Globe Direct is hauled off to the landfill

Globe Direct is no more.

Twitter is celebrating.

Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub, who’s been crusading against Globe Direct for years, posted this photo from a Cambridgeport resident in 2015.

A New York Times editor will take charge of the Globe’s opinion section

The day after The Boston Globe was named a Pulitzer finalist in editorial writing, the paper has announced that it’s hired a new editorial page editor — James Dao, a senior editor at The New York Times. The announcement, reported in the Globe this afternoon, was made by chief executive Linda Henry.

Dao replaces Bina Venkataraman, who stepped down several months ago and is now a Globe editor at large. Venkataraman was involved in the launch of The Emancipator, the racial-justice website the Globe publishes jointly with Boston University.

I don’t know much about Dao except that, according to the Globe, he had a role in the Times’ decision to publish an op-ed piece by Sen. Tom Cotton in 2020 arguing that military force should be used against violent Black Lives Matter protesters. The episode led to the departure of editorial page editor James Bennet after it was revealed he had not read the Cotton op-ed before it was published. Dao stepped down as deputy opinion editor and took a high-ranking editing job in the newsroom.

Also of significance is that Dao is 64. I’m not saying that’s old (hey, he’s younger than I am), but he’s at an age where he probably wouldn’t be seeking to settle in for a lengthy stint. Perhaps Henry is hoping that he’ll identify and mentor a possible replacement. Henry’s full statement, forwarded to me by a trusted source, follows.

Hi team,

I am thrilled to announce that James Dao will be the Globe’s next editorial page editor, effective on July 5.

Jim brings great perspective to the Globe from his vast leadership experience across three decades and multiple news desks at The New York Times. Most recently, as the Metro editor, he oversaw coverage of one of the most consequential mayoral races in New York City’s history while leading a team of over 60 journalists in covering the ongoing challenges of the pandemic on the nation’s largest city. Previously, he oversaw the paper’s Op-Ed section and has served roles in leadership and in the trenches as an editor on the National desk, as the Times’s Albany bureau chief, a Washington correspondent, national correspondent and military affairs writer.

He is an award-winning journalist and has a passion for pushing the envelope on multimedia storytelling, an area in which we too, are deeply investing in as we aim to reach new audiences and amplify our powerful journalism in new media. Jim’s 2011 multimedia series, “A Year at War,” about the yearlong deployment of an Army battalion in Afghanistan, won numerous awards — including an Emmy — and he also was executive producer on the Netflix documentary, “Father Solider [sic] Son,” which was based on the life of an Amy sergeant first profiled in his series.

I’ve had the great honor of diving deep into conversation with Jim, and in that time, he has shared that his priorities in this role are bringing new approaches — from newsletters to podcasts — to an already outstanding opinion report. He plans for our editorial page to be at the forefront of sharing the groundbreaking ideas and innovation unfolding in our region, while continuing to hold our leaders accountable to the high standards that we expect.

As a proud Editorial Board member, I see first-hand the thoughtful dedication and passion our board has for the work that it does each day and the impact it has all across our region. In the last two years alone, Globe Opinion writers Alan Wirzbicki & Shelly Cohen and Abdallah Fayyad have been recognized as Pulitzer Prize finalists in Editorial Writing – truly remarkable accomplishments, and a testament to the talent and incredible contributions at all levels on this team.

I am grateful to Bina Venkataraman for her bold approach and leadership in this role over the last two years. Globe Opinion has grown and strengthened the editorial board, launched The Emancipator with BU, and has drawn national attention to further the impact of our content and voices. Thank you to the entire team for their commitment and patience while we conducted this thoughtful process to find the next leader who will steer Globe Opinion forward in new and exciting ways. Everyone stepped up, but I would like to particularly thank Marjorie Pritchard and Alan Wirzbicki for their leadership and extra effort to keep Opinion sharp and relevant.

Jim will now lead the charge in this exciting new chapter for the board, and we are so excited to have him get started in early July. He is copied on this note, so please join me in welcoming him to the Globe; he would welcome local bike route suggestions.

Thank you,

Linda

The Globe is named a Pulitzer finalist for editorials about post-Trump reforms

Photo (cc) 2021 by Brett Davis

A great editorial should persuade and effect change. But what if there is little or no chance that urgently needed reforms will be enacted? That was the challenge facing The Boston Globe editorial board last year when it published a series of essays arguing that the loopholes enabling Donald Trump’s corruption as president need to be closed so that nothing like it can happen again.

The editorials, by board member Abdallah Fayyad, were recognized Monday with a Pulitzer Prize finalist’s citation for “a persuasive editorial series arguing that the president of the United States could be prosecuted for crimes committed in office.” It was the closest that the Globe came to winning a 2022 Pulitzer. As Fayyad wrote:

Presidents in a democratic system of government are not meant to be able to extract personal profits from government service — or hand out pardons to imprisoned buddies, pervert justice, or foment an insurrection. That’s the promise of democracy: that it will be superior to these authoritarian tendencies of tyrants and kings. When these laws and norms are violated, they should be backed up by severe consequences if that democracy is to maintain its integrity. But right now, as it stands after Trump’s four years in office, American presidents can, in fact, commit all those abuses — and suffer little more than losing their Twitter account.

Nothing has changed. And given Trump’s continued vice grip on the Republican Party, which exercises effective veto power over any reform Congress might try to enact, nothing is going to change — at least not anytime soon.

Still, it’s worth laying down some markers. It was undeniably a good thing for a major journalistic institution like the Globe to explain why Trump was able to get away with all of it, and what it would take to prevent a future president (perhaps Trump himself) from engaging in the same kind of misconduct.

In the Globe’s own coverage of Monday’s announcement, Fayyad said: “It was surreal seeing my name up there on the broadcast alongside such great journalists. But I knew the project was deserving of this recognition because it wasn’t just my work; it took a whole team to make the series what it was — an amazing team at that.”

By the way, it looks like even the minor slap on the wrist Trump received by having his Twitter account canceled was only a temporary setback. Elon Musk, who’s poised to buy Twitter, said earlier today that he would allow the former president back onto the platform.

The New York Times is about to kill off its Today’s Paper web app

Some will mourn. Most probably didn’t even know it existed.

The New York Times is sunsetting its Today’s Paper web app on May 16. A simple listing of every story in that day’s Times, with a minimum of distractions, the app — which works on computers and tablets, but not on phones — has been a solid platform for readers who like to view the paper as it was published that day without a steady stream of updates and extra, non-print content.

I use it occasionally, but it’s been obvious for a while that no development resources were being put into it. The app looks pretty much the same (OK, exactly the same) as it did when it was unveiled in late 2013. The photos are muddy, too. There are better ways to access a listing of today’s Times — here’s one way, and there’s a section in the tablet and mobile apps as well. (There’s also a really bad replica edition that’s almost impossible to access.)

Here’s part of what Dante D’Orazio wrote at The Verge when the Today’s Paper app made its debut:

The web app seems designed for readers who appreciate the benefits offered by digital but miss the experience of reading a definitive daily edition. By limiting itself to content that’s selected to go into the paper each day, Today’s Paper should appeal to those who feel a bit overwhelmed by the full breadth of The New York Times‘ reporting. And for purists of the print edition, the app brings the Times‘ true sections, like the once-weekly “Sunday Styles” and “Science Times,” to the fore (the paper’s website and traditional apps are split into many generic sections). As a nice touch, users are presented with an image of each day’s print edition when they open the app, and select one to download for offline reading. Each section, meanwhile, offers a small glimpse at what the print layout looks like.

I believe there’s great value in offering that day’s paper, fixed in time. The Boston Globe offers two — count ’em! — replica editions, one accessible from the website and one as a standalone app. I’d give both of them a B-plus; they’d get a higher grade if you got a better view when you tapped on a story to read it. The Globe’s got a Today’s Paper listing on its website as well, but I never use it because it’s always missing things, like corrections.

The best Today’s Paper replica edition is offered by The Washington Post on its mobile and tablet apps — it’s smooth, and when you tap on a story, it opens up into a beautifully rendered article with photos. I wish every paper would do something like it.

The Emancipator makes its welcome, long-anticipated debut

The Emancipator, long in the making, has gotten past the soft-launch stage and made its formal debut this week. Aimed at covering the Black experience from an antiracist point of view, the site is vibrant and colorful. It looks great on mobile, and features videos (including one by Black activist and filmmaker Bree Newsome Bass, above) and comics alongside serious essays and reported pieces.

The Emancipator is a joint venture of The Boston Globe’s opinion operation and the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. Northeastern journalism students are involved as well. There’s no paywall.

The point of the project is to provide national coverage of the country’s reckoning with systemic racism. Starting with the police murder of George Floyd and the police killing of Breonna Taylor in 2020, race has moved to the center of the national conversation in a way that it had not since the 1960s. Tragically, the moment we’re in right now feels more like the backlash than it does forward progress. The introduction puts it this way:

Just as 19th-century antislavery publications reframed and amplified the quest for abolition, The Emancipator centers critical voices, debates, and evidence-based opinion to reframe the national conversation on racial equity and hasten a more racially just society.

We put journalists, scholars, and community members into conversation, showcasing missing and underamplified voices — past and present — and demonstrating how they reveal the way forward.

The founders are former Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataramin and BU’s Ibram X. Kendi, the author of “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” winner of the National Book Award. The co-editors are Deborah D. Douglas and Amber Payne. Among the more recognizable bylines is that of Globe columnist Kimberly Atkins Stohr, and the star-studded advisory board includes the ubiquitous Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the 1619 Project.

One interesting style note: News organizations have been reaching different conclusions during the past several years over whether they should uppercase “Black.” The Emancipator is going with uppercase “Black” and “White,” which, for what it’s worth, is what The Washington Post is doing as well. The Globe, The New York Times and The Associated Press have all opted for uppercase “Black” and lowercase “white.”

A year ago, when The Emancipator was announced, there were some hard feelings at The Bay State Banner, which has been covering the Black community in Greater Boston since 1965. (Northeastern students also contribute to the Banner through The Scope, our digital social-justice publication.) I don’t really see a conflict, though. The Banner continues to do a great job of covering local issues, while The Emancipator is national in scope and opinion-based. There’s room for both — and for more. Banner founder Melvin Miller, I should note, will receive a long-overdue Yankee Quill Award this Friday.

The Emancipator is an important project and a welcome new voice. I’ve signed up for “Unbound,” the site’s newsletter, and I’m interested to see how the project develops.

The Globe strikes back at CommonWealth

CommonWealth Magazine last week published a story reporting that several scientists who were interviewed by freelancers working for The Boston Globe’s advertising team were not told that those interviews were for branded content sponsored by the tobacco giant Philip Morris. I was among those who offered a comment to CommonWealth’s Colman M. Herman.

Earlier today the Globe issued a response. I am posting it in its entirety, followed by a counter-response from CommonWealth. First, the Globe statement:

BOSTON, April 4, 2022 — We conducted a review of all written correspondence with the medical doctors, scientists, and their representatives who were contacted to participate in the Thank You, Scientists branded content series that is referenced by CommonWealth Magazine. This series, written by freelance journalists and labeled as branded content, focused on recognizing the careers and contributions of scientists across industries and their positive impact. The series made no mention of any products.

In each case, we found that the individuals and/or the PR representatives who support them were in fact informed that their participation was for a branded content piece funded by Philip Morris International, and about celebrating scientists.

Our journalism is funded by subscribers and, like nearly all our industry colleagues, advertisers. Branded content has become an essential and widely used product by many news organizations. Done well, it creates a better experience for advertisers and for readers and it helps support our industry.

When working with an advertiser on branded content, Boston Globe Media’s advertising team maintains an editorial firewall — the newsroom and opinion teams have no involvement. We are deeply committed to honoring the integrity of our journalism and demand that our Studio/B team and the freelance writers with whom we work are transparent throughout the process.

This includes disclosing the nature of the work as branded content to potential sources and subjects. We share who the sponsoring entity is. When we publish, we clearly separate and label the final product on our print and digital platforms so that readers are aware that the articles are not produced by the Globe’s journalists. This is all common industry practice.

We are surprised by the journalistic tactics employed by CommonWealth. An individual who described himself as a freelance writer emailed the Globe seeking comment without identifying whether he was working for a specific publication or pursuing a personal agenda. He never mentioned the misleading claims that he went on to raise in the story. He didn’t follow up for any specific response. We would expect far more of an organization that undoubtedly holds itself to basic journalism standards.

We will continue to see and set the highest possible standards in assembling and publishing this kind of work.

CommonWealth editor Bruce Mohl’s retort is on the publication’s website, so I will simply link to it rather than reproducing all of it. I think perhaps the most substantive criticism offered in the Globe statement is that Herman’s attempts to obtain comment from the Globe were insufficient. Here’s what Mohl says about that:

He [Herman] did reach out to many officials at the Globe during the early phase of his reporting, when it was unclear who he would submit the story to, and never heard back from any of them. He did not follow up more recently when the focus of the piece became clearer.

Mohl also says that the Globe shared emails and texts with CommonWealth showing that the scientists were aware of Philip Morris’ involvement. He writes that CommonWealth “has reached out to all the scientists quoted in its article to ask them about the Globe’s documentation, but had not heard back from any of them yet.”

An odd and very remote encounter with racism. Or was it? To be continued.

I’ve got a ton of good stuff to blog about, and I hope to get to some items over the next few days. Right now, though, I’ve got to say something about a weird experience I had yesterday.

I was on the train back to Boston, cleaning up the transcript of an interview I’d done in New Jersey, where I was reporting on a nonprofit news organization called NJ Spotlight News. I paid more than I usually do so that there would be a human set of eyes looking it over before sending it back. The quality was excellent — but there was a section in which my subject and I were talking about race. Every reference to “White” was uppercase and every reference to “black” was lowercase.

If you’ve been following changes in news style over the past few years, you know that some pretty significant shifts have been implemented. The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Boston Globe all decided to start uppercasing Black but not white. Here’s how Globe editor Brian McGrory explained the paper’s reasoning in January 2020:

Effective immediately, we’re updating the Globe stylebook to put the word Black in uppercase when it is used to describe a person’s race. After consulting with leaders in the Black community, we’re making this change to recognize that the word has evolved from a description of a person’s skin color to signify a race and culture, and as such, deserves uppercase treatment in the same way that other races — Latino being one example — are capitalized. Unless otherwise requested by a person we’re writing about, we’ll use Black, which is considered to be more inclusive, rather than African-American.

Why not “white”? As the AP described it, “white people in general have much less shared history and culture, and don’t have the experience of being discriminated against because of skin color.”

The Washington Post took a different position, uppercasing both “Black” and “White,” explaining, “Stories involving race show that White also represents a distinct cultural identity in the United States.” That’s fine, and I suspect that at some point others may follow suit.

But referring to uppercase White people and lowercase black people is something you’d expect from the racist dark reaches of the internet. I was kind of startled to see it come from a reputable transcription service — and no, I’m not going to name them, so don’t ask. I might let them know (now I’ll have this blog post to send them), and if I get a response, I’ll tell you what they said.

A new and disturbing wrinkle to Philip Morris’ ads in The Boston Globe

Update (April 4): The Boston Globe has issued a statement responding to the CommonWealth article. CommonWealth editor Bruce Mohl has issued a counter-response. Read them both here.

Colman M. Herman has a scorcher for CommonWealth Magazine: “Scientists object to inclusion in Globe’s Philip Morris ads.” It seems that a number of scientists were interviewed for what turned out to be sponsored content — that is, paid advertising — without their knowing that’s what they were doing. Herman writes:

The Boston Globe is facing a growing chorus of criticism from public health advocates and media critics for working with Philip Morris to create and publish stories featuring interviews with prominent scientists, many of whom say they were never told the true purpose of the interviews — for inclusion in Philip Morris ads.

Herman writes that Globe executives declined his repeated efforts to obtain comment. This is just a mess. Herman interviewed me; and, as I wrote last June, neither the Globe nor any other media organization ought to publish ads from tobacco companies, especially all these years after they stopped accepting cigarette ads.

False rumors about Wu’s mental health recall attacks on Michael Dukakis in 1988

Then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1987. Photo (cc) City of Boston Archives.

Today’s Boston Globe story about the right-wing whispering campaign suggesting that Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has suffered from serious panic attacks while in office (there is no evidence) calls to mind the rumors about Michael Dukakis’ mental health that circulated during his 1988 presidential campaign.

Dukakis’ Republican opponent, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, helmed one of the dirtiest campaigns in the modern era. Everyone remembers the racist Willie Horton ad, but there were also rumors — grounded in nothing — that Dukakis suffered from depression.

As recalled in this retrospective by Dylan Scott in Stat News, President Ronald Reagan got in on the act, pushing into the mainstream a conspiracy theory that emanated from LaRouchie right:

In early August, in those pre-Twitter days, Reagan made the gossip front-page news. The president said at a White House press conference, in response to a question about Dukakis, that he didn’t want to “pick on an invalid.”

Reagan quickly apologized, but the story was off and running. The New York Times and Washington Post wrote editorials denouncing the attacks. The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Miami Herald published lengthy stories about the rumors and their source.

Dukakis’ 17-point polling lead over Bush collapsed, and, of course, Bush went on to win that November. As Dukakis said, “you don’t drop eight points in a week for nothing.”

The claim may have resonated because there was just enough there for the conspiracists to dig into. Dukakis’ wife, Kitty Dukakis, had long suffered from depression, and, as the Stat piece noted, biographies of Dukakis said that “he had been unhappy after his brother died in 1973 and, again in 1978, after he lost his reelection for governor.” Nothing unusual about that, of course.

So, too, with Wu. Her mother has struggled with mental illness. And in January the Globe published a story that included this line: “A decade ago, when Wu first mentioned to someone outside her close circle that she was considering a run for office, she had a panic attack; she had to walk across the room and crouch down to calm herself.” In other words, years ago and hardly unusual behavior — and also a long way from landing in the hospital, as the current rumors claim.

The false rumors about Wu have almost but not quite broken into the mainstream, according to the Globe’s Emma Platoff. Greg Hill of WEEI Radio (93.7 FM) mentioned them sympathetically, perhaps unaware that there was nothing to them. Platoff also cites a column in late January by the Boston Herald’s Joe Battenfeld, who wrote: “Unfortunately for the Harvard-educated Wu, there isn’t an Ivy League seminar or class to learn how to grapple with these anxiety-inducing problems.” But having read Battenfeld’s column in its entirety, I don’t agree that he was making any reference to the rumors.

One unanswerable question about all this is whether a major media outlet like the Globe should amplify the rumors. Platoff addresses that:

There are those who believe this Globe story will worsen the problem. Experts say it can be a mistake to mention this kind of misinformation in a reputable newspaper; that even debunking a rumor grants it oxygen. But as this false claim spreads through the city’s power centers, it has already leaked into public discourse. And the mayor, who has been open about her mother’s struggle with schizophrenia, was glad to correct the record, saying it was important to call out both mental health stigma and misinformation.

She also quotes Wu herself, who says it’s better to address the rumors head-on than to let them fester. “I want to be transparent about the presence of these tactics, even today, because we need to acknowledge it to be able to change it,” Wu told Platoff. “It does feel connected to larger trends in politics and international politics: If you just repeat something that’s false enough times, at least you can sow a little doubt in the broader public’s mind. And that’s a really dangerous place to be.”

I don’t know whether putting it out there is a good idea or not. As Wu herself acknowledges, it’s already partly out there, so perhaps it’s better to address it head-on. Still, people are going to believe what they want to believe. We are long past the time when facts made any difference. We weren’t even there in 1988.

BoMag and the Globe offer dueling theories about who shot David Ortiz

David Ortiz celebrates the first of his three championships with the Red Sox. Photo (cc) 2013 by Colin Steele.

Boston magazine and The Boston Globe published dueling stories over the weekend that recount the 2019 shooting of Red Sox legend David Ortiz.

The Boston magazine story, by Mike Damiano, appears to have been many weeks, if not months, in the making — it’s a rich, deeply reported story about Ortiz’s life in the Dominican Republic and his complicated family situation. The Globe article, by Bob Hohler, may have been assigned (or least put on the fast track) in reaction to  BoMag. It’s a newsy account of that attempts to get to the bottom of who ordered Ortiz’s shooting, and why.

By all means, read both. But by far the most interesting detail is the dueling theories about the role of a major drug trafficker, César Peralta, known as “The Abuser.” According to the Globe’s account, former Boston police commissioner Ed Davis, who was hired by Ortiz to investigate the shooting, Peralta is in fact the guy who ordered the hit. Hohler writes:

Davis, disclosing his findings for the first time, said the powerful and politically connected drug lord César “The Abuser” Peralta came to feel disrespected by Ortiz, prompting him to place a bounty on Ortiz’s head and sanction the ragtag hit squad that tried to kill him.

“Peralta said he had David shot,” Davis said in an interview, citing information that he said US law enforcement officials gathered and shared with him.

The BoMag story, on the other hand, all but rules out Peralta as having any role. Here’s what Damiano has to say:

As I, too, tried to get to the bottom of what caused the shooting, I found that the closer I got to people with genuine knowledge of the Santo Domingo underworld, the more skepticism I heard about the love-triangle theory and any possibility of Peralta’s involvement. One man I spoke with who knows many of the men in Peralta’s circle, as well as some of the men accused of involvement in the shooting, said that the theory was bunk. No part of it added up, he said, and hardly anyone in his neighborhood — Herrera, a hot bed of Dominican drug trafficking — believed it.

The two accounts also raise some questions about access. The Globe’s owner and publisher, John Henry, is also the principal owner of the Red Sox. Davis is a security consultant for the Globe. It does not appear that Davis shared his theory about Peralta with BoMag.

Both stories dismiss the widely mocked theory put forth by Dominican authorities that Ortiz was the victim of mistaken identity.

The conclusion I took away from Damiano’s and Hohler’s reporting was that we may never know who ordered the hit on Ortiz. I’m just glad he’s still with us.

Footnote: I’m told that Damiano has been hired by the Globe.

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