The Wall Street Journal is ending its use of honorifics, leaving The New York Times as one of the very few news organizations that still describe someone with Mr., Ms., etc., on second reference.
Editor-in-chief Emma Tucker writes that “the trend among almost all news organizations and magazines has been to go without, as editors have concluded that the titles in news articles are becoming a vestige of a more-formal past, and that the flood of Mr., Ms., Mx. or Mrs. in sentences can slow down readers’ enjoyment of our writing.” An exception will be made for “occupational titles” such as Gen., Sen. or Dr. As is the case with AP style, Dr. will be reserved for medical doctors.
The Journal also offers this bit of silliness:
Honorifics have dishonorable aspects in history. At the worst, some newspapers had a practice to use courtesy titles for white people only. There were also courtesy-title policies that were sexist: Some newspapers in the past gave courtesy titles only to women, which had the effect of identifying women as either a Mrs. or Miss; meanwhile, the format for couples was Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.
All true, of course, but if you use honorifics without regard to race or gender, as the Journal, the Times and others have for many years, then the problem goes away.
I posted a query on Mastodon and Twitter to find news organizations other than the Times that still use honorifics and came up with an extremely short list. If you know of any others, please post it in the comments.
The Christian Science Monitor
The New York Sun
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Blade of Toledo
The Post-Gazette and the Blade share common ownership.
James Shearer, who co-founded Spare Change News some 30 years ago, has died at the age of 64. The paper is sold by homeless people on the streets of Boston, and was begun with the idea that it would provide them an alternative to panhandling. Bryan Marquard has written a lovely obituary of Mr. Shearer for The Boston Globe. His public Facebook feed is filled with tributes as well.
Samuel Scott, who was the editor and executive director of Spare Change News from 2004-’07, sent along the following statement:
James co-founded a newspaper that has always done two amazing things over the decades: It brings attention to homelessness and other social justice issues, and it gives homeless people bona fide jobs selling the paper on the street so they can earn a respectable living just like anyone else with a job. Countless homeless and other marginalized people have been helped by the newspaper that he helped to found over the years, and I hope that everyone in the Boston area is still buying Spare Change to this day.
It’s easy to pass by someone selling Spare Change News, and its visibility decreased during the COVID years. Vendors often sold the paper outside T stations, and with many people now working hybrid schedules, there aren’t as many opportunities to buy it. The next time you see someone hawking Spare Change, please stop for a moment and pay for a copy.
If you’re so inclined, you can sift through mounds of commentary on CNN’s alleged news event Wednesday night with Donald Trump. Tom Jones of Poynter has a solid account here. I thought beforehand that it would be terrible, but it was even worse than that.
If you saw it, or if you’ve just read about it, you know that the hall was filled with MAGA types who cheered Trump’s every utterance, whether it was his support of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists or his dismissal of E. Jean Carroll as a “whack job.” Carroll just won a $5 million jury verdict against Trump for sexually attacking her and for libel.
CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins was well-prepared and tried the best she could to hold Trump to account. Predictably, though, he shouted over her, spewing lies at such a rapid clip that she could only latch onto a few of them in an attempt to push back. It was a disgraceful night for CNN, and president Chris Licht ought to be fired. Then again, he was only doing what his corporate overlords want, and he seems quite pleased with himself today.
I do want to zero in on one moment. When Collins pointed out that people died on Jan. 6, Trump immediately cited Ashli Babbitt, an insurrectionist who was fatally shot by a Capitol police officer. Trump denounced Lt. Michael Byrd, who’s Black, as a “thug,” and by injecting him to the proceedings unbidden, he put the officer’s life and safety in danger at the hands of deranged right-wingers and white supremacists. Byrd told NBC News in 2021 that he’d gone into hiding. If he has since been able to resume his normal life to some degree, Trump has now shattered that.
“America was served very well by what we did last night,” Licht told his staff after the event, according to tweets by Brian Stelter, the network’s media reporter until Licht fired him. No we weren’t, and CNN’s current media reporter, Oliver Darcy, said so in his morning newsletter, writing, “It’s hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN Wednesday evening.”
Recently I wanted to add a news feed to What Works, the website that Ellen Clegg and I host about the future of local news. There are a fair number of items that come to our attention, and we wanted a way to alert our readers without necessarily writing a full blog post.
Because we had deleted our Twitter account last fall in response to Elon Musk’s sociopathic debut as the platform’s new owner, I looked into setting up a Mastodon news feed. I began by signing up for a Mastodon account for What Works. That was simple enough. Then I tried to figure out how to embed it at our website. I’m not going to get into the technical details except to say that it would have required either more money than we wanted to spend or more hassle than I wanted to put up with. We revived our Twitter account — we’re at @whatworks_nu — and added a news feed to the right-hand column of whatworks.news.
How long will it last? I don’t know. Musk has been arbitrarily cutting off access to Twitter’s API, which means that the feed could stop working at any moment. For now, though, it’s by far the best alternative we have. Which brings me to the state of Twitter and its various alternatives and would-be alternatives.
Twitter is of no importance to most ordinary people, and they should feel fortunate. I’d been a heavy user since the early days, though, and I wasn’t sure what to do when Musk took over. But in late November, following some particularly vile behavior by the Boy King, I decided I’d had enough. I stopped using Twitter and went all-in at Mastodon, writing about it a few weeks later.
And I stuck with it for three months. I don’t believe I posted any tweets in December, January and February except to remind people that they could find me here or on Mastodon at @email@example.com, or to rip into Musk. I was so anxious to get rid of my blue check mark that I found out how to do it myself without waiting for Musk to get around to it. In March, though, I started drifting back, and there I remain — mostly on Mastodon, but on Twitter as well.
If you don’t care, believe me, I get it. You’re under no obligation to read this post. But if you’re dealing with the same dilemma as me, here are the various reasons that I came back: Only a tiny handful of the people and accounts I follow on Twitter moved to Mastodon. Black Twitter has most decidedly not moved to Mastodon. Likewise with conservative voices that I value. Some of Mastodon’s biggest boosters have continued tweeting like crazy. Most media and political people are still exclusively on Twitter, especially at the state level. The local news outlets and journalism organizations I follow as part of my work are not on Mastodon. Big Media won’t move, either. Finally, despite everything, Twitter is not nearly as broken as some observers will have you believe. It still works, even though it goes down more than it did before Musk laid off most of his workforce and stopped paying the bills.
Everything is always subject to change, and I wish I hadn’t sounded as definitive as I did when I wrote that I was leaving. If you want to call me a hypocrite, go right ahead. I still like Mastodon, I still expect that at some point it will become more feasible (or necessary) to leave Twitter for good, and I continue to be interested in other alternatives — especially Bluesky, with which Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey is involved.
For now, though, I’m back on Twitter — chagrined, not as active as I was before, but with a greater understanding that most people are not obsessed enough with social media to go to the bother of packing up and moving to a new, unfamiliar platform.
The word “harrowing” is an overused cliché, but it’s exactly the right word to describe Janelle Nanos’ story about an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, published by The Boston Globe Magazine last summer. Nanos’ 11,000-word account of Kate Price’s long quest to learn the truth about what had happened to her was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in feature writing; this year’s Pulitzers were announced on Monday.
Price remembers being raped by her father — possibly starting when she was as young as 3 — and being pimped out to other men who he would contact via CB radio. She has spent her adult life trying to nail down the details, and by the end of the story we learn that she’s succeeded in coming about as close as she’ll probably ever get to proving that her memories are real.
Nanos, a reporter and editor for the Globe’s business section, has been following Price for 10 years and is currently expanding it into a book. The personal tone she takes is handled deftly, enhancing the narrative by making herself part of Price’s journey. Her story also helps puncture the argument, still made in some circles, that claims of childhood sexual abuse are not to be believed because memories of such abuse are not reliable.
More from the Pulitzer announcements:
• Anna Wolfe of the nonprofit news organization Mississippi Today was one of two winners in local reporting for her coverage of former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who directed that state welfare money amounting to millions of dollars be given to family members and friends, including NFL quarterback Brett Favre. I mention this because Mary Margaret White, the CEO of Mississippi Today, was a guest last fall on the “What Works” podcast that Ellen Clegg and I host.
• Ukraine was the subject of several Pulitzers, including the prestigious public service award, won by four journalists for The Associated Press for what the Pulitzer board called their “courageous reporting from the besieged city of Mariupol that bore witness to the slaughter of civilians in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” The New York Times won the international reporting award and The AP photo staff won for breaking news photography. The Times’ Lynsey Addario’s photo of an entire family that had been killed while they were trying to flee the suburb of Irbin, perhaps the best-known image of the war, was a finalist in breaking news photography.
• The Los Angeles Times won the award for breaking news reporting for revealing the existence of an audio recording in which several city officials are heard engaging in bluntly racist speech, leading to follow-up stories and resignations. It’s a worthy winner in any case, but I mention it because of a similar recent story in McCurtain County, Oklahoma, where several officials resigned under nearly identical circumstances.
The big difference: The Los Angeles audio was leaked anonymously to the Times, whereas the Oklahoma audio was captured by the McCurtain Gazette-News, whose publisher-reporter left his recorder behind after a meeting ended because he suspected that officials would continue to discuss county business in violation of the open meeting law. That, in turn, has led to a dispute over whether the Gazette-News broke the law by making a secret recording.
Scott Van Voorhis offers some important context about Andrea Estes’ departure from The Boston Globe. In his Contrarian Boston newsletter, Van Voorhis calls her work “compelling and consequential,” and observes that her reporting uncovered a kickback scheme that resulted in a federal prison term for former House Speaker Sal DiMasi and exposed the $300,000-plus salary of Methuen’s now-former police chief.
The current controversy involves two lengthy corrections the Globe published after an Estes-bylined story reported that nine top MBTA managers were working remotely. According to the corrections, the actual number was six, and there were other problems as well. Van Voorhis writes that “to pin the alleged mistakes in the story solely on Estes seems grossly unfair. Where was her editor? And with the prominent play the Globe gave to the story, there surely were other editors involved in at least reviewing the piece.”
Globe editor Nancy Barnes has told her staff that she’s “working to unravel all of this,” adding: “We will hold ourselves accountable for our mistakes because trust is so essential to us as journalists.”
Boston Globe editor Nancy Barnes has told her staff that the paper plans to offer an explanation about what went wrong with former reporter Andrea Estes’ story about MBTA managers who work remotely. Her email was passed along to me by a trusted source and closes with this:
Finally, I want to acknowledge the concerns individuals have raised about the multiple corrections in the recent MBTA story about executives living remotely. I am still working to unravel all of this and so there is not a lot I can say publicly for now except this: We will hold ourselves accountable for our mistakes because trust is so essential to us as journalists
This is good news and sends exactly the right message. Barnes took over for Brian McGrory just a few months ago, and this is her first public crisis. I look forward to reading the Globe’s account of what happened.
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.
Who could have imagined that Tucker Carlson, a white supremacist in public, is also a white supremacist in private? The New York Times has unearthed what it claims is the text message that got Carlson fired from Fox News. It’s from Jan. 7, 2021, the day after the insurrection. Here it is in full:
A couple of weeks ago, I was watching video of people fighting on the street in Washington. A group of Trump guys surrounded an Antifa kid and started pounding the living shit out of him. It was three against one, at least. Jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously. It’s not how white men fight. Yet suddenly I found myself rooting for the mob against the man, hoping they’d hit him harder, kill him. I really wanted them to hurt the kid. I could taste it. Then somewhere deep in my brain, an alarm went off: this isn’t good for me. I’m becoming something I don’t want to be. The Antifa creep is a human being. Much as I despise what he says and does, much as I’m sure I’d hate him personally if I knew him, I shouldn’t gloat over his suffering. I should be bothered by it. I should remember that somewhere somebody probably loves this kid, and would be crushed if he was killed. If I don’t care about those things, if I reduce people to their politics, how am I better than he is?
Fox executives were terrified that the message, which Carlson had sent to one of his producers, would be introduced at trial by Dominion Voting Systems as part of the company’s libel case against Fox. That fear contributed to Fox’s decision to settle the case for nearly $800 million.
In other words, Carlson had to go because he cost Rupert Murdoch money.
Roy Wood Jr. is wrong, and so are the journalists who are nodding their heads in agreement with him. Wood’s lament, expressed at the White House Correspondents Dinner over the weekend, was that quality news is increasingly inaccessible to those who either won’t or can’t pay for it, whereas propaganda, lies and conspiracy theories are all available for free.
“The issue with good media is that most people can’t afford that,” the comedian said during his monologue. “All the essential, fair, and nuanced reporting is stuck behind a paywall. People can’t afford rent. People can’t afford food. They can’t afford an education. They damn sure can’t afford to pay for the truth.”
Offering an approving “amen” is Kyle Pope, editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, who wrote:
Wood was getting at one of the most consequential questions facing the news: how to pay for it at a time of severe economic insecurity and amid a business-model collapse in how journalism is funded. A tiered system has emerged, with high-quality news outlets like [The New York] Times and The Washington Post that depend on subscriptions for support sitting atop a heap of free news providers fueled by social media.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it’s not even remotely true. There has never been more free, high-quality news available than there is today, and you don’t have to look very far to find it. Wood and Pope are referring specifically to paywalls, so I’ll assume that they regard non-paywalled news sites as “free,” notwithstanding the cost of digital devices and an internet connection. With that assumption as a baseline, let’s think this through, shall we?
I’ll begin by saying that I pay for a lot of news, with subscriptions to The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The New Yorker and Talking Points Memo. I have access to The Wall Street Journal through my university, and I also donate to a number of news outlets, mostly local, in order to support projects that Ellen Clegg and I are writing about in our book-in-progress, “What Works in Community News.” But that doesn’t mean that paid subscriptions are the only route to being well-informed.
So let’s take a look at how people who insist on free might go about informing themselves. I’m going to stick with major U.S.-based news outlets that cover a full range of topics and that are not explicitly skewed toward one political point of view.
I’ll start with national and international news. NPR is one of our great news organizations. Despite some recent cutbacks, its on-air signal, website, newsletters and podcasts comprise a source of reliable news and information that is almost as comprehensive as the Times’. PBS doesn’t offer nearly as much news as NPR, but the “NewsHour” is excellent, if a little slow, and its “Frontline” documentaries are outstanding. And let’s not forget The Associated Press, whose world-class coverage is available to the public for free as well as to news organizations for a fee.
The options in the Boston area are many as well. No, there is nothing as comprehensive as the Globe, but that’s not the same as saying there’s nothing. Excellent free sources of regional coverage include WBUR,GBH News and CommonWealth Magazine. There’s the indispensable Universal Hub, which provides a combination of aggregation (some of it from unlikely sources) and original reporting. Our local television newscasts offer quality coverage, too. And let’s be honest: If the Globe breaks a big story, other outlets are going to summarize it.
Coverage thins out at the local level, because in many cases there simply aren’t any options, either paid or free. A number of communities in the suburbs and beyond are now covered by very good nonprofit news organizations, and nearly all of those are free. A few legacy newspapers are still published, but you have to pay for those. At the moment, it depends on where you live.
Now, a caveat: Nearly every news organization I’ve mentioned subsists on revenue from a variety of sources, including readers, listeners and viewers like you. So yes, they’re free if you choose not to pay, or if you can’t. But if you can, you should support the news that you consume.
Still, the notion that everyone who can’t afford a subscription to The New York Times is doomed to a steady diet of Fox News and Alex Jones is just silly. The Wild West days of the internet, when everything was free, are long gone, but that doesn’t mean there still aren’t plenty of high-quality free options. If people choose to gorge on garbage, well, I’m sorry, but that’s a choice they’ve made.