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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

Contrarian Boston reports that The Sun is no longer shining in Lowell

The Sun left its iconic downtown headquarters quite a while ago, but it maintained offices in Lowell until recently. Photo (cc) 2014 by Dan Kennedy.

So where are the missing MediaNews Group dailies? Last week, I noted that Contrarian Boston couldn’t find any evidence that the Boston Herald had returned to its Braintree offices, two years after Northeastern journalism student Deanna Schwartz and I found that the Herald had decamped for The Sun in Lowell.

Now, in a follow-up, Mark Pickering reports for Contrarian Boston that The Sun is nowhere to be found, either. He writes:

For the city of Lowell, the disappearance of The Sun marks the end of an entire era. For decades, the publishers of such papers were local kings that often built impressive headquarters. And the papers were the prime way for residents to keep up with local news.

Pickering asks: Have the Herald and The Sun joined a number of other newspapers part of MediaNews Group, owned by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital, that no longer have any newsrooms at all? The answer to that question is not entirely clear.

One story I’ve heard is that the Alden papers in Massachusetts have a warehouse in Westford. (Update: Or perhaps in Devens.) Papers are delivered from whatever printing plant they’re using these days before being trucked out. I’ve heard there are a few offices there that Alden journalists can use. But it appears that Alden journalists, for the most part, work at their homes except when they’re out reporting.

And let’s not forget that another MediaNews Group paper, the Sentinel & Enterprise of Fitchburg, was deprived of its offices several years before the pandemic. That means that all three of the chain’s Massachusetts papers are operating without a proper newsroom.

Clarification: I’ve now noted in the caption that The Sun left its iconic downtown headquarters years ago.

Two years after leaving Braintree, the Boston Herald has still not returned

This photo was provided to Media Nation in August 2020 by a trusted source.

More than two years ago, Northeastern journalism student Deanna Schwartz — at the time an intern at GBH News’ “Beat the Press — learned that the Boston Herald had moved from its headquarters in Braintree to The Sun of Lowell. Both papers are owned by MediaNews Group, which in turn is owned by the notorious hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

On Sunday, Mark Pickering and Scott Van Voorhis reported in Contrarian Boston that the Herald has not returned to Braintree. “The Herald? They’re long gone. Long gone,” according to one person who was interviewed. Frankly, I didn’t think coming back was in the cards. The question in my mind is whether they’re working at The Sun or out of their homes. Does anyone want to share that information? I’ll post an update.

The Boston Herald unveils a subtle print redesign

The print edition of the Boston Herald has been redesigned. It seems pretty subtle. The only difference I can detect on the front is that the headline type is blockier.

Executive editor Joe Dwinell calls it a “sharper look” that offers “a much richer reading experience.”

Some of the headlines now appear in italics.

The news section looks cleaner. Staff reporters have their email addresses listed.

The Herald’s last full redesign, as I recall, came in 1998. The paper was remade to look like a tabloid version of USA Today, and it was beautifully done. Over the next few years, as circulation began to slide, the paper was tarted up. I don’t know if I’d call this a complete redesign, but it appears to be an improvement.

In Lexington, a slice of local newspaper history

I thought you might enjoy a little slice of local newspaper history that I dug up Tuesday while doing some research. Mike Rosenberg of The Bedford Citizen once told me that Alan Adams, the former owner of the Lexington Minuteman and, eventually, five other papers, had a building named after him. Today I located the building and learned a little bit about Adams.

First, the building. It’s right next to the Minuteman Bikeway in the center of Lexington, across Meriam Street from the Lexington Visitors Center on the other side of the street. It’s pretty nondescript if you view it from the bikeway, since you’re looking at the side of the building. From Mudge, though, it’s quite striking — white and brick with four large white columns, with “Adams Building” written across the top. It has long ceased to serve as a newspaper headquarters and today mainly comprises professional offices.

Adams died in 1975 at the age of 70. According to his obituary in The Boston Globe, he began working at the Lexington Minuteman (also known variously as the Minute-man, or the Minute-Man) in 1930, and bought the paper in 1932. He also served as a local politico. Among other things, he chaired the Republican Town Committee and held elected office as a town selectman. Presumably he got good press. Obviously it’s not the sort of conflict that anyone would tolerate today, but it wasn’t that uncommon at the time.

From Richard Kollen’s history of Lexington. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume this photo isn’t protected by copyright.

According to a 2004 book by Lexington historian Richard Kollen titled “Lexington: From Liberty’s Birthplace to Progressive Suburb,” Adams used the Minuteman’s pages during World War II to promote wartime measures such as keeping the lights turned off at night so that the pilots of any incoming German bombers wouldn’t be able to see their targets. Adams also admonished his fellow townspeople for not taking those precautions seriously enough, once writing: “Seven stores were reported with unsatisfactory preparations and … all too many houses have not taken care of their porch lights properly.”

Adams sold his papers in 1971, according to the Globe obit. I’m not sure what their immediate fate was, but I know that at some point they were combined with another local chain called Beacon. The Beacon-Minuteman Corp., based in Acton, was eventually acquired by Fidelity’s Community Newspaper Co., then by Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell, and then GateHouse Media, which merged several years ago with Gannett.

Today the Lexington Minuteman is a shell of what it once was, though it was among a handful of Gannett weeklies that escaped being targeted for shutdown or a merger during a recent round of cost-cutting. Adams himself represented a different era in local journalism — one that was ethically lax in some respects, but that served as the voice of the community in ways that we rarely see anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Financial prospects keep sliding as Gannett prepares to shift away from local

Photo (cc) 2009 by Kevin Walsh

Gannett’s recent move away from local news is not taking place in a vacuum. Financial prospects for the country’s largest newspaper chain continue to deteriorate — and the company’s insistence on degrading its journalism rather than building it up is going to make it that much harder to attract new readers.

As I reported last week, the chain is reassigning staff reporters at most of its Massachusetts weeklies to cover regional beats rather than local news. Although Gannett officials have not commented, I’m told that the three exceptions will be the Cambridge Chronicle, the Old Colony Memorial in Plymouth and the Provincetown Banner. I’m also told that a few weekly reporters will be reassigned to Gannett’s dailies rather than to regional coverage of issues such as climate change and racial justice.

What we still don’t know is what, if any, coverage the Gannett weeklies will provide of such basics as governmental meetings and elections. Maybe part-timers will be used. Maybe they’ll just skip it. There were already a number of Gannett weeklies without any real local coverage, so that’s nothing new.

Meanwhile, the chain’s business continues to slide at its 100 or so daily newspapers and 1,000 weeklies and other properties, according to Poynter business analyst Rick Edmonds. Revenue for the fourth quarter was $827 million, a decline of 5.5%, as its much-ballyhooed increase in digital subscriptions appears to be driven by steep introductory discounts.

Edmonds writes that “as Gannett targets reaching 2 to 2.2 million digital subscriptions by the end of 2022, it faces the double challenge of holding the introductory subscribers as they move up to higher rates while also continuing to quickly add new subscribers.” And rather than invest in journalism, Gannett is putting money into sports gambling and marketing services.

And NFTs.

It’s an ugly tale. For Massachusetts readers, it’s a tale that extends back to the early 1990s, when Fidelity began rolling up community newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts. From Fidelity to the Boston Herald to GateHouse Media, which morphed into Gannett, it’s been 30 years of cuts, with very little in the way of good news.

Support your local independent news outlet.

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