Trump to Times: Eh, I didn’t mean any of it

Climate change? Never mind. Lock her up? Didn’t mean it. Torture? I don’t think that anymore.

The big takeaway from Donald Trump’s interview with the New York Times was how casually he walked away from some of the most caustic things he said during the campaign. If there’s a more striking example of a politician admitting that he essentially lied about everything to get elected, I’m not aware of it.

Talk about this post on Facebook.

Fake news, false news, and why the difference matters

Overlooking the content farms of Macedonia. Photo (cc) 2010 by Pero Kvrzica.

Overlooking the content farms of Macedonia. Photo (cc) 2010 by Pero Kvrzica.

On Friday, my students and I were talking about fake news on Facebook and what to do about it. Our focus was on for-profit content farms like the ones run by those teenagers in Macedonia, who made money by promoting such fictions as Pope Francis’s endorsement of Donald Trump (he also endorsed Hillary Clinton, don’t you know) and Clinton’s pending indictment over those damn emails.

Facebook and Google had already announced they would ban such fake news sources from their advertising programs, starving them of the revenue that is their sole motivation. And we agreed that there were other steps Facebook could take as well—tweaking the algorithm to make it less likely that such crap would appear in your newsfeed, or labeling fake sources for what they are.

But then one of my students asked: What should Facebook do about Breitbart? And here is the dilemma in dealing with fake news: not all fake news is created equal. Some of it is produced in sweatshops by people who couldn’t care less about what they’re doing as long as they can get clicks and make money. And some of it is produced by ideologically motivated activists who are engaging in constitutionally protected political speech. Facebook is not the government, so it can do what it likes. But it is our leading online source for news and community, and thus its executives should tread very lightly when stepping into anything that looks like censorship.

Read the rest at WGBH News. And talk about this post on Facebook.

Memo Monday: Globe promotes Pete Doucette

A source just passed this along from Mike Sheehan, the chief executive officer of Boston Globe Media Partners:

In a quiet corner of the third floor, Pete Doucette has spent the past ten years managing every conceivable aspect of our circulation. To say the least, it’s been a challenging task during challenging times. Balancing the science of market data with the art of consumer engagement—and doing so with limited resources—the job he’s done is nothing short of remarkable: we have essentially the same number of paid subscribers as we had five years ago.

Pete helped create the two-site strategy for Boston.com and BostonGlobe.com, and in doing so set us on a path to charge a premium price for premium journalism. We now have over 72,000 digital-only subscribers, which is the No. 1 digital subscription business of any metro daily publisher, and behind only two national publications, the New York Times and the Washington Post. He’s also overseen successful efforts to retain and attract print subscribers who remain an important cornerstone of our business.

Pete will be the first to say that he’s fortunate to have the increasingly relevant and interesting journalism of the Boston Globe to attract subscribers. Thanks to Brian [McGrory], Ellen [Clegg], and everyone in the newsroom for their tireless efforts to create such important work. To demonstrate the relationship between our journalism and our business, digital subscriptions rose 66% in the 10 days following the Presidential election compared with the 10 days prior to the election.

Starting today, Pete will be our Chief Consumer Revenue Officer. While he’ll still oversee our circulation efforts, the product and development teams, led by Anthony Bonfiglio, will report to him. In his new role, he will weave together business strategy, digital strategy, and operations which is a critical step as we continue to aggressively attract new digital subscribers.

If you see Pete, be sure to congratulate him. Or pay him a visit on the third floor. It’s time he got accustomed to it being a little less quiet up there.

Best,
Mike

Sunday night memo dump II: Berkshire Eagle’s latest moves

OK, this isn’t really a memo—it’s a press release that was posted at the Berkshire Eagle Friday afternoon. And it’s an encouraging sign from the local ownership group that acquired the Pittsfield-based daily and its three sister papers in Vermont (the Brattleboro Reformer, the Bennington Banner, and the Manchester Journal) from the Digital First Media chain earlier this year.

Hans Morris, chairman of the board of New England Newspapers Inc., has announced the formation of The Berkshire Eagle advisory board.

Don MacGillis, a former Eagle executive editor, has agreed to serve as chairman of this newspaper’s first-of-its-kind group of advisers. [MacGillis is also a former editor on the Boston Globe’s editorial pages.]

“Don MacGillis has agreed to chair the advisory board, and I believe he is uniquely qualified to do so,” said Morris. “He is a newspaperman through and through, and he knows and cares about the Berkshires and The Berkshire Eagle. Plus, he has the time and desire to get involved.”

“The new owners of The Eagle and I look to the advisory board as a way to make sure the paper is connected to, and responsive to, as many corners of the Berkshire County community as possible,” MacGillis said.

To that end, 18 Berkshire-based board members will bring to bear their experience in community affairs and/or journalism as The Eagle strives to become the best local newspaper in the United States.

They also will be charged with helping improve The Eagle’s editing, reporting and writing; making suggestions about news coverage and story ideas; and increasing the number of contributors to the news and opinion pages.

The board, which met for the first time on Thursday, includes education and arts advocate Megan Whilden, former Time magazine editor Donald Morrison, journalist and author Simon Winchester, journalist Linda Greenhouse, editor and author Richard Lipez, Mass MoCA Director Joseph Thompson, museum director Barbara Palmer, health care expert Charles “Chip” Joffe-Halpern, journalist Bill Densmore, attorney Wendy Linscott, consultant and educator Shirley Edgerton, author Jennifer Trainer Thompson, musician Yo-Yo Ma, journalist Daniel Lippman, retired educator Will Singleton, public policy researcher Oren Cass, multicultural advocate Eleanore Velez, journalist and professor Elizabeth Kolbert, and photographer Gregory Crewdson.

The Eagle’s local ownership group includes Morris, Robert G. Wilmers and Fredric D. Rutberg, president of New England Newspapers. Also this week, Judi Lipsey, wife of the late Eagle co-owner Stanford Lipsey, was appointed to the board of New England Newspapers Inc.

Talk about this post on Facebook.

Sunday night memo dump I: McGrory on Trump coverage

Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory sent out his latest message to the staff late Friday afternoon. Among other things, he addresses the question of whether the Globe will “normalize” Donald Trump (answer: no, but) and how the paper will proceed now that Trump is the president-elect. Plus his customary fulsome praise all around. The full text follows:

Hey all,

So the earth shook under us last week with Donald Trump’s stunning victory, raising all the questions you’ve heard and even asked about the inability of the news media to see this coming. These are good questions, with no clear or clean answers, but what absolutely can’t be lost in our self-reflection is that we’re in a moment, an utterly pivotal moment, in which we matter more than ever to our region and our loyal readership. It is not an overstatement to say that this is why we exist. And I don’t have even the slightest doubt that we will meet the challenge.

To that end, I should say more publicly what I’ve told a lot of people in here privately over the past ten days: I’m intensely proud of our national and campaign coverage going back not just weeks and months, but years. You should be, too.

Beginning in 2013, with the award-winning Broken City series, we explored in a way that no news organization ever had the incredible dysfunction in Washington that so obviously played a role in the outcome of this campaign. In 2015, we were back again with Michael Kranish’s Divided Nation series, which gave voice to people on all sides of massive issues, from inequality to race and so much more.

Also in 2015, editors and reporters made the very conscious decision to not have our coverage driven by Trump’s outrage of the day. Certainly, we wouldn’t hide his bombastic and too often bigoted remarks from our readers, but we made a commitment to run him through the filter that all serious presidential contenders must endure. Matt Viser wrote of his bankruptcies in Atlantic City, his time at Wharton, his ownership of a beauty pageant during which he made unwanted physical moves on contestants. We wrote of crime figures employed in his business. All of these stories attracted a huge number of readers. Most were followed by other outlets.

This past summer, we launched the America on Edge series, designed to show the anxiety, uncertainty, and even anger that were leading so many voters to Trump. Again, these were some of the most read stories of the year, for every good reason, as we took our readers from a small town in Pennsylvania to portray the economic uncertainty of retirees, to a community in Georgia riven by resentment toward immigrants, to voters in Florida who protested using a mosque as a polling place, to millennials in North Carolina repelled by the toxicity of this campaign. You want answers about what just happened, reread this series.

Let’s not forget our intense, exhaustive, and excellent coverage of New Hampshire, Iowa, and beyond, and the consistently excellent Ground Game newsletter each morning. In the hours after the election, we were in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, with colorful, insightful dispatches explaining what had just occurred. Metro and Business have done great work exploring the potential impacts of a Trump presidency from here. And a shout-out to our editorial and op-ed pages, which have been stacked with particularly provocative work, and to our own news-side columnists, particularly Yvonne [Abraham], who have been required reading.

Going forward, covering Donald Trump as the president-elect, a Trump Administration, and America in the Trump era, there’s no need for us to recalibrate our approach, except, hopefully, to redeploy some people to Washington. We’ll be fair, we’ll be tough, and we’ll be ready to pounce on the most interesting and thoughtful stories possible. We will not for a moment normalize bigotry and misogyny, if he continues down the path of the campaign and with some early appointments. But we will also be wide open to the idea that his may be a novel and perhaps effective presidency, a non-ideologue in the age of hyper-partisanship. In short, we don’t know what the hell is about to happen. Nobody does. But, again, it’s why we matter.

Take this as an open solicitation. We need your input. If you have concerns, ideas, general concepts, or just a desire to download thoughts, reach out. We are already planning some creative approaches to cover an unconventional presidency. Your ideas are more than welcome. We are also in dire — and I do mean dire — need of excellent stories that are not Trump related. As interested as readers are in the situation, and the numbers on our site show they are fascinated, there is also a thirst for great reads that are far off the political path.

Some staffers have asked worthwhile questions about whether they are allowed to contribute to activist organizations, and participate in marches and vigils and the like. The answer is that we encourage everyone to live a full, meaningful life outside of the Globe. Our journalism is actually the better for it. But we can’t allow our staffers to take part in activity that calls into question the essential fairness and neutrality of the Globe — more important now than ever. Our ethics policy is clear on this, in terms of forbidding contributions or other involvement in organizations or campaigns that push candidates, ballot questions, or legislation. You’ll ask about causes. We’ll fold most of those into the group as well.

Here’s all I ask: Use your very sizable brains and your best judgment, which I trust. If there’s any question, go to Chris Chinlund, Katie Kingsbury, or me. Think of our reputation and think of this vital moment. And please, be cautious on social media.

Finally, get some rest. This has been extraordinary in too many ways to mention here. We’ve done incredible journalism. And we have a lot of vital work ahead.

Brian

Talk about this post on Facebook.

How Facebook has weaponized fake news

Illustration (cc) 2012 by the Free Press/Free Press Action Fund.

Illustration (cc) 2012 by the Free Press/Free Press Action Fund.

Not long after Bill Clinton became president, rumors began circulating that he had covered up the existence of a cocaine-smuggling operation in Mena, Arkansas, when he was governor. It wasn’t true, of course. But the Clinton conspiracy theorists—yes, they have ever been among us—began badgering newsrooms and demanding to know why this galactically important story wasn’t being investigated.

Now there are growing concerns about the rise of fake news on the internet, and especially on Facebook. I think we all need to be worried about the effect that false information has on our democracy. And there’s no doubt that Facebook, with its 1.8 billion users, has weaponized the spread of conspiracy theories in a way that wasn’t possible previously. But the Mena craziness, which lives on to this day, shows that the internet is not now and never was a necessary precondition for the spread of politically motivated falsehoods.

Read the rest at WGBH News. And talk about this post on Facebook.

Public television journalist Gwen Ifill dies at 61

Gwen Ifill at a book-signing in Seattle. Photo (cc) by KCTS 9 Public Television.

Gwen Ifill at a book-signing in Seattle. Photo (cc) by KCTS 9 Public Television.

I’m very sad to learn that Gwen Ifill has died. Co-anchor of the PBS NewsHour and host of Washington Week, she was conspicuous by her absence during the final run-up to the presidential election.

I remember reading seeing her byline in the New York Times back in the 1990s. But I didn’t realize that she had a local connection until I looked up her bio: She was a graduate of Simmons College and had worked for the Boston Herald American.

Her humane voice will be missed in the strange days to come.

Talk about this post on Facebook.