How unbalanced media debates enabled Trump’s rise

Donald Trump, large and in charge. Photo (cc) 2011 by Gage Skidmore.

Donald Trump, large and in charge. Photo (cc) 2011 by Gage Skidmore.

Last week the editors of the Washington Post‘s blog In Theory asked me to contribute to a series of posts on the media’s culpability in the rise of Donald Trump. Mine was just published. Later in the week we’ll hear from New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, Post media blogger Erik Wemple, and In Theory editor Christine Emba. The top of my piece follows.

What could be more open and democratic than a debate? For all the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth now taking place over the massive amounts of free media bestowed upon Donald Trump, it was his dominating performance in the televised debates that allowed him to separate himself from the pack.

Yet the debates themselves were an exercise in faux democracy. What really mattered, especially early on, was who got invited, who got to stand where and who was allowed to speak the most. Unfortunately, the media organizations that ran the debates (along with the Republican National Committee) relied on polls to make those decisions right from the very first encounter in August.

Read the rest in the Washington Post.

What does Facebook Live mean for journalism?

Diamond Reynolds, who live-streamed the last moments of her boyfriend, Philando Castile, on Facebook Live. Photo (cc) by Laurie Schaull.

Diamond Reynolds, who live-streamed the last moments of her boyfriend, Philando Castile, on Facebook Live. Photo (cc) by Lorie Schaull.

In April Facebook Live was launched, allowing users to broadcast live and tap the social media giant’s colossal audience. But it was last week, as the world now knows, that Facebook Live had its watershed, technology-transforming-history moment in the broadcast of Philando Castile’s final moments as filmed and narrated by his girlfriend after he was shot by a police officer.

To understand what Facebook Live might mean for newsrooms, Storybench sat down with Northeastern University journalism professors Dan Kennedy and John Wihbey.

Read the rest at Storybench.

Linda Henry, wife of Globe owner, will oversee Boston.com

Linda Henry. Photo via Twitter.

Linda Henry. Photo via Twitter.

Well, that was fast. Just a day after Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory announced that chief digital guy David Skok would be leaving later this year, two people who will take over some of his duties have been named. One is a real eye-opener: Linda Pizzuti Henry, wife of Globe owner John Henry, who will oversee Boston.com.

The other is Anthony Bonfiglio, currently the executive director of engineering, who’ll be in charge of engineering, development, product, and design.

When I gave a “Rave” to Skok on Beat the Press Friday, host Emily Rooney asked me if Skok’s departure was related to Linda Henry’s elevation. My honest answer is that I have no idea. It’s something I would certainly like to find out.

It’s also not clear how hands-on Linda Henry intends to be. Eleanor Cleverly, the general manager of Boston.com, has gotten good reviews for stabilizing the site after a rocky transition from being the Globe‘s online home to its current incarnation as a free standalone service. And Cleverly will remain.

It’s way too early to assess what this will all mean, but I’ve heard from a number of insiders that Linda Henry is smart and generally a force for good. Still, it’s an unorthodox move.

The Globe still needs a journalist to replace Skok as managing editor for digital (he’s vice president for digital at Boston Globe Media Partners as well). But since Skok isn’t leaving right away, I suppose that can wait.

What follows is a memo from Mike Sheehan, chief executive of BGMP.

I want to let everyone know that Anthony Bonfiglio will now oversee digital operations, including engineering/development, product, and design across all of BGMP.

Anthony joined us two years ago from Visible Measures, where he was VP of Engineering. Since then, his impact has been immense. He oversaw the rollout of agile software development processes and best practices across the product and engineering teams. As a result, we’ve shortened time-to-market from weeks to multiple releases every week across all teams, creating a predictable and transparent development process. Anthony helped transition much of the business to WordPress and has overseen many of our digital redesigns. He was a key contributor in the launch of Stat.

On the business side, Anthony folded creative services developers into the overall engineering organization and greatly increased their productivity. He also successfully assumed management of our ad operations organization during a critical phase and has since transitioned it back to Advertising.

In short, Anthony has proven himself as a leader who can make a very complex organization faster, better, and more agile. He will continue to report to Wade Sendall.

Brian McGrory informed the newsroom yesterday that David Skok has decided to leave the Globe by the end of the year. Regarding David’s boston.com responsibilities, Eleanor Cleverly will continue day-to-day oversight and management of boston.com, but it will now report to Linda Henry in her current role as Managing Director.

I know I join everyone in wishing David Skok nothing but success and happiness in all his future endeavors and in expressing deep gratitude for all he’s done over the past three years. He has been a driving force in the success we’ve experienced on bostonglobe.com and, with Eleanor and her team, was key to stabilizing boston.com over the past six months. As he transitions out, the leadership of Anthony, Eleanor, and Linda will help us continue to be the region’s leading source of journalism that becomes more relevant and interesting by the hour.

Well-deserved praise for the Boston Police

It would be arrogant to think that it couldn’t happen here. Still, I’ve long been impressed with the professionalism of the Boston Police Department. Bill Evans is the latest in a series of outstanding commissioners. Evan Allen has the story in the Boston Globe.

Digital guy David Skok to leave the Boston Globe

David Skok. Photo via the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

David Skok. Photo via the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

Big news from the Boston Globe: chief digital guy David Skok is leaving later this year. I’m trying to do this on my phone. So, for now, the memo from editor Brian McGrory will have to suffice.

Friday update: Skok’s departure is especially significant given that the Globe is in the midst of a major reinvention effort as well as another round of downsizing. Skok is a huge part of solving a big problem for the Globe: although it has made strides in becoming a round-the-clock digital news organization, as McGrory notes below, most of its readers continue to view the print edition as the main event. That’s true at newspapers generally—even the Washington Post, perhaps the most digitally focused newspaper in the country.

No one is irreplaceable, but it’s not going to be easy for the Globe to find someone as knowledgeable and respected as Skok.

Here is the Nieman article co-authored by Clayton Christensen, Skok, and James Allworth that McGrory mentions below. And here is a talk Skok gave at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center in April 2015.

McGrory’s message to the newsroom follows.

When I journeyed to Toronto one summer day three years ago to meet David Skok, I brought with me no small number of demands. The Globe had a new and beautiful website, but we needed far more traffic to make it matter. The newsroom had many digital ambitions, but lacked someone to point us in the right directions. We could hear the music, but were slow to pick up the rhythm. Basically, we needed to find the most capable and disciplined digital journalist in the industry to guide us toward an entirely better place.

David’s work launching a confederation of news sites that spanned Canada was widely lauded, and his paper on disruption, co-authored with Clay Christensen during his Nieman fellowship, served as something of an instruction manual for many in the business. In a part of the industry filled with hucksters spouting jargon, it was immediately apparent to me over dinner that David stood far apart. He very much belonged at the Globe.

The rest has been nothing short of transformational. In the two-and-a-half years since David arrived on Morrissey Boulevard, globe.com readership and revenues have soared. Last year was a record year for traffic, and this year we’re already up by nearly 20 percent. We now have a fresher, bolder, more relevant, and increasingly provocative site filled with a heady mix of digital-first journalism that captures the moment and deeper enterprise presented in ways that are geared toward the web. Our social and video teams are producing visual and social journalism that rivals many digital native news sites. Most important of all, this entire room has arrived at an understanding of what it means to be a digital-first operation and why it’s vital to our future. It’s often easy to lose sight of how far we’ve come as we focus on how much work is left to do.

I’ve buried the lede here, certainly because the next line pains me so to write, but here goes: David has decided to leave the Globe. He’s seeking his next professional challenge, which he very much hopes will lead him back to Canada. I’ve asked him to continue to lend his insights to our vital reinvention initiative, and he has agreed. We’re both thinking of a departure around the end of the year, give or take.

David’s legacy here can be distilled rather easily. While self-proclaimed digital gurus are always chasing the newest new thing – More video! A landing page for newsletters! – David takes a distinctly different approach. He constantly and consistently preaches quality – quality story-telling, quality editing, quality decision-making. He wags his finger at anyone seduced by the siren song of page views – “Vanity metrics,” he calls them – and recites from memory what specific stories led to the most subscriptions. The reason behind this is very simple: David is a journalist first, a digital visionary second.

More recently, he has taken his managerial skills outside of the newsroom, imposing a rare sense of order in our digital efforts building-wide. He has had no problem whatsoever holding demanding department heads at bay because of precious resources, while holding his own team accountable for its time.

One other note that probably shouldn’t come this far in: David is a world-class colleague, smart, humane, funny in his own Canadian way, and a person of some of the highest integrity I’ve ever seen. Add to that the fact that he quite simply never lets up on himself.

There’s no need to say goodbye to David just yet; as I said, that won’t occur until later in the year. But David wanted to give me, and us, plenty of notice. The front office will make announcements imminently on who will take over the digital operations in other parts of the building, and I’ll begin putting together a plan for the newsroom. It could involve a specific person, a different structure, or some combination of the two. Please stay tuned.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to David’s work is the extraordinary digital team that he’s assembled over the past couple of years, so infused with authority and confidence that it will prosper long after he is gone. We are on the verge of even greater things, and that doesn’t change at all.

Brian

The end of the line for the Clinton email story

Photo (cc) by

Photo (cc) by Atos.

About three months ago I wrote an analysis for WGBH News on why Hillary Clinton almost certainly wouldn’t be indicted for using a private email server. Today the email story came to its predictable conclusion, with FBI Director James Comey issuing a devastatingly harsh report but recommending no criminal charges.

So we move on. We can only hope that the deeply wounded candidate is able to defeat the racist demagogue who tweets out anti-Semitic memes produced by white supremacists and then tries to blame the media for it.

Clinton has suffered an enormous amount of damage over this story—deservedly so. But it doesn’t strike me that things got any worse for her this morning.

‘When in the course of human events …’

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One of my favorite newspaper rituals is reading the Declaration of Independence in the Boston Globe on the Fourth of July. Reading it on my iPad takes nothing away from the experience. Happy Independence Day!