, you can’t fire the players. In fact, that’s exactly what they needed to do, and they did it the following year.

So now we come to John Farrell. As Nick Cafardo points out in the Boston Globe, calls that Farrell has to go are being stilled for the moment, but you can be sure they’ll be back as soon as the Sox start losing games again.

I don’t get it. I’ve never gotten it. If you have a manager who has the trust of the front office, why wouldn’t you keep him for as long as he wants to manage—five or 10 years, maybe more? Yes, there are some genuinely bad managers who have to go (Grady Little, Bobby Valentine). Same with general managers (Ben Cherington). For the most part, though, if you’ve got a good manager or GM, keep him.

Some of Farrell’s in-game moves are mystifying, but the team plays hard for him and he handles the pitching staff well—as you would expect, given that he was a very good pitching coach. The Red Sox were wrong to get rid of Francona, who may have needed a season off the field but should have stayed with the team; they’d be wrong to get rid of Farrell.

Epic finger-pointing begins over cancellation of IndyCar race

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 10.10.05 AMLet the recriminations begin over the cancellation of the IndyCar race in Boston’s Seaport District during Labor Day Weekend. Race organizers are blaming the city, while city officials charge the organizers were actually disorganizers.

Joe Battenfeld of the Boston Herald covers the story here, reporting that Mayor Marty Walsh and his administration let things drag on far too long despite knowing that the event was coming apart. Battenfeld also has the detail that the race may end up in Providence.

Mark Arsenault of the Boston Globe, meanwhile, has some entertaining quotes from John Casey, president of Grand Prix Boston, who says he’s writing a book about what happened. (I assume that’s hyperbole.) “It’s so ridiculous, it’s hysterical,” he’s quoted as saying.

I have no idea who’s right, and I know that not everyone in the neighborhood was thrilled about the prospect. Conceptually, at least, it struck me as a pretty cool event, and I’m sorry that it won’t be coming here. Maybe the two sides are bluffing, but it sure doesn’t sound that way.

We do say “no” a lot in Boston. “No” is sometimes the right answer. It was certainly the right answer to the Olympics bid, which would have led to years of disruption and the likelihood of massive budget shortfalls. This time, though, it’s too bad we couldn’t find a way to get to “yes.”

Millionaires, billionaires, and the future of newspapers

tumblr_static_policycast_logoHard to believe, but my time as a Joan Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School will be ending soon. Recently I recorded an HKS PolicyCast podcast under the expert guidance of host Matt Cadwallader. We talked about my research regarding wealthy newspaper owners and whether the innovations they’ve introduced may show the way for others. I hope you’ll give it a listen.

As I’ve written before, I’m working on a book that will largely be about three such owners—Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who bought the Washington Post in 2013; Red Sox principal owner John Henry, who announced he would purchase the Boston Globe just three days before Bezos made his move; and greeting-card executive Aaron Kushner, whose time as publisher of the Orange County Register ended in 2015, but whose print-centric approach made him perhaps the most closely watched newspaper owner of 2012-’13.

Bezos and the Post will be the subject of the paper I’m writing for Shorenstein, so—in case any of you folks at the Globe were wondering—I’ve suspended my reporting on the Globe for the time being. I’ll be back.

Why NH’s ban on ballot selfies threatens free expression

Illustration by Brendan Lynch for

Illustration by Brendan Lynch for

The more absurd the law, the more difficult it can be to drive a wooden stake through its heart—all the more so when that law clashes with our First Amendment right to free expression.

And so it is with a New Hampshire statute that prohibits so-called ballot selfies, a self-indulgent genre that arose from our self-indulgent age. The idea is to vote, take a picture of yourself with your marked ballot, and then post it to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or any other social network of your choosing. Do it in the Granite State and you could be fined $1,000.

Read the rest at

The newly launched Boston Guardian sparks a controversy

Looks like David Jacobs, publisher of the now-defunct Boston Courant and the new Boston Guardian, may have stepped in it. The Bay State Banner, which serves the African-American community, is blasting the Guardian on its Facebook page for heedlessly recycling the name of a historically prominent black newspaper. Here’s what the Banner has to say:

The paper formerly known as Back Bay Courant has relaunched as a paper called Boston Guardian. Are they clueless about the legacy of that is Boston’s first black newspaper founded by William Monroe Trotter. Is our history so unimportant that they would take this name to serve Back Bay residents?? Melvin Miller didn’t even use the name when he founded the Banner as the legacy of the Guardian. We have a front page of the Guardian framed on the wall of our office. This is beyond disrespectful.

Hat tip to Universal Hub. Above is our discussion about the Guardian on Beat the Press last Friday, in which we reviewed the Guardian‘s unusual origins: Jacobs shut down the Courant after he lost a court settlement and then launched the Guardian under new corporate ownership.

Update: The Bay State Banner has posted an editorial headlined “An affront to Boston’s Black History.”

Susan Orlean and Lydia Davis, masters of the unexpected

b_kirtzBy Bill Kirtz

Two masters of the unexpected gave writing fans a treat at Harvard talks Wednesday.

Susan Orlean’s takes on everything from Queens supermarkets to show dogs recall the protean talents of fellow New Yorker stars Joseph Mitchell, Calvin Trillin, and A.J. Liebling. Her technique: stay in the background and sop up knowledge.

Mordant minimalist Lydia Davis’s essay/story/poetic mélanges hit with maximum impact. She lets her work take it where it will.

In Bulgaria, some tennis balls are like dumplings.

All languages are welcome on Bangkok’s Khao San Road, including Drunkard.

If I were a bitch, I’d be in love with Biff Truesdale.

As one fan put it Wednesday, those Susan Orlean leads dare you not to keep reading. Aware that her stories about chickens, orchids, or homing pigeons aren’t exactly breaking news, she says she always fights the question “Why would anyone care about this?”

“I have to make the reader share some sense of curiosity,” she said. “It’s like a strip tease, a come-hither look,” making the reader keep reading because they don’t quite understand it. I try to be engaging, not bewildering.”

Orlean honed her talent and productivity (including nine books, from which two hit films – Blue Crush and Adaptation emerged) in the 1980s at the Boston Phoenix, which she’s credited for teaching her to be enterprising and to search for unusual story ideas.

Orlean has since written nine books, from which two hit films emerged—Blue Crush and Adaptation. She’s now finishing a book about libraries, which tries to solve the 30-year-old mystery of who set fire to the Los Angeles Public Library.

She’ll often sit around quietly—at a trailer park or gospel tour—soaking up information.

Unlike most reporters, she profiles people who haven’t been interviewed and have nothing to gain by talking to her. She said that her profiles aren’t “neat,” like the “trend” stories she dislikes because they start with an editor’s conclusion of what’s “true” and plug in examples to support that.

“Often stories change, and it’s not good if the story doesn’t change while you’re reporting it,” she says.

And being there alters the situation, Orlean freely notes. She tries to replicate the oral tradition, acknowledging that all reporting is just her take on events. “It’s not possible to be objective, comprehensive. It’s more important to be honest.”

She’ll pull herself in for comic relief, as in her Esquire profile of a 10-year-old who deftly shot kibbles at her. “I don’t overprepare,” she says. “I immerse myself in the world and let events unfold.”

Davis uses a similar technique, explaining, “If I plan too much I lose momentum.”

Long or short? Letter of complaint or personal essay? First, second, or third person? These only emerge as she keeps writing, says Davis. “I let the material be in control. If I plan too much I lose momentum. One question will occur to me, and I’ll let it go from there.”

She started by writing very traditional short stories but realized she didn’t have to do that—she could do something else.

Davis, who discusses her method in-depth in a long Q&A with the Paris Review, says she had a “great feeling of liberation” when she abandoned the traditional “well-made” stories.

She revises intensely, aware that her one and two sentence stories can fail if a single word is wrong—or even a punctuation mark. In the last line of what turned out to be a poem, she called the comma crucial:

Heart weeps.
Head tries to help heart.
Head tells heart how it is, again:
You will lose the ones you love. They will all go. But even the earth will
go, someday.
Heart feels better, then. But the words of head do not remain long in the ears of heart.
Heart is so new to this.
I want them back, says heart.
Head is all heart has.
Help, head. Help heart.

Once called a “writer’s writer’s writer,” she’s won the renowned Man Booker International Prize but admits that some people don’t see the point of what she writes. They may be bewildered by stunts like turning a complaint about the packaging of frozen peas into an essay/short short story/whatever.

But she keeps on keeping on, deploring what she calls today’s “bottom line” literary atmosphere and relying on fellow writers, not agents or publishers, for support.

She worries that young authors have to deal with agents saying they have to produce “a novel that sells.” She advises them to continue to write what they want and make money somewhere else.

“I never expected to earn my living from writing,” she says.

Bill Kirtz is a retired Northeastern University journalism professor and a Media Nation contributor.