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

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The Globe names a new Spotlight Team editor

The Boston Globe has named Brendan McCarthy as the editor of the Spotlight Team, its investigative unit. According to an announcement by executive editor Nancy Barnes and senior deputy managing editor Mark Morrow that sent to me by several newsroom sources:

Brendan will oversee an expanded investigative unit that will eventually include a deputy editor, five or six reporters with specialized skills, three quick strike reporters, and an engagement reporter/producer. Our goal is to tackle more significant investigations, while maintaining the ability to move quickly off the news. As the Spotlight editor, he will have full authority to work across the room as needed, especially when a big story breaks that demands deeper investigative work.

McCarthy replaces Patricia Wen, who is now the staff writer for the Globe’s Sunday magazine following seven years of running Spotlight.

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Globe columnist is called out for facilitating an assisted suicide he was writing about

Kevin Cullen (via LinkedIn)

Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen is the subject of an extraordinary editor’s note that reveals he helped facilitate the physician-assisted suicide of a terminally ill woman he was writing about. Cullen and photographer Jessica Rinaldi documented the death of Lynda Bluestein, a Connecticut woman who traveled to Vermont to take advantage of that state’s so-called “aid in dying” law.

Cullen describes a meeting with Bluestein and Dr. Diana Barnard, a Vermont physician who was helping Bluestein with the process. Present at the meeting were Cullen and members of a team that was making a film. “At one of the meetings in July with Barnard,” Cullen writes, “Lynda asked a Globe columnist [see editor’s note] and also a member of the documentary team following her story to sign the form saying she knew what she was doing and wasn’t under duress.” Cullen agreed to sign, which prompted this editor’s note from the Globe’s executive editor, Nancy Barnes:

From the editor:

The right to die has long been a controversial issue in many societies, and especially in some religious communities.

Last year, Globe reporter and columnist Kevin Cullen and photographer Jessica Rinaldi set out to chronicle Connecticut resident Lynda Bluestein on her mission to die on her own terms in Vermont, which has a “medical aid in dying” provision. Our intent was not to advocate for this issue, but to share an important perspective and a very personal, albeit wrenching, story.

Vermont’s law required two witnesses to sign a form attesting that Bluestein was in a clear state of mind when she made this decision, and they could not be family members, doctors, any beneficiaries, a nursing home owner or employee, etc.

Bluestein, with the support of her doctor, asked two people who were with her on July 10 to attest to this for her. Reporter Kevin Cullen was one of those people and he agreed to do so — a decision Cullen regrets. It is a violation of Globe standards for a reporter to insert themselves into a story they are covering. That it was intended primarily as a gesture of consideration and courtesy does not alter that it was out of bounds.

After reviewing these details, we have concluded that this error did not meaningfully impact the outcome of this story — Bluestein died on Jan. 4 and she likely would have found another signatory in the months before then. For that reason, we chose to publish this powerful story, which includes exceptional photojournalism, while also sharing these details in full transparency.

Nancy Barnes
Boston Globe executive editor

This is not the first time that Cullen has run afoul of the Globe’s ethics policies. In 2018, he was suspended for three months following an investigation that determined he had fabricated details about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings in radio interviews and at public appearances. A review of his work for the Globe revealed no problems beyond a few minor errors of fact.

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A possible way forward for The Washington Post: Go local

Photo (cc) 2013 by Esther Vargas

Matthew Yglesias has some thoughts about the state of the media business and why there were so many layoffs in 2023 at high-profile news organizations like BuzzFeed (which closed its news division), NPR and Vox Media. There is very little new in his observations, but I was interested to see that he’s complaining about The Washington Post’s local coverage under Jeff Bezos. Yglesias writes:

What has bothered me, personally, about Bezos’ stewardship of the Post is that through the process of first growing and then shrinking the newsroom, he’s left coverage of local issues worse off than it was before. His aspiration upon taking over was to make the Post a “national and even global publication,” and during the growth years, his investment priorities reflected that. Perry Stein used to cover DC Public Schools, and I think DC residents with school-aged children really appreciated her work. But when she got a promotion, it wasn’t to do something bigger covering DC government or regional issues, it was to cover the Justice Department, where she’s churning out Trump trial stories.

When I was reporting on the Post for my 2018 book, “The Return of the Moguls,” the paper was in the midst of an enormous growth curve, briefly shooting ahead of The New York Times in digital traffic and consistently earning profits. Bezos’ vision of reinventing the Post as a national digital publication — leaving behind the Graham family’s “Of Washington, For Washington” marketing pitch — was a huge success. But the paper has not done well since Trump left the presidency, and is now losing money and circulation.

As Yglesias writes, and as I’ve written on several occasions, the Post’s current position as being pretty much like the Times only not as comprehensive just isn’t tenable in the long run. One thing it could do is reposition itself as being “of Washington, for Washington” while at the same time maintaining its commitment to national and international news. During the early Bezos years, the Post actually offered two digital editions. One included all of the Post’s journalism; the other was a cheaper, more colorful product that omitted local news and that was aimed at the national market. Clearly there were people at the Post back then who knew they could charge a premium for local. Why not embrace that again?

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After the fall: Thinking about blogging in the post-social media era

Old-school blogger. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve been blogging since 2002, which makes me something of an expert on how the medium has changed over time. I’ve been thinking lately about some subtle changes I want to make to Media Nation now that social media has become an annoying afterthought rather than a primary means by which we distribute our work.

My approach before the rise of social media was to write some longish posts and some really short posts, the latter so that I could link to items I wanted to call people’s attention to. If you take a look at another early blogger who’s still at it, Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds, you’ll see that he still does it that way. My own practice, though, was to stop writing very short posts at Media Nation — after all, that’s what Twitter was for. And if I had something a little bit longer that hadn’t quite congealed, I’d publish that at Facebook.

These days, when I write a more fully developed post, I’m promoting it at Threads, Bluesky, Mastodon, X/Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, which seems kind of ridiculous. If anything, it’s an incentive not to write. But I’m also rediscovering the utility of posting short items here. After all, there are nearly 2,300 readers who’ve signed up to receive new posts by email, and many of them may not even be on social media. (Email delivery of Media Nation is free, and it’s not the same as becoming a supporter for $5 a month, which of course you are encouraged to do.)

I find that I haven’t quite returned to the old days of writing one-liners à la Reynolds. Still, I’ve written a few brief updates recently aimed at calling your attention to one thing, such as this, this and this. And though I’m talking specifically about blogging, which seems kind of old-fashioned, it could pertain to newsletters, too. Newsletters tend to be long, but many include Twitter-like quickies at the bottom, which strikes me increasingly as a good idea.

When I was reporting on the early years of The Washington Post’s revival under Jeff Bezos for my book “The Return of the Moguls,” the Post was publishing every one of its stories on Facebook. They talked about a “barbell” and trying to entice readers on the Facebook side of the barbell into migrating across and becoming a paying customer on the Post side. Those days are long gone.

Charlie Warzel wrote a piece for The Atlantic the other day warning that social media is no longer working for news distribution, mainly because Facebook has de-emphasized news and Twitter has fallen into a toxic cesspool. Well, social is no longer working for self-published news and commentary either. Those of us who have kept up our independent presence through a blog or a newsletter should think of how we’re going to leverage that advantage.

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Please comment on comments

I have a question for Media Nation readers. When I switched from WordPress.com to a hosted service a few months ago, I discovered that my posts no longer have “Leave a Comment” automatically embedded at the top. It’s part of the WordPress theme that I use, and there’s no fixing it short of switching to a different theme, which I don’t want to do, or delving into the code, which — uh, no.

As a result, I’ve been typing “Leave a Comment | Read Comments” at the bottom of each post when I publish it. Do you think it’s necessary, or is it’s so obvious that you can leave a comment that I can omit that step? I’d like to know what you think, so please comment on comments.

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If you’re a regular Media Nation reader, I hope you’ll become a monthly supporter

Statue of Samuel Johnson in Lichfield Market Square. Photo (cc) 2009 by Elliott Brown.

If you value a writer’s work enough to read it regularly, then you should be willing to pay a small fee to support that work. That’s why I set up a Patreon account a few years ago. Media Nation will always be free and open to everyone. But I hope that those who do more than drop in here occasionally will decide that it’s worth paying $5 a month to keep it going.

As Samuel Johnson once said: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”

As an incentive for you to sign up, I’m going to resume the supporters-only newsletter that I was writing for a while. It will be a modest affair — a photo, a song of the week and a round-up of the week’s posts. That last is especially valuable for many readers who may not be able to keep up with the daily posts. Look for it in your inbox on Thursdays or Fridays, starting this week.

And just to avoid a bit of confusion, my Patreon is separate and apart from subscribing to free emails that you receive every time I post something new. If you’re not getting those emails and would like to, just scroll down the right-hand rail of the Media Nation website until you see “Subscribe to Media Nation via Email.”

In order to become a supporter for just $5 a month, please click here.

Ads on Media Nation

Over the weekend I turned on Google ads, and they were so overwhelming that I’ve turned them off. If you’re seeing them now, no worries — they’re supposed to disappear in an hour or so. They may be back, but only if I can figure out how to tone them down.

Three things that are driving me crazy about the move to WordPress.org

Update: Thanks to reader Mike Stucka, I have solved No. 1. I have also found my subscribers, but I can only see about a dozen of the most recent ones. I don’t see any place to access the entire list. As for No. 3, I would like to find a real fix, but in the meantime I’ve come up with a workaround.

You may know that I recently moved Media Nation from WordPress.com to .org. I’m 99% done and no longer posting to .com, but there are still a few things that drive me crazy.

  1. Scroll down the right-hand rail on the home page to where it says “Subscribe to Media Nation via email.” There’s a black rectangle that you have to click to complete your subscription. Hover over it and it says “Subscribe.” But why is it black out until you hover over it?
  2. I was able to pull over all my email subscribers from .com to .org. That was a big concern, since I’ve got more than 2,000 and I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. But now I can’t find a list of them anywhere either on .com or .org. Where are they?
  3. If you scroll through posts on the home page, you won’t see “Leave a Comment” anywhere in the red type beneath the headline. (For an example of what I mean, do the same thing at dankennedy.wordpress.com.) As a result, there’s no indication that you can leave a comment, even though you can — but you have to click on the headline and open up the post. This is a massive speed bump.

Note: If you read Media Nation exclusively by email, you won’t see what I’m talking about in Nos. 1 and 3.

A programming note

New posts to Media Nation will temporarily be published to dankennedy.wordpress.com. We are working to fix some glitches in the transition from WordPress.com to “real” WordPress.

Hitting pause

Media Nation is going on sabbatical while we implement some upgrades to the back end. The plan is to move from WordPress.com to “real” WordPress, which should be more flexible and offer a few more features. I hope our hiatus will be brief.

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