Less that two weeks after sending out a memo to her staff looking ahead to the new year, Boston Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman has announced that she’s leaving. She posted a thread on Twitter within the past hour that begins:
Some news: On January 21, I’ll be stepping down as editorial page editor of the @BostonGlobe after 2+ years leading one of the best teams in journalism amid more history-making news cycles than I could have possibly imagined/🧵
Her departure isn’t entirely unexpected, as she took a leave of absence during the fall in the midst of the Boston mayoral campaign. Nevertheless, it’s stunning that her tenure lasted such a short time. It’s also at least a temporary setback for the Globe’s efforts to diversify; having a woman of color as one of the top two journalists (along with editor Brian McGrory) reporting to Linda and John Henry sent a powerful signal.
Venkataraman isn’t leaving completely. She’ll remain as an editor-at-large, which she says will involve writing for the Globe and advising The Emancipator, a racial justice digital publication that the paper is launching in collaboration with Boston University.
Unlike the news side, where McGrory has been a fixture since 2012 (he actually helped recruit Henry to buy the Globe from the New York Times Co.), the opinion side has been in flux for a long time. Ellen Clegg replaced Peter Canellos as editorial page editor in 2014, less than a year after Henry completed his purchase. Clegg served until her retirement in 2018, followed by business columnist Shirley Leung on an interim basis. Venkataraman arrived in 2019. (Clegg and I are now research and podcast partners.)
Venkataraman was an unconventional hire — a science journalist and author who didn’t come from the politics and policy side where most opinion editors cut their teeth. It will be interesting to see what direction the Globe heads in next.
On Thursday a trusted source sent me an internal memo from Boston Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman offering her take on the opinion section’s accomplishments in 2021. (Thanks, source!)
Probably the newsiest part of the memo is that The Emancipator, a racial justice collaborative involving the Globe and Boston University that’s been slow to get off the ground, is ramping up and “will begin publishing regularly” in the near future. Venkataraman also takes note of the paper’s 2020 editorials on housing in Newton, which won a Pulitzer finalist nod.
Her full memo follows.
Dear BGMP colleagues,
It’s a delight to be able to share with you some updates from the Globe Opinion team as we near the end of the year.
Thanks to our leadership, the company has made significant investments in growing and diversifying the Opinion team and the editorial board since 2019, helping us launch a pioneering partnership with Boston University, and allowing us to to do truly digital-first, innovative projects like our endorsement of Joe Biden and our editorial series Future-proofing the Presidency. This has raised the profile of our work nationally, where Globe Opinion content and voices are often featured in major broadcast venues, and has deepened our connection with local and regional communities. The growth has also allowed us to have a closer eye on and hold accountable the institutions and political leaders in Greater Boston and New England responsible for serving the public interest.
2021 has been busy and productive in Opinion and Ideas. Here are a few of the highlights that made our year extraordinary:
*Editorial board meetings with mayoral and municipal election candidates across Greater Boston, which culminated in our publishing a spate of endorsements.
*A significant and innovative project, the aforementioned “Future-proofing the Presidency,” extensively covered in national broadcast media, influenced proposed Congressional reforms.
*Our ongoing op-ed series on longevity, in collaboration with MIT’s AgeLab, which sparked a conversation about Boston’s role as a city for innovation in aging.
*The launch of a hot new Ideas newsletter that already has thousands of subscribers and is engaging readers and driving them back to our section.
*The announcement of a new non-profit publication, The Emancipator, our groundbreaking collaboration with BU to reimagine 19th-century abolitionist newspapers for today’s conversation on racial justice. We started with the hiring of a great editor-in-chief and the launch of the Unbound newsletter.
*Globe Letters packages featuring our readers’ voices on the major issues of the day, from geoengineering to Mass. & Cass to Thanksgiving-season gratitude.
*Our popular Op-Talk event series and Now What? (formerly known as Don’t Look Back) newsletter, which offer new entry points to our journalism and expand our reach.
*Ideas features on artificial intelligence, race and mobility, the future of work, and urban schools led the conversation online and in the community.
* Columnists’ ongoing smart takes on pressing local, regional, and national topics — often featured in local events and on national broadcast, raising the profile of Globe Opinion.
*A new social media strategy featuring different voices of our editorial board and innovations such as Instagram cards and reels, that has significantly grown our online audience and presence.
*Expert opinions weighing in on the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow and the threats to America’s democracy via the war on voting rights.
Looking ahead, The Emancipator will begin publishing regularly under the leadership of its co-editors in chief, Amber Payne and Deborah Douglas, while growing their editorial team and launching a new Web presence. Ideas will be publishing an exciting package on reenvisioning the US Constitution on the anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Our pandemic and political coverage will continue in editorials and op-eds, with a special focus on the gubernatorial election. Globe Opinion also aims to look back at some of the Globe’s coverage of communities of color to reckon with the past as the paper celebrates its 150th birthday. Watch for new ways we’ll engage with letter writers, more point/counterpoint op-eds, further experiments with our social media presence, and new deep dives in Sunday Ideas.
We’re always eager to find new ways to showcase evidence-based opinion and break through polarized, simplistic debates with original, reported, and nuanced perspectives. We welcome your ideas as we scan the horizon and are grateful to collaborate with our colleagues across BGMP on many of these efforts. Let us know if you see a way we might conspire in the new year!
All the best,
Editorial Page Editor
The Boston Globe
Definitive is a good description — 19 hours’ worth. (The hardcover version is nearly 600 pages long.) Kendi traces 500 years of racist thought, from the early Portuguese explorers up to the dawn of the Trump era. Published in 2016, “Stamped” won a National Book Award.
Kendi’s scholarship is daunting, and the audio version probably isn’t the best way to take it all in. His organizational scheme is to tell the history of racism in America through the lives of five key figures — Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois and Angela Davis. Mather and Jefferson are the hypocritical white semi-liberals of their day. Garrison, in Kendi’s view, failed to overcome his own racist ideas despite fighting passionately against slavery. DuBois moved beyond the racist stereotypes that hampered his early writing to emerge in his later years as a true antiracist.
Davis is the most problematic of Kendi’s five. I don’t think he quite succeeds in establishing that the full breadth of her career ranks with those of the other four. Despite his best efforts, Davis comes across as someone whose significance waned over the decades following her days as an iconic revolutionary in the early 1970s.
In addition to the five people he places at the center of his narrative, Kendi builds his argument around two big ideas. The first is that there are two types of racists, white supremacists and what he calls “assimilationists.” Posited against these two groups are antiracists. So who are the assimilationists? Essentially they are well-meaning liberals who believe that the route to Black advancement is through betterment, education and becoming more like white people. (As Kendi notes, this view depends on ignoring the reality that white people are no more immune from the effects of poverty and other social ills than Black people or any other racial group.)
The assimilationist camp is a large one. Kendi says he was among that group early in his career, as is former President Barack Obama. In listening to “Stamped,” I concluded that I would have to place myself within the assimilationist group as well; I also concluded that not all assimilationist ideas are bad, though we would do well to ask ourselves where those ideas come from and why we hold them.
Kendi’s second big idea is to redefine racism as effect rather than as cause. It’s an idea he explores at length in a recent podcast with Ezra Klein. I recommend you give it a listen, as it serves as an excellent introduction to Kendi’s work. To understand Kendi’s argument, consider his take on theories of Black inferiority and their relationship to slavery. What most of us were taught is that slaveholders justified their evil practice because of false notions that Black people were not as intelligent as whites. Kendi says we have it exactly backwards — that slavery came first, and the theories of Black inferiority were developed after the fact as a way of maintaining slavery.
What does this look like in practice? Consider same-sex marriage. Many LGBTQ activists believed that overcoming hostility to homosexuality was crucial to building support for marriage equality. But as Kendi would have it, the Supreme Court’s legalizing of same-sex marriage resulted in a rapid decline in hostility to LGBTQ people. In other words, ideas follow actions rather than the reverse.
Finally, a word about audiobooks: You don’t have to buy them from Audible, which is now part of the Amazon empire. I buy them from Libro.fm, which sends some of the revenues I give them to An Unlikely Story, my favorite independent bookstore. If you like audiobooks, I hope you’ll give Libro a try.
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The Boston Globe has named an editor-in-chief for The Emancipator, the much-anticipated racial-justice website it is launching in collaboration with Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research.
Amber Payne, a veteran journalist who recently finished a Nieman fellowship at Harvard, will spend the next several months “putting together an editorial plan and team for The Emancipator and launching it alongside her counterpart at BU’s Center for Antiracist Research,” according to an email to the Globe staff from editorial-page editor Bina Venkataraman, co-founder of The Emancipator.
The BU editor-in-chief has not been named yet, Venkataraman added. The other co-founder is Ibram X. Kendi, who directs the BU antiracism center.
What follows is Venkataraman’s full email (except for some personal information that I deleted), which I obtained from a trusted source:
It’s my pleasure to announce that Amber Payne joins the Globe today as the Editor in Chief of The Emancipator. Amber is an extraordinary person whose career in journalism has spanned broadcast, print, and digital.
Until recently, Amber was an executive producer at BET Digital, where she oversaw daily editorial and long form video content for BET.com. Previously, she served as executive producer of Teen Vogue and them., a vertical focused on LGBTQ+ stories. Payne also founded and launched NBCNews.com’s NBCBLK, a media vertical on Black identity, and worked on breaking news and features as an award-winning producer for “NBC Nightly News.” Her repertoire is vast and varied; she’s edited a multimedia story on an Alabama landfill that became a civil rights battleground, produced the feature-length documentary “Harlem Rising,” and made an engaging interactive on the sexist, racist history of the high school prom. She has covered stories throughout the U.S., Ecuador, and in parts of West and South Africa, including Nelson Mandela’s funeral, the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, the Vancouver Olympics, and Hurricane Katrina recovery.
Amber is fresh out of the Nieman fellowship where she has spent the past year deeply studying the history and present of race in America, examining how people from marginalized communities can share stories in ways that resonate across races, faiths, and cultures….
Over the coming months, Amber will be putting together an editorial plan and team for The Emancipator and launching it alongside her counterpart at BU’s Center for Antiracist Research (who is still to be named). She’s also eager to speak with many of you about your ideas for The Emancipator, to conspire with various teams at BGMP, and to find ways to showcase Globe journalists and their work through its channels.
Talking to Amber is fascinating and fun, and once you meet her, I think you’ll find that she’s just the person to take the helm of this historic and forward-looking publication at this moment. Please give her a warm welcome to the Globe and join me in cheering her on!
The Boston Globe and the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research should have come up with a name other than The Emancipator for the digital publication they announced last month, according to the editor and publisher of The Bay State Banner.
Melvin Miller, who founded the Banner in 1965 to cover the Black community in Greater Boston, wrote recently that The Emancipator — which takes its name from a 19th-century abolitionist newspaper — conjures up images of white people seeking to free African Americans from oppression when in fact the real need is for whites to overcome their own racism. He wrote:
Even with its best intentions, the Emancipator was an organization of substantial white men to eliminate slavery. Its objective now, apparently, is to end white racism. That is a cultural impediment of white Americans. Nonetheless, the name “Emancipator” still implies that Blacks are the ones impaired by slavery or its aftereffects.
Miller added that the Globe’s role “does little to elevate the trust and confidence of Black citizens of Boston. Over the years the Boston Globe has not been overly friendly to the development of Black institutions in Boston.”
Globe opinion editor Bina Venkataraman, who’s heading up The Emancipator along with Ibram X. Kendi, director of BU’s antiracism center, referred my inquiry to Kendi, who did not return several emails seeking comment. But in a recent interview with Ben Smith of The New York Times, Venkataraman and Kendi said they decided on the name because they wanted to evoke the great abolitionist publications of the 19th century. Their first choice was The Liberator, the legendary newspaper founded by William Lloyd Garrison, but that name was already in use.
If anything, Miller’s commentary shows why The Emancipator is needed. Boston is a city that is still haunted by its racist past. And though the atmosphere has improved to the point at which the acting mayor is a Black woman, we still have a long way to go. The venture gives the Globe an opportunity to overcome the distrust that Miller refers to as well.
And as the Banner’s senior editor, Yawu Miller (also no fan of the name), said recently of The Emancipator in an email to “Beat the Press,” “There’s never enough coverage of race, justice and inequality.”
The Emancipator is currently seeking editors-in-chief to be based at the Globe and at BU, and is scheduled to make its debut later this year.
Ben Smith of The New York Times weighs in on The Emancipator, the antiracist digital publication that will be launched later this year by The Boston Globe’s opinion section and Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research.
Of note: Former Globe reporter Wesley Lowery, who later clashed with now-retired Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron over his use of social media, may be coming back.
As Smith describes it, The Emancipator will have a seven-figure budget and will blend “reportage, opinion and academic research, some of which will appear in The Globe.” Founders Bina Venkataraman, the Globe’s opinion editor, and Ibram X. Kendi, who runs the Antiracist Center, say they also want to “revive the tradition of a generation of media that predates the formal division of news and opinion in 20th-century American journalism.”
Well, that’s fine. I’m sure they know that any number of quality magazines already do that. It was a hallmark of the alternative press as well. Not to say it isn’t a good idea, but there are contemporary models they can look to.
We also talked about The Emancipator on “Beat the Press” last Friday. The video is above.
The Boston Globe’s opinion section and Boston University are launching an anti-racist initiative called The Emancipator, and they’re looking for an editor-in-chief. Here’s how the job listing begins:
The Boston Globe and Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research are collaborating to resurrect the tradition of abolitionist-era journals such as William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator and Frederick Douglass’s The North Star via a new multimedia platform for opinion journalism. In the decades leading up to the Civil War, antislavery publications, many of which were founded in Boston, were the nation’s most influential megaphones for antislavery commentary and helped to bring about Emancipation. Today, we envision The Emancipator as a leading megaphone for antiracist commentary and ideas that are grounded in both scholarly research and journalistic reporting.
The editor will work out of the Globe’s newsroom (once it reopens, of course) with a co-editor based at BU. The project will be under the guidance of the Globe’s editorial-page editor, Bina Venkataraman, and the director of BU’s Center for Antiracist Research, Ibram X. Kendi.
Surprising though the news may have been, there was a certain inevitability to Linda Pizzuti Henry’s being named chief executive officer of The Boston Globe’s parent company.
She had long held the title of managing director, and it has become increasingly clear over the past few years that she and her husband, publisher John Henry, were determined to impose their will on the media properties they own. Indeed, the Henrys have been calling pretty much all the shots on the business side since the summer, when Vinay Mehra exited as president and was not replaced.
These are the best and worst of times for media organizations. The COVID-19 epidemic and the presidential campaign have resulted in renewed interest in the news as well as growing audiences. But advertising, already in long-term decline, has fallen off a cliff.
Yet the paper, reportedly profitable before the pandemic, has been forced to trim its budget to adjust to the pandemic economy, cutting back on its use of freelancers and paid interns, for example, as well as implementing some business-side reductions.
Time will tell what the Linda Henry era will bring. But here are three thoughts that I think are worth keeping in mind:
• There is no longer any middleman. With co-owners John and Linda Henry holding the top two positions, all the heat will now be directed their way, for better or worse. When Mehra was in charge — and, before him, Doug Franklin and Mike Sheehan — both credit and blame could be deflected.
Now the Globe is the Henrys’ paper in every respect. That extends into the editorial operations as well given that editor Brian McGrory was actually involved in recruiting John Henry to buy the paper and that editorial-page editor Bina Venkataraman was hired by the Henrys.
For a useful contrast, consider The Washington Post. Although owner Jeff Bezos does involve himself in business strategy to a degree, he hired a publisher, Fred Ryan, to run the paper on a day-to-day basis, and left the executive editor (Marty Baron), the editorial-page editor (Fred Hiatt) and the top technology executive (Shailesh Prakash) in place after he acquired the paper.
• The Henrys must now settle an ugly labor dispute on their own. Earlier today the Boston Newspaper Guild, involved for quite some time in acrimonious contract talks with management, issued a statement ripping the Henrys for using the law firm of Jones Day, which critics say has a reputation for union-busting.
That’s not new. What is new is that Jones Day has been involved in representing Republicans in their attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election. “How can the Globe’s political journalists be asked to continue to endure such workplace attacks from the very law firm whose actions they are now reporting on and investigating?,” the union’s letter asks.
• The Globe is not for sale. From time to time, rumors have circulated within the newsroom and in the larger community that the Henrys are looking to get out. This happened most recently last fall, when Linda Henry presided over a town hall-style meeting on Zoom at which she was asked about a replacement for Mehra.
When I asked her about it, she replied via email, “The Globe is not for sale, I’m pretty sure you would have picked up on if it was.” After that, the rumors appeared to fade away. Now, by occupying the top two operational roles at the Globe, the Henrys, seven years into their ownership, clearly seem to be sending a signal that they’re in it for the long term.
Comments are open. Please include your full name, first and last, and speak with a civil tongue.
The Boston Globe and The New York Times today endorse Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for president and vice president. No surprise, of course. But the two editorials — especially the Globe’s — are indications of how newspapers are trying to keep the hoary old tradition of endorsements relevant in the 21st century.
First, it’s early. Traditionally, newspapers endorse as close to Election Day as possible, partly for maximum impact, partly to reduce the number of days that their news reporters have to labor under the burden of reporting fairly on candidates whom their paper’s opinion pages had spurned.
No more. These days, Election Day is merely the last day that you can vote. Early voting and mail-in balloting are already under way. If endorsements are going to have any influence at all, they need to be published before the majority of people have voted. And that’s now.
Second, digital media often obliterate the distinction between news and opinion. At large papers like the Times and the Globe, the editorial and news operations are separate. And sure enough, the front pages of today’s print editions don’t even mention that their editorial pages are endorsing — not even in the teases at the bottom of the page.
Yet the Times home page notes that the editorial section is endorsing Biden, a function of the Times’ opinion highlights in the right-hand rail. And the Globe actually leads the home page with its endorsement (see above). Savvy news consumers, especially those who came of age during the print era, won’t be confused. But not everyone is a savvy news consumer.
Third, though the Times endorsement is pretty old-fashioned and straightforward, the Globe’s is innovative — an attempt, no doubt, to get beyond the reality that everyone knew the Globe was going to endorse Biden. They’ve given the editorial a vibrant digital treatment. More interesting still, they’ve got 12 separate mini-editorials addressing different types of voters — the “business voter,” the “disenchanted Trump voter,” the “religious voter” and the like.
I’ve always doubted that newspaper endorsements can sway voters in presidential races; they are more influential in less visible contests in which readers don’t necessarily know much about the candidates. But Globe editorial-page editor Bina Venkataraman and her crew deserve credit for breaking out of the box of the old-fashioned endorsement.
Update, Aug. 7: I should note that editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman has tweeted that the Globe will stick by its endorsement of Jake Auchincloss.
Update, Aug. 6: In a direct shot at the editorial board, business columnist (and former interim editorial page editor) Shirley Leung has written a column endorsing one of Auchincloss’ opponents, Jesse Mermell.
The Boston Globe editorial board appears to be getting ready for the possibility that it might revoke its July 31 endorsement of Democratic congressional candidate Jake Auchincloss. The extremely loud hint came in the form of an announcement that editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman would sit down with Auchincloss for a Zoom one-on-one this coming Monday:
Many Globe readers have expressed concerns about the candidate’s past statements and campaign finances, some of which emerged after the editorial board’s deliberations. Readers and voters deserve to know more and hear directly from the candidate. In this conversation, Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman will ask Auchincloss about his record on racial justice, free speech, and beyond.
It’s not as if concerns about Auchincloss’ track record weren’t out there. On Tuesday evening, Greg Reibman, president of the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber of Commerce, tweeted out a June 27 commentary in the Newton Tab by Bennett Walkes that begins with this rather devastating statement:
While growing up Black in Newton, I’ve dealt with all sorts of racial profiling and slurs. However, no individual has made me feel more unwelcomed, unvalued and unsafe in my hometown than Jake Auchincloss — now a candidate for Congress.
Walkes cites Auchincloss’ support, on free-speech grounds, for the right to fly the Confederate flag — and comparing it to a Black Lives Matter or Pride banner.
Also on Tuesday evening, the Globe published a story by Stephanie Ebbert reporting on a variety of controversies involving Auchincloss, from his remarks about the Confederate flag to his “no” vote on a city council resolution calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump — an inconvenient fact given Auchincloss’ outspoken opposition to Trump. The editorial board is independent of the newsroom, of course; but they read the paper, and this must have come as very bad news.
Auchincloss is one of a large field of Democrats seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy, who’s running against U.S. Sen. Ed Markey. Maybe the editorial board will conclude that Auchincloss is still the best choice. But it sounds like they threw in with Auchincloss on the basis of incomplete information.