White House Correspondents Dinner can’t go on after Trump’s toxic outburst

Last week on “Beat the Press,” I said that even though I’ve been arguing for years that the loathsome White House Correspondents Association dinner should be canceled, it had to go on as scheduled this year lest it look like the media were trying to punish President Trump.

Well, I’m going to flip-flop because of Trump’s incendiary tweet declaring that the press is “the enemy of the American People!”

Needless to say, this sort of rhetoric shows — once again — that Trump is clueless contemptuous about the role of the press in a democratic society. But let me go one step further: This could get someone killed.

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The investment bank that owns GateHouse Media has been sold to the Japanese

Fortress Investment Group, the investment bank that owns the GateHouse Media chain of community newspapers, has been sold to a Japanese bank, SoftBank Group Corp., for $3.3 billion, the Worcester Business Journal reports.

GateHouse, based in suburban Rochester, New York, owns well over a hundred local weeklies in Eastern Massachusetts as well as dailies such as the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, The MetroWest Daily News of Framingham. The Patriot Ledger of Quincy, The Standard-Times of New Bedford and the Cape Cod Times.

Strange days indeed.

Update: OMG, there is a Trump angle. (Thanks to Saul Tannenbaum, who posted a link to this in the Facebook comments.)

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Here’s why Boston should care about the massive Entercom-CBS Radio merger

Photo (cc) by Gratisography
Photo (cc) by Gratisography

There was a time when the merger of two massive radio chains would have occasioned apocalyptic warnings about corporate media monopolies. Yet the announcement earlier this month that Entercom and CBS Radio would seek to combine their forces into a nationwide 244-station chain — with huge implications for Boston — barely created a stir.

Yes, both The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald had some fun kicking around the possibility that the city’s two big sports stations, Entercom’s WEEI (93.7 FM) and CBS’s The Sports Hub (98.5 FM), could wind up under the same roof. But we seem to be many years past the time when we worried about the effect of out-of-state ownership on local communities. It was a topic I wrote about repeatedly in the ’90s (here’s an example from 1997), and now it’s yesterday’s news.

Read the rest at WGBHNews.org. And talk about this post on Facebook.

Daily papers in Medford and Malden, long in extremis, finally give up the ghost

The Malden Evening News. Photo via Wicked Local, from the News' now-defunct Twitter account.
The Malden Evening News. Photo via Wicked Local, from the News’ now-defunct Twitter account.

Two venerable Greater Boston daily newspapers, the Malden Evening News and the Medford Daily Mercury, have ceased publication, according to Wicked Local. In recent years there was little news in either one. But they were good papers under the ownership of the late David Brickman, who bought the Mercury in 1947 and eventually owned both papers as well as a third, the Melrose Evening News.

According to an obituary of Brickman that appeared in The Boston Globe in 1992, he was a driving force behind the state’s open-meeting law and served on the state’s Ethics Commission. He also served in various political capacities under governors Leverett Saltonstall, Christian Herter, John Volpe, Endicott Peabody, Foster Furcolo and Ed King, all while continuing to publish his newspapers. That’s not exactly what we would consider ethical journalism today, but it wasn’t that unusual at the time.

In the early 1980s my wife, Barbara Kennedy, was a freelance photographer for Brickman’s papers. We lived in Medford back then, and the five-days-a-week Mercury was a respectable source of goings-on around the city. Even then, though, there were signs that Brickman was having financial difficulties (freelancers are always the first to know), and he sold his papers in 1989.

According to this well-sourced Wikipedia article, in 1990 Brickman’s successor, Warren Jackson, combined all three papers, as well as an Everett edition of the Malden paper, into one entity known as the Daily News-Mercury. In 1996 the paper was acquired by its last owners, the Horgan family, who revived the separate Malden and Medford nameplates.

When Barbara and I returned to Medford in 2014 after 30 years on the North Shore, we discovered that the Mercury had fallen on hard times, as its contents consisted almost entirely of press releases from Malden. We began reading GateHouse’s Medford Transcript, a Wicked Local weekly, which does a respectable job with its extremely limited staffing.

As sad as it is to see any newspaper go under, perhaps the not-unexpected demise of the Malden and Medford dailies will open up an opportunity for someone to start an independent journalism project to give GateHouse some competition, either in print or online. Medford is already the home to several vibrant online communities and to a website called Top 10 Things to Know in Medford Right Now, which suggests that the demand is there.

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The Globe reports a surge in paid digital subscriptions

Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory’s latest message to his staff just arrived here via the usual top-secret route. The big news is that the Globe is reporting a surge in paid digital subscriptions. According deputy managing editor Jason Tuohey, paid digital has nearly hit 79,000, up from about 75,000 just a few weeks ago.

The Globe has bet the farm on paid digital — and, at $30 a month for longtime subscribers, it’s charging more than just about any newspaper. For instance, The Washington Post’s cheapest offering, the National Digital Edition, costs just $10 every four weeks. The Post, of course, is pursuing a huge national audience. The Globe, as a regional paper, has no option but to try to make its money from a much smaller group of readers.

The Globe has lately been upgrading its digital-only offerings, posting a “Trump Today” roundup every morning, moving must-read weather guy Dave Epstein from the free Boston.com site to Globe.com, and unveiling a blizzard of electronic newsletters. It sounds like it’s having an effect. Now if only they can do something about those slow loading speeds.

The full text of McGrory’s message is below.

Hey all,

We’ve got some numbers that are very much worth sharing from the past few weeks. Last year at this time we were having our best winter to date. We had Donald Trump’s emergence and the NH primary, among other big stories. This year, over the past 31 days, we’re up 45 percent in page views. That alone should speak volumes. More important, we’ve gained 2,100 digital subscribers in the past two calendar weeks — and that doesn’t include some equally remarkable success already this week.

Let’s acknowledge that no small part of this readership is being driven by extraordinary events. But what this room has done is provide exceptional journalism under relentless pressure, such that readers feel compelled to come back to us time and again — and to pull out their credit cards to subscribe. It’s the performance of our Washington bureau, which is breathtakingly thoughtful and engaging. It’s the work of our Metro staff in covering immigration issues and the massive protests, exhaustive reporting that has quite literally taken staff straight through the night. It’s the best Sports department in America reporting on the best Super Bowl comeback in history, with commentary, insight, and straight news coverage that no organization on the planet can match.

Katie [Kingsbury, managing editor for digital] asked Jason Tuohey for a fuller picture of our recent successes. Here’s Jason’s direct response:

First off, January 2017 was the best month we’ve had in at least three years. We broke post-Marathon bombing records in a host of categories:

  • Visits
  • Unique visitors
  • Page views
  • Logged-in visits / aka subscriber visits
  • Returning visitors
  • Return visits of five or more times
  • Return visits of 20 or more times

Still Jason: This torrid pace has extended into February. We added 1,331 subscribers last week, the highest total in more than three years, which put us at 77,999 paid digital subscribers. We didn’t stay there very long, converting nearly 800 more new subscribers in the past two days alone. Yesterday, the day after the Super Bowl, ranked among the very best days we’ve ever had on Globe.com in virtually every audience category we measure.

Put simply, our audience isn’t just growing — it’s swelling with new subscribers, who come back again and again to experience our journalism.

The big drivers for this surge in readership are Trump, particularly the marches and the executive order on immigration, and the Patriots. But if you’re looking for a few other gems in 2017, here are some options:

— [Bryan] Marquard’s obit on Dr. Kamala Dansinghani

— Jackie Reiss on why Sasha Obama wasn’t at her father’s farewell

— Jan Ransom’s story about the 14-year-old charged with murder

— Liz Kowalczyk’s reporting on the intruder in the Brigham OR

— Matt Rocheleau explaining how White House webpages were archived (not deleted, as others reported) on the first day of the Trump administration

— The Dan Adams-led investigation into which bars have the most OUIs

Brian again:

Be proud. Everyone in the room has played a role here, from the reporting to the exquisite editing and copy-editing, to the extraordinary graphics, the arresting photography, the ground-breaking development and product work, the polished and addictive video, and the striking designs online and in print. Subscriptions are our lifeblood, and we’re bringing digital subscribers to the Globe far, far more effectively than any other metro news organization in the country.

While we’re at it, please offer your appreciation to our colleagues at boston.com, who have seen an unprecedented surge on our sister site, especially over the past four days. The reasons are not surprising: great, often clever and pithy stories that capture the absolute essence of Boston in the aftermath of the Super Bowl. It, too, has been a must read.

Congratulations and thanks to you all.

Brian

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Some calming thoughts on Trump coverage from a #NeverTrump conservative

One of the most eloquent conservative voices against President Trump belongs to Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College and at Harvard Extension School. Last May he wrote an epic tweetstorm arguing that conservatives should vote for Hillary Clinton, whom he detested, because Trump was “too mentally unstable” to serve as commander-in-chief.

Given Nichols’ anti-Trump credentials, I thought it was interesting to read an op-ed he wrote for The Washington Post over the weekend in which he argued that the media have been overreacting to some of the actions the Trump administration has taken. Among other things, he wrote:

There is plenty of fuel for the president’s critics in these actions, yet Trump’s opponents — especially in the media — seem determined to overreact on even ordinary matters. This is both unwise and damaging to our political culture. America needs an adversarial press and a sturdy system of checks and balances. Unmodulated shock and outrage, however, not only burn precious credibility among the president’s opponents, but eventually will exhaust the public and increase the already staggering amount of cynicism paralyzing our national political life.

I think this is important guidance. There are multiple reasons to think that Trump represents a unique threat to democracy. But journalists can’t run around with their hair on fire for the next four years. The best way to cover Trump is with calm, fact-based reporting — not with hyperbole that does not hold up to scrutiny.

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Trump wants to ‘totally destroy’ restrictions on nonprofit speech. I agree.

President Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier today promised to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits nonprofit organizations from engaging in certain types of political speech lest they lose their tax exemptions. The amendment was pushed through Congress in 1954 by Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson, who was under attack by several nonprofit groups back in Texas.

Religious organizations have been complaining about the restriction for years. In 2009 I wrote a commentary in The Guardian agreeing with them, though my main concern was that the amendment prevented nonprofit news organizations from endorsing political candidates. Given that nonprofit news is becoming an increasingly important part of the media landscape, it seemed (and seems) unwise to ban such projects from engaging in what traditionally has been a vital service to their communities. I argued:

Would this mean greater influence for the likes of religious hatemongers such as James Dobson and Tony Perkins? Yes. But the whole idea behind free speech is it’s for everyone, not just those with whom you agree.

I also wrote critically about the Johnson Amendment in my 2013 book “The Wired City,” much of which was an examination of the New Haven Independent, a nonprofit news site.

I have not changed my mind. And thus I applaud our orange leader for standing up for free speech. Leaders of nonprofit organizations, including religious groups, should not have to fear that if they speak out they’ll literally have to pay a penalty.

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