Tag Archives: Boston Globe

Millionaires, billionaires, and the future of newspapers

tumblr_static_policycast_logoHard to believe, but my time as a Joan Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School will be ending soon. Recently I recorded an HKS PolicyCast podcast under the expert guidance of host Matt Cadwallader. We talked about my research regarding wealthy newspaper owners and whether the innovations they’ve introduced may show the way for others. I hope you’ll give it a listen.

As I’ve written before, I’m working on a book that will largely be about three such owners—Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who bought the Washington Post in 2013; Red Sox principal owner John Henry, who announced he would purchase the Boston Globe just three days before Bezos made his move; and greeting-card executive Aaron Kushner, whose time as publisher of the Orange County Register ended in 2015, but whose print-centric approach made him perhaps the most closely watched newspaper owner of 2012-’13.

Bezos and the Post will be the subject of the paper I’m writing for Shorenstein, so—in case any of you folks at the Globe were wondering—I’ve suspended my reporting on the Globe for the time being. I’ll be back.

A few thoughts on the 2016 Pulitzers

Congratulations to my former Beat the Press colleague Farah Stockman and to Jessica Rinaldi, both of whom won Pulitzer Prizes earlier today for their work for the Boston Globe.

Rinaldi won the Feature Photography award for her photo series of Strider Wolf, a boy in rural Maine trying to overcome a harrowingly dysfunctional upbringing. Amazingly, Rinaldi was also one of two runners-up in the same category for her photos of a Massachusetts drug addict caught up in the opioid epidemic.

Stockman, who is now a reporter with the New York Times, won in Commentary for a series on the legacy of Boston’s school-desegregation turmoil in the 1970s and ’80s. Stockman’s award is the third fourth Pulitzer recognition in a row for the Globe‘s editorial pages: last year Katie Kingsbury won for editorials that shed light on the harsh world of restaurant work; in 2014 Dante Ramos was a runner-up for writing about how to revive Boston’s less-than-vibrant nightlife; and in 2013 Juliette Kayyem was a finalist in Commentary.

The Globe covers its Pulitzer wins here.

Among the other Pulitzer winners, I was especially pleased to see the Washington Post win the National Reporting award for its deep investigation of fatal shootings of civilians by police. Not only is it an important topic, but it was based on a meticulously detailed database that the Post built in-house.

Last October, FBI director James Comey lamented that the Post and the Guardian, which assembled a similar database, had better data on police-involved shootings than law-enforcement agencies. “It is unacceptable that the Washington Post and the Guardian newspaper from the UK are becoming the lead source of information about violent encounters between police and civilians,” Comey said. “That is not good for anybody.”

The Post‘s coverage of its Pulitzer victory is here.

The Globe’s Trump parody: Genius, juvenile—or both?

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

So what are we to make of the Boston Globe’s parody of a possible Donald Trump presidency? Is it inspired or sophomoric? A responsible exercise of a newspaper’s role in shaping public opinion or self-indulgent clickbait? And does the form that it takes—the entire front of the Sunday Ideas section, designed to look like page one of the Globe—deceive readers and thus undermine public trust in the paper?

I’m posing these questions because as I write this on late Sunday afternoon, a day after the Globe’s anti-Trump package was unveiled, I’m still not sure what to make of it. Not to wimp out, but I think both the defenders and the detractors have good arguments.

Jim Roberts, formerly of the New York Times, recently laid off from his job as Mashable’s top editor, tweeted on Sunday, “Boston Globe front page brilliantly envisions a Trump presidency.” To which Politico media columnist Jack Shafer replied, “This is the first time you’ve ever been wrong, Jim.”

Now, take a look at Roberts’s wording. Because, in fact, he inadvertently puts his finger on one legitimate complaint about the parody—he refers to it as the Globe’s “front page.” It wasn’t, and folks who saw the Sunday edition in print understood that it was the front of the Ideas section, produced by the paper’s opinion operation. Yet not only was that distinction unclear as the story unfolded on social media Saturday, but the Globe itself did little to alleviate that lack of clarity.

The Globe’s official Twitter feed referred to the parody as “the front page we hope we never have to print.” (Sorry, but “Via @GlobeOpinion” is insufficient.) In a promotional video, Ideas editor Katie Kingsbury said, “We listened to Donald Trump’s speeches, we scoured his website, we read his position papers, we considered who his advisers are, and we did what the Globe does best: we reported it out and put it on the front page for our readers to see.”

One seemingly annoyed Globe news reporter, Todd Wallack, was moved to tweet, “The satirical @bostonglobe page about Trump is the cover of today’s Ideas/Opinion section (which is overseen by the editorial board).” He followed up with a photo of the actual front page, which was nearly Trump-free. And John Robinson, the retired editor of the News & Observer in Greensboro, North Carolina,told me he had to check “Today’s Front Pages” at the Newseum before he could be sure the parody wasn’t the real page one.

So yes, the folks at the Globe could have done a better job of making sure everyone realized the parody was part of the paper’s opinion section and not the front page of the paper. Not to be a party-pooper, but I would have insisted that the Ideas header appear in its usual location at the top of the page. That would have lessened the impact a bit, it also would have lessened the confusion.

As for the content itself, I’d say it is simultaneously inspired and a bit juvenile, which is unavoidable when you’re writing fake news stories based on Trump’s ridiculous and offensive pledges to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, kill the families of ISIS terrorists, and rewrite libel laws in ways that contradict more than 50 years’ worth of First Amendment jurisprudence.

The page also includes gems like this: “Heavy spring snow closed Trump National Park for the first time since it dropped its loser name, Yellowstone, in January.” Comedic genius? Well, no. But I laughed.

The parody was accompanied by a serious editorial making the case that if Trump fails to win a majority of the delegates at the Republican National Convention this summer, then the delegates should turn to a respectable alternative like House Speaker Paul Ryan or former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. And therein lies the most significant problem with the whole exercise.

Liberal media outlets (and a few conservative ones) have been outspoken about stopping Trump. The Daily News of New York has run a wide array of entertaining front pages. Late last year, the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson tried her hand at parody well in advance of the Globe with a piece titled “Five Supreme Court Cases from the Second Trump Administration.”

The trouble, of course, is that Republicans are not seeking advice from the likes of the Daily News, the New Yorker, or the Boston Globe in how to deal with their Trump problem. And, of course, many Republicans don’t think they have a Trump problem.

In the current media environment it can be almost impossible to be heard above the noise. So the Globe deserves some credit in finding a way to draw attention to its principled if oddly presented case against Trump’s racist demagoguery and rhetorical indulgence of violence, torture, and murder.

But now the crowd will move on, the stunt will soon be forgotten—and nothing will change.

Tweeting the McGrory memo: How to reinvent the Globe

Everybody’s talking about Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory’s memo about an initiative to reinvent the newsroom. I’ve been tweeting up a storm. These ideas aren’t fully formed, but I thought I’d preserve them on Storify as a quick reaction. Click here to read.

We’re also having a great conversation about this on Facebook.

Globe editor McGrory: It’s time to rethink everything we do

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Brian McGrory. Photo (cc) by the Newton Free Library.

A copy of Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory’s latest newsroom memo just wafted through an open window here at Media Nation. And it’s a doozy—an invitation to rethink how the Globe newsroom does just about everything, from the way beats are structured, to how many days the paper should appear in print, to how best to use technology.

“To help shape the discussion,” McGrory writes, “consider this question: If a wealthy individual was to give us funding to launch a news organization designed to take on The Boston Globe, what would it look like?” Needless to say, the Globe itself is already owned by a wealthy individual—John Henry, a financier who is the principal owner of the Red Sox.

Last fall I asked McGrory if the redesigned, thinner Saturday print edition was a prelude to cutting back on the number of print days. At that time he said no, but added, “We’re constantly thinking and rethinking this stuff.” Many newspaper industry observers believe it’s inevitable that daily papers will eventually move to a weekend print edition—where most of the advertising appears—supplemented by digital the rest of the week.

The conversation is being facilitated by three outside consultants, Tom Rosenstiel and Jeff Sonderman of the American Press Institute and Marty Kaiser, the former editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

So let’s get right to it:

Hey all,

It’s time to bring everyone up to date on a series of conversations I’ve initiated among senior editors over the past couple of months, conversations intended to lay the groundwork for a no-sacred-cows analysis of our newsroom and what the Globe should look like in the future. It’s also time to get the room fully involved in the process.

You know it as I know it: The Globe, like every other major legacy news organization, has faced what have proven to be irreversible revenue declines. The revenue funds our journalism. The declines have mandated significant cuts over the past dozen years.

There’s far too much good that goes on at this organization on a moment-by-moment basis to allow ourselves to be consumed by what’s wrong with the industry. But we can’t ignore hard realities, either, or simply wish them away. My own strong preference is to somehow shed the annual reduction exercise that seems increasingly inevitable here and everywhere. So I’ve asked senior editors to think about how we, at the very least, might get ahead of the declines, and in the best case, work to slow or even halt them. To help shape the discussion, consider this question: If a wealthy individual was to give us funding to launch a news organization designed to take on The Boston Globe, what would it look like?

There are important issues to raise and explore in what I’ll call a reinvention initiative: Do we have the right technology? Do we train staff in the right way? Should we remain in the current print format that we have now, same size, same sections? Do we have the right departments? Is our beat structure outdated? How can our work flows improve? Do we have too many of XX and not enough Ys? Should we publish seven days a week? Do print and digital relate in the right ways?

The questions could go on and on. They could become bolder still.

Easy answers, as you well know, are elusive. The good news is that we’ve got an absurdly smart, dedicated collection of journalists, many of the best in the nation, that has embraced profound and meaningful change over the years, always while maintaining our values. We’ve built two of the most successful websites in the industry, first boston.com, and now bostonglobe.com. The latter site is not only thriving, but growing rapidly, up more than 15 percent in uniques and page views this year over last, and leading the league in digital-only subscribers—the most important metric. We successfully overhauled key parts of the site last year. We’re about to launch a major sports redesign this spring, all while we confidently spread our wings with a broader array of stories and topics geared first to our web audience.

At the same time, we haven’t just maintained print, but enhanced it over the past few years, with a great new standalone business section through the week, a Sunday Arts section that showcases some of the best critics in the industry, Address, premium magazines, broadsheet feature sections. I’m missing things, I’m sure. We saw quite clearly in January just how much the physical paper means to an enormous swath of our readership.

The journalism, through it all, has been consistently exceptional. We drove the Olympics debate. We launched a national debate on concurrent surgery. We’ve been one of the smartest, freshest voices on the national political scene. We’ve chronicled poverty in rural Maine and economic segregation in greater Boston in deeply memorable ways. Day in, day out, we are one of the most thoughtful metropolitan news organizations in the land.

All of which is to say: We’re very good at change. We’re committed to high standards. We are well-positioned to go even further.

So I’ll frame the discussion one more way: Is it possible to build something bold rather than shrink what we have?

It’s perfectly reasonable to ask whether this reinvention initiative is an excuse for more cutting. The glib answer is that we don’t really need an excuse to cut. The revenue declines require it. The more involved answer is that even without declining revenue, we should still be exploring reinvention, given the massive advances in technology and massive changes in reader habits. And even without a reinvention initiative, we’d still have to cut. So the honest answer is that a reinvention would naturally take into account the realities of declining revenues.

I’ve sought some outside counsel to help facilitate the process, people who have thought long and hard about these issues and are deeply knowledgeable about what’s been tried at other news organizations and how it’s worked. Tom Rosenstiel and Jeff Sonderman, the executive director and deputy director respectively of the American Press Institute, plan to be in the newsroom on Friday—tomorrow—to meet in small groups with some staff. They’ll be joined by Marty Kaiser, the highly respected former editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who has worked with Tom on these exact issues. After Tom, Jeff, and Marty get an initial sense of our newsroom, we’ll discuss a path forward and how they might help. The key is to create a process that involves as many people as possible, at all levels, tapping into the wealth of creativity that is this newsroom’s trademark.

This is a significant and important undertaking. It’s also an exciting one. We’re in a moment in this industry and at this organization that requires us to be bold (have I used that word enough yet?) and imaginative, always in our journalism, but also in determining how we best fulfill our civic responsibilities. There’s not the tiniest bit of doubt that we’re up to the challenge.

I’ll be reaching out to some of you about meeting with Tom, Jeff, and Marty tomorrow, and then I’ll report back soon in a series of Winship Room gatherings about the road ahead. We’re committed to a process in which everyone can effectively share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. In the meantime, feel more than free to reach out to me directly.

Brian

Rob Curley out, jobs eliminated at Orange County Register

Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy

Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy

Digital news pioneer Rob Curley is out as editor of the Orange County Register, whose acquisition by Digital First Media was completed earlier today. The story was broken by the Orange County Business Journal.

Gustavo Arellano, the editor of OC Weekly, adds that some 50 to 70 employees are losing their jobs at the Register and its sister paper, the Riverside Press-Enterprise. These are “mostly on the sales, circulation, and marketing side,” Arellano writes, a sign that Digital First—which also owns several other papers in Southern California—is consolidating its business operations.

A little more than a year ago I spent a good chunk of a day at the Register as part of my book project. Curley, who made his bones as an early digital guy at the Lawrence Journal-World a dozen years ago, followed by stops at the Washington Post and the Las Vegas Sun (among other places), allowed me to spend a considerable amount of time with him and answered all questions. However, it was completely off the record, so I can’t share with you anything I learned. I can tell you it wasn’t all that eventful.

The next day, Kushner—who had tried to purchase the Boston Globe and Maine’s Portland Press Herald before leading a group that bought the Register in 2012—stepped down a day before I was to interview him. Kushner’s emphasis on print, and his head-turning moves to hire staff and buy and launch newspapers (including a short-lived daily in Los Angeles), earned him national recognition. Unfortunately, a shortage of funds led him to dismantle what he had built in very short order.

Digital First bought the Register and the Press-Enterprise for $49.8 million after the US Department of Justice convinced a federal judge that a higher bid by Tribune Publishing, which owns the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union Tribune, should be rejected because it would reduce competition.

It struck a number of observers, including me, that the government was engaged in outdated thinking that no longer applied to the shrinking, money-losing newspaper business. Tribune has gone through numerous gyrations over the years, but the LA Times has remained an excellent newspaper. It almost certainly would have been a better steward of the Register and the Press-Enterprise than Digital First.

Please leave a comment here or on Facebook.

Makers of Spotlight settle with BC spokesman Jack Dunn

As you may have heard, the makers of the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight have reached a settlement with Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn about his claim that the film depicts him in an unfavorable manner regarding the cover-up of the pedophile-priest scandal.

Spotlight tells the story of The Boston Globe‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation that revealed that Cardinal Bernard Law, then the archbishop, was directly involved in reassigning priests who’d been accused of sexual abuse. The Dunn character is seen taking part in a meeting about a pedophile priest at Boston College High School.

The Associated Press reports on the settlement here; The New York Times covers it here; the Globe here; and the Boston Herald here.

As part of the settlement, the filmmakers acknowledge that the lines attributed to Dunn were “fabricated,” which is kind of odd when you think about it. Spotlight, of course, is a work of fiction, though based on true events. In that sense, every line in Spotlight is fabricated. The question is whether Dunn was portrayed in a manner that is fundamentally false.

The filmmakers have contended from the time Dunn went public with his complaints in Globe column by Kevin Cullen that Dunn is not portrayed in a negative light—rather, that he comes across “as an alumnus and public-relations professional from an affiliated institution, was concerned about the reputation of BC High, and acted in concert with his affiliation and professional training,” as the filmmakers put it in a letter reported by the Globe last November. In the settlement, the filmmakers say:

As is the case with most movies based on historical events, ‘Spotlight’ contains fictionalized dialogue that was attributed to Mr. Dunn for dramatic effect. We acknowledge that Mr. Dunn was not part of the Archdiocesan cover-up.

From what I can tell, there’s nothing in the settlement that contradicts what the filmmakers said last November, or that calls into question the recollections of Globe reporters Walter Robinson and Sacha Pfeiffer, who were at the BC High meeting.

At the time that this controversy broke, I wrote a piece for WGBH News about the hazards of true-life movies that freely mix fact and fiction. I certainly don’t question the pain that Dunn says he experienced. From the beginning the dispute has struck me as a genuine disagreement between him and the filmmakers over how he comes across in the movie.

That said, I’ve only seen Spotlight once, and I’d like to see that scene again.