CommonWealth Beacon has just published a story by its editor, Bruce Mohl, shedding some light on an exceedingly strange episode from earlier this year: The Boston Globe’s decision to fire veteran investigative reporter Andrea Estes after the paper published a story reporting that three top MBTA managers were living far from Greater Boston when in fact they made their homes in the local area. The story, on which Estes had the lead byline, reported that nine T officials had such an arrangement; in fact, it was six. The Globe had to run several corrections as a result.
Mohl reports that the errors in the story came about because the managers themselves were not allowed as a matter of policy to speak with the press without permission, and that they thought the MBTA public relations office was going to respond on their behalf — but the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) ordered the T to stay silent. Mohl writes:
At the MBTA, workers are advised not to talk to reporters, leaving that job to public relations officials. But in this instance the MBTA public relations officials, on orders from higher-ups at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, ignored calls from Estes seeking to verify the information she had gathered. The result was a story that unfairly tarred at least three employees at the MBTA and caused the firing of Estes.
Disclosure: I’m a member of CommonWealth’s board of advisers.
This entire saga has been weird, and though Mohl’s story answers some of the outstanding questions, it doesn’t answer all of them. Why would MassDOT not allow the T to defend its own employees? Why was Estes fired if she wasn’t entirely at fault? In addition, editor Nancy Barnes said there would be some public accountability after Estes left the Globe, but Mohl suggests that may have been derailed by a pending arbitration hearing sought by Estes.
A further indication that at least some of Estes’ peers believe she was wronged came when she was hired recently as a staff reporter by the Plymouth Independent, a fledgling nonprofit edited by Mark Pothier, until recently a high-ranking editor at the Globe, and advised by Globe legend Walter Robinson. “Having her on staff sends a strong message about the kind of serious journalism we plan to do,” Pothier said in a press release announcing her hiring.
Thanks to Mohl’s digging, we now know more than we did. I still hope the full story comes out at some point.
- The Plymouth Independent hires Andrea Estes, citing her “unparalleled” skills (Sept. 27)
- A smart analysis of Andrea Estes’ “compelling and consequential” career (May 8)
- Globe editor Nancy Barnes tells her staff she’s working to unravel the MBTA fiasco (May 4)
- Andrea Estes has left the Globe following an error-riddled story about the MBTA (May 4)
- An ombudsman could have explained what went wrong with the Globe’s MBTA story (April 28)