The Globe’s partnership with Biogen raises potential ethical concerns

The Boston Globe has announced a partnership with Biogen in which the company’s 4,000 Massachusetts-based employees will receive digital subscriptions. “As part of the deal,” writes Globe reporter Jon Chesto, “the Globe will host two town-hall style discussions around topics of Biogen’s choosing.” In return, the Globe will be paid somewhere in range of six figures.

State House News Service’s MASSter List estimates the deal at $800,000 and warns that it is “rife with conflicts-of-interest concerns.” Indeed it is. I’m not especially worried that the Globe’s coverage of Biogen will turn squishy as a result of the deal, because it’s not really any different from the pressures news organizations are under to go easy on an advertiser — or, in the case of a nonprofit, a funder.

It all comes down to those town halls. How involved will the Globe newsroom be? Will the Globe’s promotion of those town halls cross any ethical lines?

Good for the Globe for finding another revenue stream, especially at a time when COVID is wiping out what was left of already-shrinking ad revenues. Nevertheless, this is worth keeping an eye on.

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Boston Globe employees told to work at home for the rest of the year

Boston Globe employees were told Wednesday that employees should continue to work remotely through the end of the year, although they may choose to come in to the office for no more than two days a week after Labor Day. What follows is the top of the memo from the Boston Globe Media Partners executive team, which I obtained from a trusted source.

Hello all,

On behalf of the Executive Leadership Team and Safety Committee, we want to provide some important updates and clarification on opening the Boston Exchange Place / 53 State Street office, as well as the Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. offices. We have talked before about how the Boston office would reopen after Labor Day to serve as an optional amenity for people who needed a break working from home, and that it would still be limited to not more than two days per week. We want to emphasize that while we greatly miss being together, not only are you not expected to return work in person, but we do not want or need for you to come in.

We are arranging the office to be safe for people who want to use it on a limited basis, but the preference is that you continue to work from home.  We have been monitoring the pandemic and will continue to respond based on state guidelines, but in the meantime, we are extending this phase of limited, optional-only use of the office through the end of the year.

To be clear, we want the Boston offices to be as empty as possible for the remainder of 2020. While we realize that there could be an expectation that managers may want you to show up in person, or that you may miss out on an opportunity if you are not in the office, we want to dispel that notion by emphasizing that managers do not and must not expect you to return to the office for the remainder of the year. If you have concerns or questions about this, please talk to your manager or reach out to your HR partner to discuss.

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Boston Globe promotes two editors of color to masthead positions

Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory today announced two promotions. In a memo to the staff, McGrory said that Ideas section editor Anica Butler has been named the deputy managing editor for local news, replacing Felice Belman, who recently departed for The New York Times. City editor Nestor Ramos will receive a new title — senior assistant managing editor for local news.

Both Butler’s and Ramos’ names will appear on the masthead, which represents a step forward for a paper seeking to become more diverse. Butler is the first Black woman and Ramos the first Latino to ascend to news-side* masthead positions. Years ago, Greg Moore, who’s African American, was the Globe’s managing editor (the No. 3 position in the newsroom at that time), but he left for The Denver Post in 2002.

A trusted source provided me with McGrory’s memo a little while ago. The full text follows.

Personnel

I’m beyond delighted to share a pair of key personnel announcements.

First, Anica Butler will take over as the Globe’s new deputy managing editor for local news, better known as the metro editor, among the most pivotal roles in any newsroom. She’s been preparing for this job for many years, and preparing extraordinarily well. Her nearly nine years at the Globe have been marked by seismic stories, and Anica always seems to be in the throes of them. She managed, morning to night, our coverage of the Aaron Hernandez, Tsarnaev, and Whitey Bulger trials, three epic events in this city’s history. She brought to all of them a digital, in-the-moment mindset that in many ways laid the groundwork for how we’ve approached big, unfolding stories ever since. In a somewhat gaudy display of her broad range, she then went on to edit a key installment in our 2017 series on the state’s woefully inadequate mental health system, a project that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting.

Anica served a relatively short stint as Felice Belman’s main deputy on the metro desk, and as such, was a key bridge between metro and the digital world, organizing the day in the early morning, dispatching reporters, keying in on the most important journalism that we would focus on that cycle. She was pulled away by the siren song of the Nieman fellowship at Harvard University. When she returned, Anica took over the Ideas section, making it ever more compelling as it took on newsier subjects and brought far greater diversity in voices.

I certainly don’t have to tell anyone that Anica is a wonderful colleague. She’s also the brand new mother of a ten-week-old daughter. As has often been said, when you want to get something done, ask a busy person. Anica will start in this new role when her family leave ends on September 8.

Nestor Ramos, who has proven himself invaluable in his relatively new role as deputy metro editor, better known as the city editor, will take on the enhanced title of senior assistant managing editor for local news, a masthead position. This is a straight-up acknowledgement of his enormous impact on the room and our coverage. Given the coronavirus, given the economic collapse, remote work, social justice, racial injustice, he has been a pivotal leader in what has basically been a decade’s worth of news crammed into the first seven-plus months of 2020. Back in December, when Jen, Jason, and I convinced a reluctant columnist to become an editor,  we knew we needed him at the figurative and literal center of our newsroom. We had no idea how much we needed him, or just how well Nestor would perform — with reporters, other editors, ideas, copy, hiring, you name it. On top of all this, Nestor was announced as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing this spring for his jaw-dropping story on how the climate crisis has ravaged Cape Cod. Nestor, too, is a hall-of-fame colleague in ways big and small, plus the father of two young daughters, ages 4 and 1. The promotion will take effect immediately, and Nestor will report to Anica, in what will be as formidable a duo as there is in this industry.

Please reach out and congratulate Anica and Nestor, and thank them for all they’re about to do.

Brian

*Correction: Added “news-side” to make it clear that there have been persons of color on the masthead from the opinion operation.

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Will the Globe revoke its endorsement of Jake Auchincloss?

Jake Auchincloss

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.

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The Globe’s early endorsement of Markey isn’t quite as early as it seems

It’s generally understood that when newspaper editorial boards endorse candidates, they do so as late as possible in order to avoid the perception that their news coverage will be slanted in favor of the endorsee. So I was surprised to see The Boston Globe endorse U.S. Sen. Ed Markey over his Democratic primary challenger, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy, a full five weeks before the primary.

What gives? According to the Globe’s editorial-page editor, Bina Venkataraman, it’s later than it seems: mail-in voting will begin soon, so the Sept. 1 primary date is merely the last day that people can cast ballots. I’d honestly forgotten that, even though I’ve applied to vote by mail.

In fact, as David Bernstein recently pointed out at WGBH News, the two campaigns are engaged in furious get-out-the-vote efforts already. Huge numbers of Massachusetts voters are expected to take advantage of the mail-in option in order to avoid exposure to COVID-19 at the polls.

There’s still a dilemma, though. Because Markey and Kennedy will be campaigning right up until Sept. 1, the Globe’s news reporters will have to fend of complaints of bias for more than a month. The editorial pages at a quality paper like the Globe do not affect news coverage (for example), but try explaining that to the general public.

Should newspapers endorse candidates at all, or is that an outmoded custom? I’ve found that my students are dubious about the merits of news organizations’ telling people whom to vote for. But I think it can be a valuable exercise, especially in situations where an endorsement might really make a difference.

In this case, the Globe endorsement might matter. Markey and Kennedy hold similar progressive views, and readers will sit up and take notice that the Globe isn’t endorsing a Kennedy, as they might have been expected to do — although, as a longtime Globe reader, I can’t say I was all that surprised that they went with Markey.

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Contrary to buzz in the newsroom, Linda Henry says: ‘The Globe is not for sale’

Are John and Linda Henry looking to sell The Boston Globe? Folks in the newsroom have been wondering in recent weeks. But according to Linda Henry, the paper’s managing director, the answer is no.

Henry hosted a Zoom town hall for Globe employees earlier today. Among the questions she was asked, according to a source, was whether the departure of Boston Globe Media president Vinay Mehra last week was related to a possible sale. I contacted her a short time later, and she replied via email:

The question [at the town hall] was if Vinay’s departure had anything to do with our ownership status, which it absolutely doesn’t. This doesn’t affect our thinking or what we have said about stewarding this great institution. The Globe is not for sale, I’m pretty sure you would have picked up on if it was.

The idea that a sale might be under consideration gained steam recently when Sarah Betancourt reported reported in CommonWealth Magazine that — according to the Boston Newspaper Guild — the Henrys were “apparently insisting on the removal of a provision in the existing contract that would keep the contract terms intact if the newspaper is sold.” Management and the Guild have been enmeshed in acrimonious contract talks for quite some time.

Yet in most respects the Globe seems to be doing well, although its status as a profitable business probably came a sudden halt when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and advertising nosedived. The paper went over the long-hoped-for 200,000 mark in digital subscriptions recently, and hiring continues. Just today, editorial-page editor Bina Venkataraman announced that Kimberly Atkins would be leaving WBUR Radio and joining the opinion section as a Washington-based senior writer.

Editor Brian McGrory also announced ambitious plans just last week to improve the diversity of the Globe’s hiring, promotions and coverage.

Two years ago, John Henry responded to similar talk of a sale by saying: “I don’t think of selling any local assets during my lifetime. Linda and I love and are committed to this city.”

It sounds like that hasn’t changed.

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The Globe, the Red Sox and a long-ago story of racism and sexual abuse

Now here’s an interesting media twist. Michael Rezendes, who did so much to expose Cardinal Bernard Law’s involvement in the Catholic Church’s pedophile-priest crisis when he was a member of the Spotlight Team at The Boston Globe, has written a new report about sexual abuse — this one involving the Red Sox, whose principal owner, John Henry, is also the owner of the Globe.

Rezendes, who’s retired from the Globe, now works for The Associated Press. His story was published on the Globe’s website today at 3:40 a.m. and presumably will be in Wednesday’s print edition.

The report is about former Red Sox clubhouse manager Don Fitzpatrick, who for years preyed on young Black clubhouse employees. Fitzpatrick left the Sox in 1991 — 10 years before Henry bought the team — and pleaded guilty to charges of sexual battery in 2002.

Although Fitzpatrick was long gone before the dawn of the Henry era, the team remains entangled in Fitzpatrick’s web. Victims are seeking compensation, suggesting that it’s hypocritical for the Red Sox to come to terms publicly with their history of racism (some of it pretty recent) while failing to reach out to Fitzpatrick’s victims.

One of Fitzpatrick’s alleged victims, Gerald Armstrong, told Rezendes, “Now would be a good time for the Red Sox to show everyone they mean what they say.”

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Globe editor Brian McGrory addresses diversity in the newsroom and in coverage

Also published at WGBHNews.org.

This past Wednesday, Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory sent a long memo to his staff about steps the Globe will take to respond to issues of race and equity — both in the paper’s coverage and the diversity of its newsroom.

So far, at least, the Globe has been able to avoid the sort of public turmoil over race that the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, among other news organizations, have experienced. But the Globe has long suffered from a lack of people of color in leadership positions. The last ranking Black editor, Greg Moore, left for The Denver Post in 2002 several months after losing out on the top position to Marty Baron. (The Globe’s opinion pages are led by Bina Venkataraman, who is Indian American.)

A couple of other points. First, although McGrory sent this out on Wednesday, no one leaked it to me until late Thursday. I don’t know the outcome of the Thursday presentation McGrory refers to. If someone at the Globe would like to send something along, I’d love to see it. I’d consider publishing an anonymous report as long as I knew who it was from.

Second, toward the end McGrory mentions wanting the Globe to adopt what amounts to a “right to be forgotten” for people who’ve been charged or even convicted of minor crimes. This sounds like an excellent idea as long as news stories aren’t going to be deleted from the archives.

Before the web, print editions soon disappeared into microfilm collections that were virtually impossible to search, which meant that the sort of minor incidents McGrory is referring to could not be easily found by, say, prospective employers. We need some way of returning to those days of semi-privacy without destroying the historical record.

What follows is the full text of McGrory’s memo.

Updates and plans

Hey all,

We’ll start with a request: Everyone should do everything possible to attend Thursday’s presentation of the company’s inclusion council. You’ve received an invitation under separate cover for an 11 a.m. Zoom call. The group will share findings and insights that may be hard to hear, but are vitally important to know, so I’d urge you all to participate.

Beyond that, we agreed at our town meeting a few weeks back that discussions about race, even and especially discussions involving deeply uncomfortable truths, are utterly vital. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to have had a good number of one-on-one conversations and small group discussions with people in the room, all of which have been eye-opening to the point of being invaluable. While all these exchanges are important, they are but a start. The real marker of this moment will be the actions that we take. So here, I’d like to outline some of the plans for the newsroom going forward. They are not the final word. They are a starting point, something that will ideally serve as our foundation for durable progress.

Recent assignments

In terms of our coverage, some key assignments have already been made and are worth sharing with you now. We launched a criminal justice team to look at the underlying racism in law enforcement that has served as the tipping point in the protests and calls for action. About two weeks old, it’s already had remarkable impact with stories on outrageously high overtime payments and ballooning payrolls, police officers on the streets despite numerous civilian complaints, a T officer who quietly resigned after abusing a homeless man, the acquisition by Boston Police of more miltary-style equipment, and clear-eyed looks at the push to defund. There is much more on the way. That team includes Milton Valencia, Vernal Coleman, Evan Allen, Tonya Alanez, Andrew Ryan, and Evan Allen, with strong assists from Dugan Arnett, Laura Crimaldi, and Danny McDonald. It’s led by Brendan McCarthy and Nestor Ramos, in a pitch-perfect example of cross-department collaboration. We are past time giving Boston Police and other law enforcement the scrutiny they warrant; this team is already addressing that.

If we focus only on criminal justice, we have failed in our mission to address core issues of racial inequality in and around Boston, one of the most unequal places on the planet. This, as we’ve discussed for years, should be a part of everyone’s beat, whether you cover the environment, the arts, sports, transportation, retail, or real estate. It’s especially vital in primary education, where society blithely accepts systems that are profoundly unequal. We have a strong education team already in place. Naomi Martin will join it, and the indefatigable Felicia Gans will also play a pivotal role ramping up the digital presence as part of her broader portfolio. Felice Belman will now help editor Sarah Carr with oversight.

In addition, we’ve asked Deanna Pan, Zoe Greenberg, Dasia Moore, and Jenee Osterheldt to focus a good part of their time and creative energy on broader racial and social injustice issues, including that wide space where race and COVID collide. And our business staff will remain focused on the epic economic injustices that are prevalent in this region.

Before, during, and after the recent town meeting, many colleagues have been forthright and generous with their insights and ideas. Not surprisingly, they’ve been really thoughtful — and really appreciated. Many of the plans below are pulled from these conversations, discussions with senior editors, and feedback from smaller groups. Again, there should and will be more to come.

• Cover the neighborhoods of color in and around Boston with more intensity — the culture, the economics, the challenges, the triumphs, the people, while also looking at broader stories about city life. We would assign at least one but likely more reporters to it, with strong editing guidance. We would also look for partnerships and innovative ways to get information to residents.

• Promote and/or hire Black editors and other editors of color to significant roles, including, but by no means limited to, the masthead. This is of paramount importance.

• Require a staff-wide work audit for racial representation. Each reporter, photographer, columnist, producer, and editor will be given the necessary time to look back six months and assess their work through a racial lens — how many people of color were subjects, how many were quoted as experts, how many were depicted in photographs and videos, and in what fashion?
Likewise, we’ll go through home pages and print section fronts, as well as the magazine, to see how often and in what ways we depicted Black people and other people of color.

This exercise is not meant to embarrass or penalize anyone. It’s to learn from our own work and create awareness of what we need to do. We’ll figure out a meaningful way to share the broader results.

Meantime, it is of the utmost importance for everyone to include a diverse range of voices in stories and to develop sources who don’t look like you. Jenee has worked up a strong list of Black sources to share, with an assist from Adrian [Walker] and Yvonne Abraham, to help people get started.

• We’ve had important success hiring star journalists of color over the past couple of years, but we are nowhere near where we want or need to be. We’ll redouble our efforts to make the newsroom more diverse, with a dual focus on retention and hiring.

• Make sure we dedicate the right resources to cover law enforcement agencies as a key part of our regular and ongoing coverage.

Internal changes

• Reframe our summer internship program, beginning in 2021, to a diversity internship and training program in which all participants will be students or recent graduates of color.

• Mandate that a specific proportion of our co-ops are students of color.

• Work with the Guild to amend the newsroom’s ethics policy to allow for participation in Black Lives Matter rallies by staffers.

• Form a newsroom advisory council to weigh in on coverage and initiatives that involve race issues.

• Explore outside funding for a training program for early-career journalists of color, in partnership with universities, nonprofits, and possibly other news organizations. This program would allow for the hiring of journalists for a predetermined tenure at the Globe involving intensive training, mentorship, and meaningful work while they are here.

One more

• Launch a ‘right to forget’ initiative that allows people to appeal their presence in a story from the Globe archives and ask for it to be de-linked from search engines. This includes, but is not limited to, someone charged and even convicted of non-violent crimes. Our journalism was never meant to be a permanent obstacle to someone’s success, with the worst decisions and moments in regular people’s lives accessible by a few keystrokes for the rest of time. This will be a complicated endeavor, involving a small committee and imperfect judgments, but it will be worthwhile.

There will undoubtedly be additional measures. And we will also be working closely in the newsroom with ReadySet, a diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting firm that has been smartly engaged by the Globe’s inclusion council to help the entire organization.

As tends to happen in this business, we find ourselves at the intersection of opportunity and responsibility. It’s on all of us to make the most of it and to have the strongest impact, meaning we have much work to do in the weeks ahead.

Please keep reaching out with your thoughts, insights, and ideas.

Brian

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Boston Globe Media president Vinay Mehra is leaving

Vinay Mehra. Photo via LinkedIn.

Vinay Mehra, president of Boston Globe Media Partners, is leaving after three years at the helm, according to an announcement to employees by managing director Linda Henry late this afternoon.

No idea of what prompted this, but I wonder if Mehra’s departure might help break the logjam between the Boston Newspaper Guild and management, which are bogged down in protracted contract negotiations.

Then, too, the union has raised the prospect that John and Linda Henry are interested in selling the Globe, according to a recent story by Sarah Betancourt of CommonWealth Magazine. It seems unlikely, but who knows?

What follows is Linda Henry’s message, a copy of which was provided to me by a trusted source a little while ago.

After three years with us, today is Vinay Mehra’s last day with Boston Globe Media Partners.

We are grateful for his work in helping to stabilize and grow our remarkable organization and are especially thankful to him for building an incredibly strong and effective Senior Leadership Team. This team is well-positioned to lead our organization and to continue the important work of ensuring that our institution continues to serve our community and our mission for years to come.

We wish Vinay the best of luck in his next venture.

Linda Henry

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Bennet’s out as newsrooms come to terms (or not) with Black Lives Matter

Photo (cc) 2010 by samchills.

At least at the moment, I have little to add to the story of James Bennet’s departure as editorial-page editor of The New York Times beyond what Ben Smith of the Times, Tom Jones of the Poynter Institute and Jon Allsop of the Columbia Journalism Review have written, and what I wrote last week.

As Smith, Jones and Allsop point out, Bennet’s misguided decision to run Sen. Tom Cotton’s ugly commentary advocating violence against protesters should be seen as part of a larger story that encompasses Wesley Lowery’s unfortunate experience at The Washington Post, the resignation of Philadelphia Inquirer executive editor Stan Wischnowski over his paper’s horrendous “Buildings Matter, Too” headline, and the right-wing Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s meltdown over Alexis Johnson, a Black reporter whom they claimed couldn’t be trusted to cover Black Lives Matter protests because of an innocuous tweet she had posted.

Because of the Times’ central place in our media culture, Bennet’s departure is the big story. As the coverage makes clear, Bennet lurched from one misstep to another during his time as editorial-page editor, so it would be a mistake to attribute his departure solely to the Cotton op-ed. I don’t think he ever fully recovered from his mishandling of a Bret Stephens column in which Stephens came very close to endorsing a genetic basis for intelligence.

Bennet will be replaced through the election on an interim basis by deputy editorial-page editor Katie Kingsbury, who won a Pulitzer when she was at The Boston Globe. Kingsbury is terrific, and I hope she’s given a chance to earn the job.

Finally, a semi-related incident involving the Globe. You may have seen this on the front of Sunday’s print edition:

There’s no question that the cover, which you can see here, would have been considered entirely inoffensive before a police officer killed George Floyd. Even now I’m not sure how many readers would have been outraged. Still, I think the Globe made the right call. An abundance of caution and sensitivity is what’s needed at the moment.

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