Two weeks ago I broke the news that The Boston Globe is launching a grant-supported project called Closing the Gap, which will “explore the racial wealth gap in Boston and beyond.” Now the Globe itself is making it official, reporting that the paper will begin the project with a $750,000 grant from the Barr Foundation.
“Despite The Barr Foundation’s funding, the Globe will have complete editorial control over the initiative,” according to the Globe’s story about the project. “The team will operate similarly to The Great Divide, a team of Globe journalists focused on investigating race, class, and inequality in Boston-area schools, and that is also partially funded by Barr.”
The story also says that the intent is to build on its 2017 Spotlight series “Boston. Racism. Image. Reality,” which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. A search committee for an editor-in-chief will comprise metro editor Anica Butler, business columnist Shirley Leung and senior assistant managing editor Jeneé Osterheldt.
Although the story doesn’t say so, I would imagine that incoming editor Nancy Barnes will have a say as well. Barnes will succeed longtime editor Brian McGrory on Feb. 1, when McGrory leaves to chair Boston University’s journalism department. McGrory explained the purpose behind Closing the Gap in an email to the staff, a copy of which I received from a trusted source:
We’ve made issues of inequality a focus of our coverage for many, many years, a mandate because Boston is one of the most unequal places on the planet. We’ve done award-winning work, like Spotlight’s 2017 race series and the Valedictorians Project. We’ve dedicated the Great Divide team to looking at the manifestation of inequality in our public schools. We have imbued inequality into so many of our key beats. It has all been utterly vital.
Which is why I’m delighted to share the news that we’ve received a grant for $750,000 a year to build a team to focus on the racial wealth gap in Boston and beyond. The grant comes from the Barr Foundation. We’ll dedicate resources of our own, and use the grant to hire a team leader and several additional journalists who will probe the causes of this seismic gap in wealth, the impact it has on life in Boston, and how it can be addressed.
This won’t only be a news team, or an enterprise team, or a projects team. It will be all that and more. Its metabolism will be high. Its approach will be thoughtful. Its work will be approachable and provocative. The gap has been pondered in plenty of deeply researched white papers that sit on high shelves. We intend to bring it to life, vividly exposing its consequences and rigorously exploring solutions. In short, we’ll look at how we got to a place where the average Black family has a net worth of $8 and white families have $247,000, and how do we get out.
As Barr has recently focused much of its mission on issues of racial equity, we engaged them in conversation about our work. Anica Butler and Shirley Leung put together a brilliant proposal that will serve as a blueprint for what this team will be and should accomplish. The grant was made in swift fashion.
The Barr Foundation has funded a good part of our Great Divide team for the past three-plus years. That experience has shown us just how much Barr appreciates the role of journalism in civic life – and how much it respects the firewall between us. On the wealth gap team, as with the education team, Barr has no say, no role, in what we produce.
The first order of business is finding an editor to oversee the team, which will live in Metro. If you’re interested, or you want to recommend someone, please reach out to Anica, Shirley, or Jeneé. We’re launching an initiative that is breaking new ground in our industry and will have a massive impact on our region. More to come as it unfolds.