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Did Howie Carr turn on the former MassGOP leadership over unpaid bills?

Howie Carr and Grace Curley, a host on his radio network. Photo (cc) 2020 by Timothy Quill.

During the Massachusetts governor’s race in 2022, Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr strangely turned on his allies in the MAGA wing of the state party and began attacking them in his column and on his radio show. Howie being Howie? Well, maybe. Or maybe not.

Scott Van Voorhis, who writes the newsletter Contrarian Boston, reports that Carr’s motives may have been a lot simpler than that: the state GOP owed him money. With the Democratic candidate for governor, Maura Healey, coasting to victory, Van Voorhis writes that Carr began “savagely” attacking the then-head of the state party, Jim Lyons, and Healey’s Republican rival, Geoff Diehl.

It turns out that Lyons’ wrecking crew owed Carr more than $7,000 for ads on Carr’s radio program, which he owns. Lyons’ replacement as party chair, the slightly less MAGA-ish Amy Carnevale, is now paying back Carr at the rate of $500 a month. Van Voorhis is careful to note that it’s not clear if the dispute over those unpaid bills came about before or after Carr began attacking Lyons and Diehl.

And here’s a fun detail: Van Voorhis credits the MassGOP Majority newsletter for breaking the story. But when you click through, you learn that though that may be the URL, the actual name of the newsletter is Kool-Aid Kult Kronicles. Apparently that is some sort of joking reference to something Carr said. There’s more news, too, including WRKO Radio’s supposed decision to ban Diehl from its airwaves because of “the perennial candidate’s repeated, baseless claims that Howie Carr is being paid by the MassGOP to attack him and his slate of candidates for Republican State Committee.”

Now, let’s get serious for a moment. Van Voorhis describes Carr as “not exactly the kind of guy you want to piss off.” True enough. But how far can Carr veer from the ethics of journalism and still manage to write for the Herald? Journalists — even opinion journalists like Carr — are expected to maintain their independence. We don’t give money to candidates. We don’t take money from candidates. And we don’t criticize candidates and party officials who owe us money, whether there is a direct connection between those two facts or not.

Just grotesque stuff from someone who wrote a must-read column back in the 1980s and has long since devolved into a caricature of himself.

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The Boston Herald checks in from the San Gabriel Valley bureau

This message from the Boston Herald showed up in my inbox Tuesday night. Read the fine print. Not much attention to detail at MediaNews Group, the chain that owns the Herald and that, in turn, is part of the notorious hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

Circulation holds steady at the Globe while it continues its slow decline at the Herald

Photo (cc) 2008 by Dan Kennedy

The news about paid circulation at Boston’s two daily newspapers is so-so. The Boston Globe is hanging in there, trading paid print for paid digital, while the Boston Herald continues its long, slow slide.

First the Globe. This week the paper published its Statements of Ownership for both the Sunday and daily papers, something it’s required to do under federal postal laws. Average weekday paid print distribution for the one-year period from Sept. 1, 2022, to Aug. 31, 2023, was 64,977, down from 74,220 a year earlier. That’s a decline of nearly 12.5%. The story was the same on Sunday, as the paid print edition on average registered a decline from 128,920 to 116,456, or about 9.7%.

Paid digital, though, gave those numbers a boost. Using the methodology employed by the Alliance for Audited Media, the average weekday combined print and digital circulation for the 12-month period that ended Aug. 31 was, 346,944, up from 337,748 a year earlier. That’s an increase of 2.7%. On Sunday, total paid circulation is now at 408,974, compared to 403,566 the year before. That’s up about 1.3%.

Now, why am I invoking AAM’s methodology? Because its figures have always involved some double-counting, and it’s not entirely clear what they’re measuring and what they’re not measuring. For instance, according to the Globe’s Statements of Ownership, its current average paid electronic distribution on weekdays is 281,967, and on Sundays it’s 292,518. Globe spokeswoman Heidi Flood told me that those numbers are taken from the figures that the paper reports to AAN using the auditing agency’s rules. Also, digital subscribers to the Globe know that you pay one price, so different numbers for weekdays and Sundays make little sense.

So what is the Globe’s own assessment of its paid digital circulation base? Flood told me in an email that the Globe currently has “more than 245,000 digital-only subscriptions.” That’s an increase of about 10,000 since February 2022, when then-editor Brian McGrory said in an email to his staff that paid digital was around 235,000.

Given all that, let’s put current paid circulation of the Globe at about 310,000 on weekdays and 361,000 on Sundays. That’s more or less unchanged over the past year or so, although readership continues to shift from print to digital. Print brings in more money than digital both from subscribers and advertisers, but it also costs more. The Trump years and the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a lot of growth at the Globe, and that has now leveled off.

One possible good omen for the Globe is that the Statements of Ownership show slightly higher paid circulation on the days closest to the filing dates, in early September 2023, than the 12-month averages. That could mean growth continued over the previous year, but I don’t want to overinterpret a small (literally a one-day) sample size.

Over at the Herald, meanwhile, journalist Mark Pickering has taken a look at the latest AAM reports, which cover the six-month period ending March 31 of this year. Pickering, writing for the newsletter Contrarian Boston (sub. req.), found that paid weekday print circulation at the Herald was down 20%, from 20,353 to 16,043; on Sunday, the print Herald dropped 16%, from 23,702 to 19,799.

The Herald’s combined print and digital weekday circulation dropped from 50,707 to 46,783, for a decline of around 8%. But remember, AAM’s digital numbers are somewhat inflated, as some print subscribers are also counted as digital subscribers. As with the weekday numbers, add about 30,000 digital subscribers to get the Herald’s combined paid Sunday circulation.

“For the Herald,” Pickering wrote, “the numbers seem to show that there will be some circulation to be gained through digital subscribers, but how much remains to be seen.”

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How Rupert Murdoch saved the Boston Herald — not just once, but twice

As I noted Thursday, one of the few positive contributions Rupert Murdoch can take credit for is preserving The Wall Street Journal as a great national newspaper. Another is that he saved the Boston Herald — not once, but twice. Larry Edelman of The Boston Globe writes about the first time (he interviewed me). I tell that story as well as the tale of Murdoch’s second rescue in my 2018 book “The Return of the Moguls,” which I excerpt below.

The Hearst chain, which had converted the Herald (known then as the Herald American) to a tabloid during the final years of its ownership, had run out the string by 1982. I remember one old-timer telling me that, with closure just hours away, workers came in to rip out the vending machines from the paper’s hulking plant in the South End. At the last minute, Murdoch reached a deal with the unions and the paper was saved.

Under Murdoch’s ownership, the Herald established itself as a feisty alternative to the Globe, sometimes beating its larger rival on important local stories. That continued in the 1990s after Murdoch’s protégé Pat Purcell bought it from him. To this day there are people who believe that Murdoch continued to pull the strings behind the scenes, but I never believed it. Murdoch just didn’t care that much about the Herald, and I don’t doubt that he let Purcell have it on extremely favorable terms.

Unfortunately, the Herald’s financial model pretty much stopped working in the early 2000s, and today it’s owned by the New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital, famous for sucking the life out of its papers. Alden owns two other Massachusetts papers as well — The Sun of Lowell and the Sentinel & Enterprise of Fitchburg.

At one time Murdoch also owned the Ottaway chain, which included the Cape Cod Times and some small weeklies, including the Middleboro Gazette, where I grew up. Murdoch is fondly remembered by taking a hands-off approach, but I honestly wonder whether he even knew those papers were part of his empire. The Gazette was later closed by the Gannett chain, and today Middleborough is served by an independent startup, Nemasket Weekly.

Here’s what I wrote in “Moguls” about the Herald and Murdoch’s TV station, WFXT-TV (Channel 25), which he sold off a few years ago. The “endless struggle” I refer to was the Herald’s long-time ownership of Channel 5, an existential threat to the Globe that was removed when the Globe reported that its rival had gained the broadcast license because of corruption at the Federal Communications Commission. The Herald was stripped of its license in 1972, and Hearst swooped in to pick up the pieces.

The Globe’s endless struggle with the Herald’s broadcast ambitions played itself out in one last, faint echo in 1988, when Murdoch, who then owned the Herald, purchased Channel 25. Ted Kennedy, by then a leading member of the Senate, quietly slipped a provision into a bill that made it almost impossible for the FCC to grant a waiver to its rule prohibiting someone from owning both a daily newspaper and a TV station in the same market. At the time, I was a reporter for The Daily Times Chronicle, which served Woburn and several surrounding communities north of Boston. I remember covering a local appearance by Kennedy as he was dogged by the Herald reporter Wayne Woodlief. “Senator, why are you trying to kill the Herald?” the persistent Woodlief asked him several times.

Murdoch chose to sell off Channel 25, thus saving the Herald; he repurchased the TV station after selling the Herald to Purcell. But the Herald columnist Howie Carr remained bitter. He told me years later that Kennedy’s actions were worse than [Globe ally Tip] O’Neill’s, since O’Neill was just trying to help one of several papers rather than destroy the Globe’s only daily competitor. “I think Tip was just trying to get an ally,” Carr said, “whereas Ted was trying to kill the paper in order to deliver the monopoly to his friends.”

The liberal reputation the Globe developed during the Winship era was cemented during Boston’s school desegregation crisis of the mid-1970s, when the Globe wholeheartedly supported federal judge Arthur Garrity’s order to bus children to different neighborhoods in the city to achieve racial balance. It was a terrible time in Boston, as white racism ran rampant and bullets were fired into the Globe’s headquarters and at one of the paper’s delivery trucks. The Globe took the right moral stand, and its coverage earned the paper its second Pulitzer for Public Service. Winship in those years enjoyed a reputation as one of the finest editors in the country. But it was also during those years that the Globe became known as the paper of Boston’s suburban liberal elite and the Herald that of the urban white working class, a dichotomy that has persisted to this day.

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Two Alden papers, the Boston Herald and The Denver Post, will end commenting

Royalty-free photo via Wallpaper Flare

At least two daily newspapers owned by Alden Global Capital’s MediaNews Group will end reader comments on July 1.

The Boston Herald announced the move earlier today, saying that the change was being made to “dramatically speed up the performance of the website” as well as on its mobile platforms. The Denver Post took the same action last week, although editor Lee Ann Colacioppo cited bad behavior rather than technology, writing that the comment section has become “an uncivil place that drives readers away and opens those trying to engage in thoughtful conversation to hateful, personal attacks.”

Both papers emphasized that readers will still be able to talk back at them through social media platforms.

Wondering if this were a MediaNews-wide action, I tried searching about a half-dozen papers in the 60-daily chain and could find no similar announcements. I found something else interesting as well. The eight larger dailies that comprise the Tribune Publishing chain, which Alden acquired a couple of years ago, are now included as part of MediaNews Group, although they are still listed separately as well. (A ninth, the Daily News of New York, was split off from Tribune and is being run as a separate entity.)

The moves by the Herald and the Post represent just the latest in the long, sad story of user comments. When they debuted about a quarter-century ago, they were hailed as a way of involving the audience — the “former audience,” as Dan Gillmor and Jay Rosen put it. The hope was that comments could even advance stories.

It turned out that comments were embraced mainly by the most sociopathic elements. Some publishers (including me for a while) required real names, but that didn’t really help. The only measure that ensures a civil platform is pre-screening — a comment doesn’t appear online until someone has read it and approved it. But that takes resources, and very few news organizations are willing to make the investment.

The best comments section I know of belongs to the New Haven Independent, where pre-screening has been the rule right from the start. Keeping out racist, homophobic hate speech opens up the forum for other voices to be heard. The New York Times engages in pre-screening as well.

So kudos to the Boston Herald and The Denver Post — and I hope other news outlets, including The Boston Globe, will follow suit.

Should the press have blown the whistle on Rachael Rollins? No. Here’s why.

Several people have raised questions as to why the local press didn’t blow the whistle on U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins over what the Justice Department has characterized as her attempts to influence the Suffolk County district attorney’s race between interim DA Kevin Hayden and Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo. Rollins favored Arroyo over Hayden, who was the eventual winner and is now the elected district attorney.

As documented in the inspector general’s report, Rollins leaked like a broken faucet to The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald in an attempt to influence their coverage. The report makes clear that was a serious ethical violation, and that it has possibly landed her in legal trouble as well. Isn’t that a story in and of itself?

Well, now. The relationship between journalists and sources is often not pretty, and this is one of those rare instances of the public being given an inside look. Sources have all kinds of motives, sometimes less than pure. Reporters want to get the story, and they generally don’t worry much about whether their sources are doing the right thing.

As Bruce Mohl and Michael Jonas write at CommonWealth: “These sorts of back-channel communications are commonplace in the world of political journalism, where reporters and political figures often use each other for their own ends. But rarely do these exchanges come to light.”

The most famous example I can think of is Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times and The Washington Post. The journalists who received those documents knew that Ellsberg was breaking national-security laws. But rather than turning him in, they published the government’s own secret history of the Vietnam War, thus performing a public service. The government later prosecuted Ellsberg, although the case fell apart. Of course, the motives in the Rollins case were hardly that grandiose.

Keep in mind, too, that reporters in the Rollins case were unaware of the full extent of Rollins’ alleged wrongdoing. Probably the most damaging allegation to come out of the Justice Department report is that Rollins is said to have lied under oath when she was asked by investigators about leaking a confidential document to the Herald. Journalists had no way of knowing about that until Wednesday, when the government released that report.

Finally, there’s the matter of what would have happened if the press had decided to report on Rollins’ leaking. There’s actually a 1991 Supreme Court case that speaks to this — Cohen v. Cowles Media. In that case, a political operative named Dan Cohen leaked information about his client’s opponent to the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press, papers in Minneapolis and St. Paul; the Star Tribune at that time was owned by Cowles Media and the Pioneer Press by Knight Ridder. The reporters were so appalled at Cohen’s attempt to get them to write about a politician’s petty crimes that they decided the real story was Cohen’s sleazy tactics.

Cohen sued at having been outed, and the court sided with him, citing the doctrine of promissory estoppel: Cohen acted the way he did on the belief that his anonymity would be respected. Essentially, the reporters violated a verbal contract with Cohen, and a $200,000 judgment Cohen had been awarded in state court was reinstated. Justice Byron White’s decision began:

The question before us is whether the First Amendment prohibits a plaintiff from recovering damages, under state promissory estoppel law, for a newspaper’s breach of a promise of confidentiality given to the plaintiff in exchange for information. We hold that it does not.

I don’t know what federal or Massachusetts law says about promissory estoppel, but it seems likely that reporters would have run afoul of their legal obligations if they had promised Rollins anonymity and then blew her cover. In any case, there’s no reason to think they even considered doing such a thing. Nor should they have. Promising anonymity to a source is something that should not be undertaken lightly, but once that agreement is in place, no journalist should even consider violating it.

Correction: This post originally misidentified the owner of the Pioneer Press in 1991.

DOJ report on Rachael Rollins provides an inside look into journalistic sausage-making

Rachael Rollins. YouTube screen capture via Wikimedia Commons.

Earlier today the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General issued a 155-page ethics report regarding U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins, who announced Tuesday that she would resign from her position.

Much of the report details Rollins’ alleged attempts to influence the 2022 Democratic primary in the Suffolk County district attorney’s race between her successor, interim DA Kevin Hayden, and his challenger, Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo. Hayden, who had been appointed on an interim basis by then-Gov. Charlie Baker, defeated Arroyo and is now the elected DA.

The campaign was dominated by two major series of articles in The Boston Globe — one involving Hayden, who reportedly had slow-walked an investigation into serious problems with the MBTA Transit Police, the other pertaining to allegations of sexual assault brought against Arroyo. The Justice Department’s report details Rollins’ attempts to provide information to the Globe and the Boston Herald that would harm Hayden and help Arroyo.

The report is devastating in places, concluding that Rollins “knowingly and willfully made a false statement of material fact under oath when she testified on December 6 that she was not the federal law enforcement source cited in the Herald article and that she did know who the source was.” In that article, the Herald reported that Hayden could face a federal investigation stemming from the Transit Police matter.

Because the report provides a fascinating inside look at how the journalistic sausage is made, I’m reproducing the inspector general’s analysis of the evidence, which can be found on pp. 69-73. The report also includes mountains of information about the nature of Rollins’ contacts with the Globe and the Herald, which the Justice Department obtained voluntarily from Rollins’ cellphone. No journalists were asked for information, in accordance with Justice’s guidelines.

***

Based upon the facts described above, the OIG [Office of Inspector General] concluded that U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins used her position as U.S. Attorney in an effort to influence the outcome of a partisan political election, namely the September 6, 2022 Democratic primary election that would select her likely successor as Suffolk D.A. We further found that Rollins took an active part in Ricardo Arroyo’s primary campaign for the Suffolk D.A. position in an effort to help Arroyo defeat Interim D.A. Kevin Hayden. We concluded that, despite her assertion otherwise, Rollins was very much trying to put her “finger on [the] scale” in the race for D.A., a race that certain local media reports suggested was a referendum on the policies and programs Rollins instituted during her own tenure as Suffolk D.A. — with Arroyo being seen as someone who was more supportive of, and likely to continue, her policies than Hayden. Even Arroyo, moments after he lost the primary election to Hayden, sent a message to Rollins stating that her “legacy work deserved better.”

Additionally, we determined that days after Hayden prevailed in the September 6 primary election, Rollins sought to damage Hayden’s reputation by leaking to the Herald Reporter non-public and sensitive DOJ [Department of Justice] information that suggested the possibility of a federal criminal investigation into Hayden, a matter from which Rollins was recused. Finally, we concluded that Rollins lacked candor during her OIG interview when discussing her communications with the Globe Reporter and with the Herald Reporter, and falsely testified under oath when she initially denied that she was the federal law enforcement source who provided non-public, sensitive DOJ information to the Herald Reporter about a possible Hayden criminal investigation. Rollins only admitted to being the source during subsequent testimony after Rollins produced, in response to the OIG’s requests, relevant text messages, which definitively showed that Rollins had indeed been a source for the reporter.

The Herald boasts about pushing the state to remove gun records from public view

The Boston Herald is very proud of itself for getting the state to withdraw gun records from public view that could identify buyers and sellers. Under the headline “Herald Gets Action! Gun sale data shared by the state taken down,” Matthew Medsger writes:

The state has reversed course on a plan to share potentially identifying information contained in decades of gun transactions it had recently posted online following complaints by gun rights groups and inquiries by the Herald.

Last week, the Herald learned the state had released about two decades worth of firearms sales and transfer data via the mass.gov website and that a pair of gun rights advocacy groups were calling for the removal of the files from public review.

The two groups involved in pushing for the reversal were the Gun Owners’ Action League and Commonwealth Second Amendment.

Veteran investigative reporter Beth Healy, currently with WBUR Radio, tweeted, “It’s a dark day when a newspaper touts suppressing information for the public. Journalists work to shed light on things the government keeps secret. No more pressing issue in America than #GunViolence.”

Indeed.

 

The Globe loses its contract to print The New York Times

Sign outside the Globe’s printing plant in Taunton. Photo (cc) 2018 by Dan Kennedy.

The Boston Globe has lost its contract to print the regional edition of The New York Times at its Taunton facility. The Times will instead now be printed at the Dow Jones plant in Chicopee. Dow Jones is the parent company of The Wall Street Journal.

When the Globe’s Taunton printing plant opened in 2017, the hope was that it could turn a profit for the paper by taking on outside clients. The facility got off to a rough start, though, with publisher-owner John Henry writing a front-page note to subscribers admitting that the presses “are operating too slowly and breaking too often.” He added: “We are embarrassed. We are sincerely sorry to all those affected.” In my 2018 book, “The Return of the Moguls,” I described the launch of the Taunton plant as a “disaster.”

At one point, the Globe printed the Times, the Boston Herald and USA Today. The Herald decamped for The Providence Journal some time ago. When I asked Globe spokeswoman Heidi Flood whether the Taunton facility currently has any outside work, she answered only that “we are always exploring ways to bring more work into the plant.” She did say that Taunton now handles the entire Globe print run. At one time the Globe was jobbing some of its run out to The Eagle-Tribune in North Andover; I’m not sure when that stopped.

I’ve heard that the Taunton plant has laid some employees off as well, but Flood did not address that when I asked her about it by email. The full text of her statement follows.

I can confirm that the Times decided not to renew their printing contract with the Globe. We worked very hard over many months to keep their business in a way that also worked for ours, but were not able to arrive at a financially sustainable agreement. While the pending NYT departure is disappointing, from a business perspective it’s the right decision and positions us more favorably for the future.

The Times’s decision to print elsewhere will not affect our Globe print operations. Taunton currently handles the entire Globe print run and we are always exploring ways to bring more work into the plant. First and foremost, the Globe remains committed to meeting the needs of our valuable print subscribers.

The Boston Globe’s new morning newsletter joins an already crowded field

The Boston Globe’s free daily newsletter for college students and young professionals, The B-Side, made its debut this morning. Like similar offerings, it’s light and breezy, with an emphasis on stories aimed at appealing to the demo (“Does your employer pay for your MBTA pass?”) as well as on things to do.

The B-Side is joining a crowded field of similar newsletters from Axios Boston, WBUR, GBH News, the Boston Herald and 6AM City — and that’s not even getting into the political newsletters from Politico, State House News Service and CommonWealth Magazine. (Have I missed any? I hope not.)

What I’m talking about here is a certain type of newsletter. The Globe has multiple newsletters already, and so do the other news organizations I mentioned. It’s a matter of tone and emphasis, heavy on emoticons and bullet points, aimed at engaging an audience that might have never considered buying a digital newspaper subscription or tuning in to a public radio station. My students and I got an early peek last month; my reaction then and now is that it’s interesting, like its competitors, but that I’m not in the target audience.

Here’s a memo passed along by a trusted source from Andrew Grillo, the Globe’s director of new product and general manager of The B-Side:

Hi all,

We are excited to announce the launch of The B-Side, a new email and social-only product geared towards informing and entertaining new audiences. The B-Side’s focus is hyperlocal and will provide curated, authentic and relatable content that reimagines how local news is conveyed to the next generation of Bostonians.

As Boston’s population of university students and young professionals continues to grow, it is essential to evolve our coverage to meet this demographic where they are most engaged. The publication will focus on mobile-first formats, and will accompany its weekday newsletter with vertical video explainers, swipeable stories, and creator content.

The B-Side joins a growing portfolio of products that have launched out of BGMP’s innovation portal — the idea was crowned Innovation Week Champion in the Q4 2021. [BGMP stands for Boston Globe Media Partners.] Since inception, The B-Side has been refined and developed across all departments including marketing, revenue, editorial, and finance. Through this iterative approach, we have created a unique editorial product designed to engage the company’s future readership, and provide new revenue streams for the organization. This project showcases Boston Globe Media’s commitment to evolution and investment in new initiatives, and we are grateful of the internal support this project has received to achieve launch within one year.

Editorially, the team consists of three talented journalists. The content team is led by Emily Schario, a GBH alum and creative storyteller with expertise unpacking quintessential Boston stories across text and vertical video. Emily is joined by Multimedia Producer Katie Cole, a former BGM Audience Development team member, who runs the project’s social media and audience development strategy. The B-Side is edited and guided by Kaitlyn Johnston, one of the region’s most talented and forward-thinking editors.

We’d like to thank the organization’s support of this initiative, particularly the Senior Leadership Team who has guided this endeavor from inception to launch.

You can sign up here, and follow along at @bostonbside on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter.

Onwards,
Andrew

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