Somehow, the Boston Herald keeps on keeping on

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Murdoch to the rescue: December 3, 1982

Chris Sweeney has written a sharp piece for Boston magazine on the state of the Boston Herald, the city’s number-two daily. As is generally the case with stories about the Herald, the overarching theme is: How much longer can the struggling tabloid cling to life?

And yet I wonder if that’s the right question. For a decade starting in the mid-1990s, I covered the Herald‘s ups and downs as the media columnist for the Boston Phoenix. If I had a dime for every person who told me the Herald had six months to live, I’d be a very rich man. Sadly, it was the Phoenix that didn’t survive.

As Sweeney notes, the Herald these days seems more like an extension of its online radio station than a standalone newspaper. Nearly two years ago editor Joe Sciacca gave me a tour of the paper’s new headquarters in South Boston, and I was impressed with what I saw—especially the amount of space devoted to multimedia and to the modern radio facilities.

My WGBH colleague Jim Braude tells Sweeney that not many people may be listening to Boston Herald Radio (OK, Braude’s actual quote is “I don’t think anyone listens”). But Braude also points out that it’s given the Herald a jolt of relevance in terms of high-profile guests like Mayor Marty Walsh, Governor Charlie Baker, and Donald Trump, whose appearances can then be written up and tweeted out.

Unfortunately, none of the top three executives at the Herald would speak with Sweeney, a group that comprises publisher Pat Purcell, Sciacca, and executive editor John Strahinich. It would have been useful to get some insights from them regarding the Herald‘s current business model. Not that I’m faulting Sweeney—I’ve been there. And his description of trying to get Strahinich to talk is pretty amusing.

But even though print circulation has shrunk precipitously and print advertising revenue is presumably scarce, the Herald does have some strengths. Sweeney does not report the size of the staff, but it’s small and therefore affordable. The sports section is very good. The website is slow and frustrating, but the third-party mobile app is excellent—and includes one-click access to Herald Radio. Purcell made a lot of money selling off the old headquarters in the South End; the Herald is now printed by the Boston Globe, which means that its larger competitor has every reason to keep its rival breathing.

So how long can the Herald survive? Keep those dimes rolling in.

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Boston magazine shrinks, restructures

I’ve been preoccupied with The Boston Globe‘s problems, but I didn’t want to let Tuesday’s bloodletting at Boston magazine pass without comment. Three people were let go, including senior editor S.I. Rosenbaum.

Like editor Carly Carioli, whose departure was announced last month, Rosenbaum is a Boston Phoenix alumnus. They are both quality journalists, and it’s unimaginable that Boston will be better without them. Also let go were associate digital editor Olivia Rassow and Erick Trickey, whom I don’t know.

As David Harris reports at the Boston Business Journal, the cuts extend to the Mother Ship in Philadelphia as well, and are part of an effort to turn at least part of the enterprise into some sort of advertorial machine, complete with a “content studio.”

These are desperate times, and I’m sure the top management, like everyone, is trying to figure out how to survive. I hope there’s still a place for good journalism.

The Globe‘s Jon Chesto covers the story here. And here is the official announcement, which is, shall we say, a model of such things.

Boston magazine editor Carly Carioli steps down

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Carly Carioli is leaving as editor of Boston magazine, a surprising development that broke late afternoon on Wednesday. I do not know what happened. I do know that as recently as earlier this week we exchanged a few emails and he sounded very much in charge of the monthly.

The Boston Business Journal covers the story hereThe Boston Globe here; and Boston magazine here.

I worked with Carly at The Boston Phoenix, where he started out as the kid who compiled the listings. He rose to editor of the alt-weekly toward the end of its run, presiding over its final incarnation as a glossy magazine. I had long since left the staff by then, but I was still a contributor; Carly struck me as a smart editor with wide-ranging interests, brimming with good ideas.

So there’s one disclosure. A couple more: After the Phoenix closed in 2013, he and publisher Stephen Mindich began working on how to save the paper’s archives, both in print and online. Eventually Carly and I started talking, and that led to the Phoenix‘s archives coming to Northeastern. He and I have been approached about serving on an advisory board. Also, my son, Tim, a freelance photographer, has done some work for Boston.

David Bernstein, yet another former Phoenix colleague of mine and now a Boston writer, took to Facebook Wednesday and wrote this:

So it seems the great Carly Carioli will be moving along from Boston Magazine, where he has been Editor In Chief. There and at the Boston Phoenix I have never had a bigger booster than Carly, who has believed in my abilities and my ideas, often far more than I have myself. (He even let me talk him into some ridiculous idea I had about ranking the Best Bostonians of all time.) I also think he’s done great work pushing BoMag in the right direction, and it’s done some great work under his watch. I don’t know what he’s off to next, but I will follow in any way I can. He is the best. THE BEST.

Carly did not respond to an email I sent Wednesday, but I’m sure he’s been deluged. Best wishes to him. I hope this leads to something bigger and better.

Holding campus police departments accountable

Photo (cc) by xx. Some rights reserved.
Photo (cc) by jakubsabata. Some rights reserved.

Should police reports at private colleges and universities be considered public records in the same way that those at public colleges and in cities and towns are? You would think so. After all, as Shawn Musgrave reports for the public-records website MuckRock:

Sworn campus police may carry weapons, make arrests and use force, just like any other officer. Statute grants special state police “the same power to make arrests as regular police officers” for crimes committed on property owned or used by their institutions. Particularly in Boston, campus borders are difficult to trace, and some of the most populous areas lie within university police jurisdiction.

Yet because police departments at private institutions of higher learning are non-governmental agencies, they are not subject to the state’s notoriously weak public-records law, which requires police departments to show its log of incidents and arrests to any member of the public upon request.

Campus police departments do not operate entirely in the dark — as Musgrave notes, they must make certain records public under the federal Clery Act. And he found that many departments provided their logs when he asked for them. But privately employed police officers exercise the same powers as those working for the public, and they should be subject to the same disclosure laws.

Musgrave’s report, posted on Sept. 15, has been gathering steam. Today his story is on the front page of The Boston Globe, which has long had a relationship with MuckRock. Earlier it was flagged by Boston magazine and by Boston.com.

As Musgrave reports, state Rep. Kevin Honan, a Brighton Democrat, is sponsoring a bill that would bring campus police departments and other privately employed police officers under the umbrella of the public records law. It’s a bill that has failed several times previously. But perhaps increased public scrutiny will lead to a better result.

Layoffs add to turmoil at Boston.com

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 2.47.15 PMNote: Updated with statement from Boston.com below. I got wind of this a little while ago — and it turns out that Garrett Quinn of Boston magazine was already working on it. A significant number of staff employees at the beleaguered Boston.com have been laid off. I hear 16; Quinn says “high teens.” [The actual number is 12, according to the Boston.com statement.] This comes after the departure of the site’s general manager and editor during the past week, and months of turmoil (punctuated by occasional calm) before that.

Boston Globe Media’s strategy of building free verticals around the Globe is, for  the most part, progressing nicely. BetaBoston, which covers the innovation economy; Crux, devoted to “all things Catholic”; and Stat, the forthcoming life-sciences site that’s already producing stories, are all quality projects.

But Boston.com has been seen as a thing apart ever since it was separated from BostonGlobe.com a year and a half ago. And the turmoil continues.

More: I just received this statement from incoming Boston.com general manager Eleanor Cleverly and outgoing general manager Corey Gottlieb:

We have spent much of the past few months rethinking an operational vision for Boston.com that both maintains our autonomy as a standalone business and reinforces our partnership with the Globe. Today, we announced a restructuring of Boston.com’s newsroom and the reduction of 12 full-time staff positions. This realignment includes changes to our leadership – Tim Molloy has chosen to step down and Kaitlyn Johnston, Boston.com’s current deputy editor, has been appointed as our site’s new editor.

This is a business decision that is part of a larger effort at Boston Globe Media Partners designed to put Boston.com in a stronger and more sustainable position for growth. That said, we would be remiss to overlook the fact that this was also a people decision, one that affects the lives of many who have worked tirelessly to support our operation. We are deeply grateful for that work.

Boston.com editor departs, according to BoMag

The revolving door keeps spinning at Boston.com. Garrett Quinn of Boston magazine reports that editor Tim Molloy is out, just a few days after Eleanor Cleverly replaced Corey Gottlieb as general manager. Molloy had been editor only since March.

Best wishes to Maria Stephanos, the face of Fox 25

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Maria Stephanos tweeting during one of the 2012 presidential debates.

Good luck and best wishes to Maria Stephanos, who announced on Thursday that she’s leaving WFXT-TV (Channel 25). Garrett Quinn has the details at Boston magazine. Stephanos has been the face of Fox 25 News for a long time, and it’s not going to be the same without her.

As Quinn notes, Stephanos is Fox 25’s second recent high-profile departure. My Northeastern colleague Mike Beaudet, the station’s investigative reporter, recently announced he was stepping aside so that he could spend more time with us.

Boston.com hires an editor and a deputy editor

Tim Molloy (via LinkedIn)
Tim Molloy (via LinkedIn)

Well, this seems promising. Boston.com finally has an editor — and a new deputy editor as well. Even better, both of them have high-level editing experience, digital chops and local roots. The new editor is Tim Molloy, currently digital engagement editor at PBS’s “Frontline.” His deputy will be Kaitlyn Johnston, executive digital editor at Boston magazine. Their appointments take effect on March 16.

Other than generating clicks, it’s been unclear what Boston.com’s mission was supposed to be when it was relaunched last year and stripped of Boston Globe content. In a recent piece for WGBH News, I suggested turning it into an arts-and-entertainment site, filling the void left when my former employer, The Boston Phoenix, went under two years ago. (That post also provides some background on Boston.com’s woes, which is why I’m not rehashing them here.)

Kaitlin Johnston (via LinkedIn)
Kaitlyn Johnston (via LinkedIn)

In any event, I look forward to seeing what Molloy and Johnston can bring to the digital table. The press release follows.

Boston.com, one of the nation’s most highly trafficked regional news websites, today announced the appointments of Tim Molloy as Editor and Kaitlyn Johnston as Deputy Editor, effective March 16.

Molloy joins Boston.com from PBS’s Frontline, where he served as the Digital Engagement Editor after amassing nearly twenty years of experience as an editor and reporter at  TheWrap.com, TVGuide.com and The Associated Press.

Johnston comes to Boston.com after having served as the Executive Digital Editor for Boston Magazine, where she directed all facets of the digital operation.

Corey Gottlieb, Executive Director, Digital Strategy & Operations and General Manager of Boston.com, looks forward to working with Molloy and Johnston.

“I could not be more excited to welcome these two dynamic news professionals onto our team,” said Gottlieb. “Tim’s blend of vision and presence make him the embodiment of the journalistic values that should resonate through every story we choose to tell on the site. Kaitlyn’s proven ability to craft stories that reflect Boston to the rest of the world will be invaluable as we continue to shape Boston.com’s editorial mission with such narratives at our core,” said Gottlieb.

The pair’s responsibilities will span the entirety of Boston.com’s editorial operation, including: developing and executing on content strategy for the site; management of all editorial staff; development of new initiatives; audience retention and expansion; and strategic long-term planning for the brand.

During much of his career, Molloy has also been responsible for audience engagement and has worked across diverse constituents managing multiple media channels, from print to online and broadcast media. Molloy readily steps into his role: “As an online editorial and multimedia professional, I am compelled by news environments that seek to deliver content in dynamic ways. Boston.com has taken ambitious strides in that direction over the past year; the opportunity to build on that is what drew me to this role. I think we have the chance to become one of the most powerful storytelling entities in the country,” commented Molloy.

Before moving to Boston, Johnston worked as Digital Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and earned a Master’s Degree in Media Arts & Technology at Duquesne University. Johnston echoes Molloy’s enthusiasm: “I am looking forward to joining Boston.com, a thriving platform whose audience makes this a truly unique opportunity. The site has a large, diverse and highly engaged community of web, social and mobile readers who use Boston.com to discover, experience, and share news and information about all things Boston,” she said.

Here’s an idea for how to fix Boston.com

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

I have an idea for how to fix Boston.com, whose executives on Wednesday found themselves apologizing yet again — this time for some juvenile humor about House Speaker John Boehner’s alleged drinking problem following a death threat against him.

The screw-up has gotten widespread coverage from, among others, Politico, the Boston Herald (where the story landed on page one) and The Boston Globe.

First, some context on why John Henry and company find themselves in this situation.

When Boston Globe Media Partners decided to remove all Globe content from its free Boston.com site, a strategy that Justin Ellis explained at the Nieman Journalism Lab last April, they created a difficult challenge. Boston.com was one of the first and most successful newspaper websites, and had spent most of its existence primarily as a place where you could read the Globe for free. The challenge was to create a compelling news site without running anything from the Globe — and, at least based on what I’ve seen, to do it on the cheap.

The route that Boston.com has taken is a lot of aggregation, a lot of attitude and a lot of viral content — such as the phenomenon it had on its hands in December with Harvard Business School professor (and lawyer) Ben Edelman, who was revealed to have sent a series of legalistic, threatening emails to a Chinese restaurant owner because he’d been overcharged by $4 when he placed an online order.

The story went sour after the site published and then pulled a post falsely claiming that Edelman had sent a racist email. It then turned out that deputy editor Hilary Sargent, the lead reporter on all things Edelman, was selling T-shirts online making fun of him, which led to her suspension. (My former Boston Phoenix colleague David Bernstein, a WGBH News contributor, recently wrote a good summing-up of the Edelman affair, with links, for Boston magazine. We also talked about it on “Beat the Press.”)

It hasn’t helped that Boston.com has been without a top editor for most of its reincarnated existence. Globe Media chief executive Mike Sheehan told his own paper Wednesday that he hoped to have an editor in place soon, though he didn’t specify a timetable.

The deeper problem, though, is that Boston.com has a fundamentally different mission — maybe even an impossible mission — compared to the Globe’s other online verticals.

Both Crux, which covers the Catholic Church, and BetaBoston, which follows the local innovation economy, are free to excel and be the best that they can be. Stories that have broad appeal can be picked up and run in the Globe.

Boston.com, by contrast, is hampered by being a general news site that in some respects overlaps with the Globe but can’t really be allowed to compete in any serious way. There are exceptions, of course. For instance, the Globe — and news organizations around the world — picked up on the Edelman story, an entertaining morality tale about a hardworking restaurateur being harassed by an arrogant Harvard professor. And Globe editor Brian McGrory told Justin Ellis he expected to “compete like crazy” with Boston.com.

In the main, though, Boston.com has suffered by what we might think of as an imperfectly applied example of Clay Christensen’s disruption theory — by which I mean that the free Boston.com site can’t be allowed to disrupt the Globe’s business model, which is based on paid print and digital subscriptions as well as advertising. (Henry is known to be an aficionado of Christensen’s work. I wrote in some depth about disruption theory and journalism last summer for Medium.)

I disagree with critics who say Henry ought to shut down Boston.com (it still has great value, built up over nearly 20 years) or sell it (and let the Herald or another competitor grab it?). So what do I think the solution might be?

How about a first-rate arts-and-entertainment site with a truly comprehensive, searchable database of listings? It would fill a real need, and it might attract high-quality local ads. And it would be more like Crux and BetaBoston than the current Boston.com in that it could function as a Globe vertical rather than as a separate-but-not-quite-separate-enough enterprise.

I don’t know whether such an idea would work, and I would observe that the Phoenix didn’t have a lot of success with that model during the last few years of its existence. But the Henry ownership is supposed to be all about experimentation. And the Globe has two advantages the Phoenix lacked: great technology and a huge built-in audience. Some experiments will pan out; some won’t. This one strikes me as worth trying.

Boston.com 2.0 has been troubled from the start. Maybe the right editor can fix it. But maybe it’s not too soon to be thinking about version 3.0.

 

David Bernstein is out of here

David Bernstein and Kristin McGrath
Bernstein and McGrath

One of the more original political voices to pass through Boston in many years is fleeing the scene. My former Boston Phoenix colleague David Bernstein, who’s been contributing to Boston magazine and WGBH since the Phoenix’s demise in 2013, is heading to Richmond, Virginia, where his wife, Kristin McGrath, is starting “an exciting new job.”

Bernstein’s political analysis is smart and straight from a liberal perspective. But it’s his use of social media that sets him apart. His Twitter feed, which has nearly 14,000 followers, is a great source of news, political humor and hashtag games. On Facebook, he pays tribute to the birthdays of often-obscure politicos with music trivia contests. A recent example:

Today’s Massachusetts political birthday is Segun Idowu of the Edward M. Kennedy Insititute, currently under construction. In his honor, what are the best songs with the word “build,” “shape,” or “make” in the title? I’ll start with Foundations “Build Me Up Buttercup”; Nirvana “Heart-Shaped Box”; and Nick Lowe “You Make Me.”

Then there is Bernstein’s #mapoli With Animals, a Tumblr consisting of photos of Massachusetts politicians posing with their (and other people’s) pets. If you haven’t seen it, you should. I’m sure you’ll agree that it is one of the signal accomplishments of the Internet age.

Bernstein says he’ll “still write and comment about Massachusetts politics beyond 2014,” and that he expects to continue with BoMag and WGBH. But it won’t be the same with him checking in from afar. Best of luck to both David and Kristin.