I knew the Apocalypse was at hand when I walked through the nearly empty Ruggles T station Monday morning — and there were no Jehovah’s Witnesses. Not that I suspected these smiling, well-dressed folks with their posters and pamphlets were afraid of catching COVID-19. They probably just figured there was no point in standing in the cold all by themselves while the city was shutting down around them.
As a journalism professor at Northeastern University, I’m well aware of how fortunate I am.
I was thinking of this in light of a conversation we had on Facebook last week. As you read today’s New York Times profile of Steve Bannon, you’ll see that a number of people close to Bannon insist he’s not a racist. Yet there are numerous details about how he’s been willing to exploit and indulge racism in order to accomplish his goals, which is really just another way of being a racist. Then there’s this:
Ms. Jones, the film colleague, said that in their years working together, Mr. Bannon occasionally talked about the genetic superiority of some people and once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners.
“I said, ‘That would exclude a lot of African-Americans,’” Ms. Jones recalled. “He said, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.’ I said, ‘But what about Wendy?’” referring to Mr. Bannon’s executive assistant. “He said, ‘She’s different. She’s family.’”
Jones, by the way, is not an unfriendly witness. Elsewhere there is this: “Ms. Jones, Mr. Bannon’s former film collaborator, who describes herself as very liberal, said, ‘Steve’s not a racist.'”
From the time that I began writing Media Nation in 2005, I’ve been following the Associated Press Stylebook. I don’t particularly like it. In many ways, it’s the least common denominator of styles. But it is what we teach at Northeastern, and I thought I should model good behavior.
Now I’m moving on. As some of you know, I’m writing regular commentaries for WGBH News, which uses the Chicago Manual of Style (more or less). Among other things, that means italics for the titles of newspapers, books, movies, and the like; Oxford (serial) commas; and an s after an s apostrophe, as in Fred Jones’s car rather than Jones’. (No italics for the titles of reference books, in case you were wondering.)
I happen to prefer these differences. Chicago is what we used at The Boston Phoenix, and what is used at most magazines. More to the point, the switch will make it easier for me to repost my WGBH stuff to Media Nation, which I do for archival purposes, and for the folks at WGBH to scrape Media Nation. I also occasionally write for The Huffington Post, whose style guidelines are similar to those at WGBH.
Now I’ll just have to remember the differences between Chicago and AP when I return to teaching next year.
Starting next week, I’ll be taking on an expanded role with WGBH News.
For some time now, I’ve been sharing blog posts with ’GBH. Now I’ll be writing a weekly (more or less) commentary that will be exclusive to WGBHNews.org — mostly on media, and frequently on how the presidential campaign is being covered. I’ll be popping up on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM) from time to time as well. And I’ll still be on “Beat the Press.”
This is more of a tweak than a big change. Still, I’m thrilled to have a chance to do more and to work with the great team at ’GBH. Fun fact: I’ve been writing for WGBH News senior editor Peter Kadzis (a former editor of The Boston Phoenix) since 1991.
I thought I should say a few words about what I’m up to.
For the next year, I’ll be on sabbatical from Northeastern as I work on a book about how three business people who are passionate about newspapers are using their wealth to reinvent their papers and possibly to show the way for others. They are John Henry of The Boston Globe, Jeff Bezos of The Washington Post and Aaron Kushner of the Orange County Register. Kushner is no longer running the Register, but the print-centric orientation he took during his time at the helm has much to tell us.
My project actually became public two years ago when the Globe somehow got word. That item has proved useful in helping me to line up interviews. But only now am I embarking on the bulk of my reporting. I lost a year when I agreed to serve as interim director of Northeastern’s School of Journalism following the death of my friend and mentor Steve Burgard. Steve’s death was a difficult blow. In terms of the book, though, the delay may prove to be a good thing, as it seems to me that Henry’s and Bezos’ visions are still coming into focus.
I have a contract with University Press of New England and a year that should be (I hope) free of distractions. I’m excited to push ahead.
Because today was a rare beautiful day, I took a walk this afternoon through Oak Grove Cemetery in Medford, which is down the street from our house. The snow was so deep that it reached up near the tops of the gravestones — an eerie sight even in the bright sunlight.
I came across a middle-aged man and woman. She was sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car. He was trying to make his way through deep snow toward a grave, holding a brightly colored balloon that proclaimed “Happy Birthday!”
Whose grave were they visiting? A parent’s? No, that’s not what I was really thinking. A child’s? The passage of time must have healed whatever pain they had lived through, because they seemed to be in a light-hearted mood. I heard the theme from “Rocky” as he closed in on his destination (“Da-da-daaaa! Da-da-daaaa!”)
All of us eavesdrop on the lives of others every day. For whatever reason, this one stuck with me.
My friend and mentor Stephen Burgard, director of Northeastern’s School of Journalism for the past dozen years, died on Sunday. It was unexpected — he was on sabbatical, happily working on a new version of his book about religion and the media, when a longstanding lung ailment suddenly worsened.
I first met Steve online in the late ’90s, when I was covering the media for the Boston Phoenix and Steve was writing editorials for the Los Angeles Times. He was a Boston native, and he took an interest in what I was reporting about the Globe. We became frequent email correspondents as he wrote to me with ideas, observations and occasional criticism.
In 2002 he took the Northeastern position. After I expressed an interest in joining the faculty of my alma mater, he became my staunchest supporter, clearing the way for my hiring, helping me to learn the ropes as I worked toward tenure, and encouraging me every step of the way.
Steve was a huge baseball fan and had Red Sox season tickets. Last July 1, he took me to Fenway, where we watched the Sox lose to the Cubs, 2-1. Steve was truly in his element — but no more so than when he would drop by my office to talk about school business, gossip about something we’d seen on Romenesko, or just shoot the breeze.
Sometime this evening, I imagine, we’ll learn whom The Boston Globe has endorsed for governor. So today we can play a parlor game and try to figure out the choice.
I thought Martha Coakley’s chances improved when challenger Seth Moulton beat incumbent John Tierney in the Democratic primary for the Sixth Congressional District. Why? Because the Globe surely would have endorsed moderate Republican Richard Tisei over the ethically tarnished Tierney, as it did two years ago, thus making it easier to endorse a Democrat for governor. But the Globe seems certain to choose Moulton, a liberal war hero whom it has already endorsed once this year, over Tisei. (That may come tonight as well.)
Today, though, came the Globe’s endorsement of Patricia Saint Aubin, a Republican who’s challenging incumbent state auditor Suzanne Bump, a Democrat. The folks who run the Globe’s liberal editorial pages generally like to endorse one high-profile Republican. Is Saint Aubin high-profile enough that the gubernatorial nod will now go to Coakley?
Another wild card: longtime editorial-page editor Peter Canellos recently left, and is now the number-three editor at Politico. Taking his place on an interim basis is Ellen Clegg, a veteran Globe editor and until recently the paper’s spokeswoman. She doesn’t get to make the final call (that would be owner-publisher John Henry), but hers is an important voice.
So … whom do I think the Globe will endorse? I think it will be Baker. He’s liberal on social issues, reasonably moderate on most other issues and could be seen as a counterweight to the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. (I’m trying to channel the Globe’s editorial board, not reveal my own choice.)
We’ll know tonight whether I’m right or wrong. And what do you think? Please post a comment here or on Facebook.