By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Basic Black

GBH cuts claim three local TV shows, including its only Black-oriented program

Photo (cc) 2019 by Dan Kennedy

There are many things to say about the cuts announced Wednesday at GBH, so pardon the random nature of this post. As Aidan Ryan reports in The Boston Globe, 31 employees were laid off, comprising 4% of the staff. Now, 4% doesn’t sound like a lot, especially at a large operation that encompasses national and local programming across television, radio and digital. But management chose to decimate its local TV operation covering news and public affairs. “Greater Boston,” a Monday-to-Thursday program featuring interviews with newsmakers, was canceled; so were two weekly shows, “Basic Black” and “Talking Politics.” All told, a reported 10% of the cuts came at GBH News, as the local operation is known.

Shuttering “Basic Black” is inexplicable. Originally called “Say Brother,” it was GBH’s only local television show devoted to covering the region’s communities of color. There’s nothing in the regular radio lineup, either. This is an abdication of GBH’s responsibilities as a public media institution supported by grants, donations from “viewers like you” and taxpayer dollars. Yes, I know that chief executive Susan Goldberg says the three shows will come back as digital programs, but no one knows what that’s going to look like.

“Talking Politics” was a weekly program on local politics and public policy ably hosted by Adam Reilly, with whom I worked both at The Boston Phoenix and, later, at GBH News. It was launched after the August 2021 cancellation of “Beat the Press with Emily Rooney,” an award-winning program I was part of almost from its inception in 1998. There’s a lot I could say about the decision to end “Beat the Press,” but I’ll leave it at this: The program was pulling in strong viewership numbers right up to the end, and I still hear from people wherever I go who lament its passing.

Getting rid of “Greater Boston” strikes me as a rerun of past events. The show, with Emily Rooney at the helm, was created in 1997, six years after the cancellation of “The Ten O’Clock News,” which was anchored by Christopher Lydon and Carmen Fields. Emily presided over a compelling program characterized by her intelligence and quirky appeal. But let’s not forget that it was also cheaper to produce than “The Ten O’Clock News,” which was a full-fledged newscast. (I wrote about those early days in a long Phoenix feature.) “Beat the Press” was born a year later when the Friday slot became available and Emily was able to fulfill her ambitions of putting a media-criticism show on the air.

As Emily moved closer to retirement age, she gave up “Greater Boston” while keeping “Beat the Press.” Jim Braude, who also co-hosts GBH’s “Boston Public Radio” with Margery Eagan, took her place and proved to be popular and successful in that slot. But he gave it up in 2022 in order to concentrate on radio, and “Greater Boston” has been helmed by a rotating series of hosts ever since. One of those irregulars was Adam, and I was on with him May 15 to talk about “What Works in Community News,” the book I wrote with Ellen Clegg. We knew cuts were coming, but I certainly didn’t realize I’d be one of the last guests.

Another observation: From the moment that WBUR Radio and GBH reported financial problems earlier this year, some have questioned whether Boston could accommodate two news-focused public radio stations. In April, two dozen people took early-retirement buyouts at ’BUR while another seven were laid off. The Globe’s Ryan even raised the possibility that the two radio stations could merge.

So it’s striking that when GBH finally brought down the hammer, it was on the television rather than the radio side. Of course, television is much more expensive, and the entire institution reportedly had an operating deficit of $18.7 million last year. Still, it seems like an odd choice given that GBH has no direct public television competition while on radio it lags well behind ’BUR.

The day of reckoning at GBH also came just two days after GBH News general manager Pam Johnston announced she was leaving after four years of running all local programming — radio, television and digital. And her departure, in turn, followed a Globe story in February by Mark Shanahan in which he reported that Johnston ran a newsroom beset by turmoil and a toxic culture.

Sadly, all of this comes just as GBH News had won its first Peabody Award, for its excellent “The Big Dig” podcast. Ambitious, deeply reported podcasts are expensive, and even the best of them draw relatively small audiences — so it could be a while before we hear anything like it again.

Finally, being a part of GBH News for many years was one of the highlights of my career. My roles over the course of 24 years included being a panelist on “Beat the Press,” writing a column for the GBH News website and appearing occasionally on radio. Wednesday was a sad day. My best wishes to those who lost their jobs and to my friends and former colleagues who are still employed.

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How local news helped Callie Crossley with her research for ‘Eyes on the Prize’

Callie Crossley. Photo via GBH News.

Callie Crossley of GBH News is a multitalented broadcast journalist and producer. She hosts “Under the Radar with Callie Crossley” and shares radio essays each Monday on GBH’s “Morning Edition.” She also hosts “Basic Black,” which covers news events that have an impact on communities of color. Crossley’s work on “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years” won numerous awards.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Ellen and Dan, Crossley shares her views on the thinning out of local news outlets and offers sage advice for next-generation journalists. Callie and Dan were regulars on “Beat the Press,” the award-winning GBH-TV show that featured media commentary, which ended its 22-year run in 2021. In 2019, both of them received the Yankee Quill Award from the New England Society of Newspaper Editors.

In Quick Takes on developments in local news, Dan laments the rise of robot journalism, and Ellen reports on an effort by publisher Lee Enterprises to fight off a takeover bid by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

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