Why the Globe’s pullback on the Kraft video is a mistake

The Boston Globe has dropped out of the legal battle for the Robert Kraft sex video, according to Deadspin. In a statement, the Globe said it no longer had any interest in obtaining the video since Florida authorities had backed off their original claim that human trafficking was involved. The statement said in part:

Authorities have now said the charges against Robert Kraft are not part of a human trafficking case. While we still have an interest in video from outside the spa, we’ve decided to focus our energy on the famously weak public records laws of Massachusetts.

Here’s the problem. Florida’s public records law is well-known for its all-encompassing nature, and that’s good for open government and a free press. Though it’s true that no one needs to see the video outside the criminal justice system, any chipping away of free press rights could have unanticipated negative effects somewhere down the road.

Bad move. Fortunately, about 20 other news organizations continue to seek the video.

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Globe: Comments were killed because of ‘personal attacks,’ not criticism of John Henry

Update: The Globe sent the following statement at 2:21 p.m.:

BGMP [Boston Globe Media Partners] uses a third-party service for comment moderation called ICUC. Readers post comments and also flag inappropriate ones for review. If a comment flagged for review doesn’t conform to our guidelines, ICUC will block it.

These comments were removed because they included personal attacks on an individual, which is a violation of our comment guidelines. While our guidelines allow for more leniency against public figures, attacks against a person’s morality (for example, the use of “Liar-in-Chief”) are against our standards.

Based on the “Liar-in-Chief” example, it sounds like the problem was related to criticism of President Trump rather than of John Henry. I’ve done some editing below to reflect the tone of the statement.

Original item (with edits): The Red Sox’ visit to the White House, scheduled for later today, has put The Boston Globe in an awkward position: Globe publisher John Henry is also the principal owner of the Red Sox, and a number of observers have called on the Sox to cancel given that manager Alex Cora, who is Puerto Rican, and the team’s players of color are all taking a pass.

The controversy has spilled over into the comments on the Globe’s website. If you take a look at any of the stories about the visit (like this one), you’ll find multiple examples of comments that have been blocked. We may assume that many of those comments contained racist content. At least three, though, were harshly critical of Henry but otherwise inoffensive.

Two were sent to me by “Sam the Man,” an anonymous commenter who used what appeared to be his real name in communicating with me. I grabbed the third comment myself — it struck me as similar to the first two, and I was wondering whether it would be blocked. It was. Here they are:

From “Sam the Man,” Sunday, 5:17 p.m.: “True that, but I have less respect now for Henry, who has set up a divisive situation by agreeing in that there is now a racial division on the team. Henry should back off, and if he doesn’t he’s no better than Trump butt-kisser Kraft.

“Henry should call the whole thing off. To go is to play into Trump’s hands as well as weaken the team.

“Alex, you are a true leader.”

Also from “Sam the Man”: “John Henry: Call off this trip to visit the Liar-in-Chief. The trip will be manipulated by Trump, will hurt racial harmony on your team, and will send a bad message to our citizens. Be a leader, support your manager.”

From “Thoughtful1,” Monday, 4:54 p.m.: “Note to John Henry: actions speak louder than words. Your newspaper condemns Trump’s divisive policies but now you are going to kiss his ring. You condemned the alleged racism of Tom Yawkey but where you have a chance to make a statement about the bigoted rhetoric of the President of the United States, you have chosen to back off.”

Globe vice president and spokeswoman Jane Bowman sent me this statement earlier this morning:

We value our subscribers who further discussions about stories and topics by posting comments representing a variety of viewpoints. The Globe moderates comments in order to allow our well-informed community of readers to hold civil discussions that move ideas forward in a productive way.

It’s notable that, on Monday, the Globe published a column by Adrian Walker that was quite tough on Sox management. Walker interviewed Sox chief executive Sam Kennedy and pointed out that Henry owns both the Globe and the Red Sox. Walker concluded his column with this:

Henry once spoke of being “haunted” by the legacy left by Yawkey, the last owner to bring a black player to his team. That statement came in the course of announcing the team’s correct and unpopular decision to have Yawkey’s name removed from the home of Fenway Park.

Now the “white” Sox are going to the White House, while their manager and most of their teammates of color sit home in silent but unmistakable protest.

I think someday that will prove haunting too.

I don’t think the Globe’s comments (or those of most other newspapers) are especially well managed. I’ve long argued that if you’re not going to screen every comment before it goes up, then you shouldn’t have comments at all. I think newspapers ought to consider a real-names policy, too.

But if you’re going to have them, you certainly need to take steps to ensure that non-crazy comments that are critical of the paper’s owner don’t get taken down — even if that’s not actually the reason they were deleted.

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The Wall Street Journal takes on the local news crisis

Wall Street Journal reporters Keach Hagey, Lukas I. Alpert and Yaryna Serkez weigh in today with a comprehensive overview of the crisis threatening local newspapers — a crisis that contrasts with the relative good health of the three national papers, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Journal.

It’s well worth reading, even if there’s nothing especially new. Two quick observations:

1. Although the story pays lip service to the harmful effects of chain ownership, it doesn’t quite get at the fundamental problems: the debt amassed to build the chain, the lack of investment in technology, and the drain created by having to export a good chunk of revenues to some distant corporate headquarters.

2. The Journal also calls The Boston Globe a “notable outlier” among regional papers for its relative success in building digital subscriptions and maintaining a decent-size newsroom. The obvious if unmade argument is that other papers could do the same with committed local owners.

Globe owner John Henry is not perfect, but MediaNews Group (the new name for Digital First Media), Gannett or GateHouse would likely have cut the newsroom of roughly 220 people by another 100 or so.

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The Globe gets ready to sail its Arc into Rhode Island

Big changes are coming for Boston Globe digital subscribers, not to mention staff members. Over the next few weeks, visitors to BostonGlobe.com will be driven to Arc, the paper’s new content-management system, according to an email to the staff from senior product manager Eric Westby. The email was passed along by a trusted source who asked to remain anonymous.

The Globe is licensing Arc from The Washington Post, where the CMS was developed.  As a Globe subscriber, I’m hoping for a consistent user experience across all platforms, web, tablet and phone, as is the case with washingtonpost.com and its “classic” (black) apps. The Globe unveiled an Arc-based mobile app last fall, but it remains underdeveloped. Among other things, you still can’t swipe horizontally through articles on the iOS version. (I’m told that you can if you’re an Android user.)

The final steps toward adopting Arc come at the same time that the Globe is making a digital push into Rhode Island, hiring three veteran reporters (so far) at a time when The Providence Journal is being decimated by GateHouse Media, its corporate chain owner. Improved digital platforms should help with that push — but only if the Globe really commits to getting Arc right.

The full text of Westby’s email follows.

Dear Colleagues,

A quick update on the upcoming Arc CMS launch. We’re happy to report that our Arc beta test has been a success, and we’ll be ending the test and moving BostonGlobe.com visitors to an Arc-driven site beginning April 22. Our plan is to transition the bulk of our traffic from Méthode to Arc gradually over the course of that week. Visitors will be randomly assigned to the Arc group in stages, with all traffic driven to Arc by Friday, April 26. Two things to note:

    • The plan is for the redesigned Globe.com homepage and the sports section front to follow one week later, in order to mitigate any potential workflow or technical issues at launch. Our current plan is to move these two critical pages from Méthode to Arc on or about May 1.
    • With this launch, we will have effectively moved BostonGlobe.com to a sleeker, more modern, and more flexible design, one that’s built for our future and run with the best system in its class. You’ll still notice an odd page here and there in the old site layout: Today’s Paper, Crosswords, Author pages, etc. We will be transitioning these pages one at a time in the weeks ahead, both to account for variables with the coding and to ensure our readers don’t lose any functionality during this important transition.

Articles will continue to be written and edited in Méthode for now, with the move to Ellipsis (Arc’s article authoring tool) soon to follow. This rollout will be a phased approach that will require training and careful planning. You’ll be receiving more information on the Ellipsis rollout soon.

There will no doubt be bugs to squash, but this launch will mark a major milestone in our Arc rollout.

All the best,

Eric Westby
Senior Product Manager, BostonGlobe.com

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About that pissy column in (and out of) The Boston Globe

In case you missed it, “Beat the Press” last Friday took on The Boston Globe’s twice-edited, thrice-published, once-deleted column by freelancer Luke O’Neil in which he initially wrote, “One of the biggest regrets in my life is not pissing in Bill Kristol’s salmon.” Also, interim editorial-page editor Shirley Leung spoke with “Boston Public Radio” and O’Neil gave an interview to WGBH News.

To me, the puzzle is how this ever got published in the first place. If that obvious lapse could have been avoided, not only would the Globe have spared itself quite a bit of embarrassment, but O’Neil wouldn’t have been hung out to dry on social media. O’Neil doesn’t exactly seem contrite, so maybe he thinks this has all been good for the brand.

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John and Linda Henry disagree on whether The Boston Globe is profitable

Fascinating stuff from the Boston Business Journal.

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Newspaper Guild and John Henry trade charges over Globe contract talks

Contract negotiations between The Boston Globe and the Boston Newspaper Guild are becoming increasingly tense, with the Guild accusing management of union-busting and Globe publisher John Henry denying it.

Earlier this week the Guild posted an open letter to John Henry and his wife, Linda Pizzuti Henry, who is the paper’s managing director. The key takeaway:

Now, we are in the midst of negotiations led by a mercenary law firm that is trying to bully your employees into a contract that essentially asks them to give up their rights as union members. These tactics are threatening to destroy the long-standing, constructive and respectful relationship between the Guild and management. This approach to collective bargaining has also stoked feelings of deep anger and even betrayal among employees. It is doomed to fail.

That was followed by John Henry’s sending an email to the Boston Business Journal in response to the Guild’s letter. The highlight:

Globe management has set a very simple but very important goal of strengthening our newsroom for the challenges of a long-term future in local journalism. The Globe and the guild need to engage in a collaborative effort designed to ensure what both sides need in order to have a vibrant workplace and serve the needs of our community.

This has been ugly right from the start, and it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better.

Earlier: “Newspaper Guild blasts Boston Globe management over contract woes” (Dec. 14).

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Overcoming digital distraction. Plus, The New York Times’ $1.1b folly, and saving community access TV.

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Do you find it more difficult to read a book these days? Or even a long article? Do you catch yourself pausing every so often (OK, make that every few minutes) to see what’s new on Facebook, scroll through Twitter, check email, or possibly all of the above? Has concentration given way to distraction?

You’re not alone. For years, writers like Nicholas Carr (“The Shallows”) and Virginia Heffernan (“Magic and Loss”) have worried that the internet is rewiring our brains and transforming us from deep readers into jittery skimmers. In “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” Jaron Lanier writes that — well, you know.

The latest entry in what has grown into a burgeoning list of digital jeremiads is an essay that appeared in The New York Times over the weekend. The piece, by Kevin Roose, is headlined “Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain.” Over the course of nearly 2,500 words, Roose describes in anguished detail how his smartphone had left him “incapable of reading books, watching full-length movies or having long uninterrupted conversations.” Social media, he adds, had made him “angry and anxious.”

Roose’s solution: A detox program overseen by Catherine Price, the author of “How to Break Up with Your Phone.” Without going into detail (after all, you can read about it yourself), by the end of the program our hero is happier, healthier, and less addicted to his phone.

Digital dependency is a real problem, and it’s hard to know what to do about it. I know that as well as anyone. Over the years, my writing has become symbiotically enmeshed with the internet — I look things up and fact-check as I go, and I can’t imagine returning to the days of writing first, checking later, even though the result would probably be more coherent. Social media and email are ever-present impediments to the task at hand.

But it’s a lot easier to describe what we ought to do than to actually do it. I recommend mindful reading either in print or on one of the more primitive Kindles. In reality, I read the news on an iPad while admonishing myself not to tweet any of it — usually without much success. I need to be on social media for professional purposes, which makes it all the harder to stay away from energy-draining non-professional uses.

We are not doing ourselves any favors. “You know the adage that you should choose a partner on the basis of who you become when you’re around the person?” writes Lanier. “That’s a good way to choose technologies, too.”

The problem is that we didn’t choose our technologies. They chose us, backed by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, whose billions grow every time his engineers figure out a way to keep us more addicted and less able to break ourselves of the habit. We need solutions. I’ll get back to you on that. Right after I check Facebook. Again.

Looking back at a deal gone bad

More than a quarter-century after the New York Times Co. bought The Boston Globe for the unheard-of price of $1.1 billion, the transaction remains a sore point in some circles. As I’m sure you know, Red Sox principal owner John Henry bought the paper for just $70 million in 2013, which turned out to be less than the value of the real estate.

In her new book, “Merchants of Truth,” former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson is blisteringly critical of the 1993 acquisition. Describing the Times Co.’s strategy of that era, she writes: “Some recent business blunders had made the structural damage inflicted by the internet even more painful. The worst was the purchase of The Boston Globe at precisely the moment the glory days of newspaper franchises were ending.” (My “Beat the Press” colleague Emily Rooney interviewed Abramson for our most recent broadcast, and she did not shy away from asking some tough questions about errors in Abramson’s book as well as credible accusations of plagiarism.)

In a recent interview with the newspaper analyst Ken Doctor, Times Co. CEO Mark Thompson described what he and his fellow executives were up against in late 2012: “The thinking at the top of the company when I arrived was that the Times should sell The Boston Globe, and that it was going to be fantastically difficult to manage the Globe in a way where it wasn’t going to become over time a net depleter of the total business, rather than something that was going to add to the success of the company.”

So was the Times Co.’s decision to pay all that money for the Globe really such a boneheaded move? When I was interviewing people for my book “The Return of the Moguls,” I got some pretty strong pushback to that proposition from former Globe editor Matt Storin and current editor Brian McGrory.

Storin told me that the Globe turned a profit of some $90 million in one of its first years under Times Co. ownership. “Imagine today if you made a $90 million profit,” he said. “I mean, those classified ads were just a gold mine. The Times knew that, and I think that’s one of the reasons why they bought us. They didn’t foresee that that was going to disappear, obviously.”

McGrory sounded a similar theme. “For 15 to 18 years there were Brinks trucks driving down I-95 with tens of millions of dollars every year, amounting to hundreds millions over that time, taking money from Boston to New York,” he said. “They made their investment just fine.”

The reality is most likely somewhere in the middle. From 1993 until about 2005, the Globe earned plenty of money for the Times Co. But then things went seriously south, with the Globe losing $85 million by 2009, a situation so dire that the Times threatened to shut down the paper unless the unions agreed to $20 million worth of givebacks. (They did.)

For the Times Co., the real mistake wasn’t in buying the Globe — it was in keeping it for too long.

Last stand for community access TV

This past November I wrote about an industry-supported effort by the FCC to allow the cable companies to save money by cutting what they spend to support local public-access operations.

Naturally, the FCC is pushing ahead with this anti-consumer proposal. So now advocates of local do-it-yourself media are asking supporters to sign an online petition to Congress asking that lawmakers stop the new rule from taking effect.

“PEG [public, educational, and governmental] access channels provide local content in communities that are not served by the broadcast industry and are increasingly under-served by newspapers,” says the petition. “They help prevent ‘media deserts’ in towns and cities across the U.S. and ensure diversity of opinion at the local level.”

Will it matter? I suspect that elected members of Congress from both parties will prove more amenable to public pressure than FCC chair Ajit Pai, who led the campaign to kill net neutrality. But we won’t know unless we try. So let’s try.

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Jack Driscoll, former Globe editor and distinguished Northeastern alum, dies

Very sad news tonight as The Boston Globe is reporting that one of its former editors, Jack Driscoll, has died. Among other things, Mr. Driscoll was among the most distinguished journalism graduates of Northeastern University — back before we had a formal journalism program.

Mr. Driscoll retired from the Globe in 1993 and had a long, productive retirement at the MIT Media Lab and as a pioneering citizen journalist. Kevin Cullen has the details.

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Book review: Jill Abramson paints a cloudy picture for journalism and democracy

Jill Abramson. Photo (cc) 2015 via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s easy to imagine how Jill Abramson’s new book might have turned out differently. In “Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts,” the veteran journalist follows the fortunes of four media organizations. BuzzFeed and Vice are young, energetic, willing to break rules and try new things. The New York Times and The Washington Post are stodgy, sclerotic giants trying to grope their way toward a digital future. We all know how that’s going to turn out. Right?

Well, something unexpected happened on the way to the old-media boneyard.

Read the rest at The Boston Globe. And talk about this review on Facebook.