By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

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The Mendo Voice goes nonprofit as co-founder Kate Maxwell moves on

Kate Maxwell working out of borrowed space in March 2020. Photo (cc) 2020 by Dan Kennedy.

There’s big news in the world of hyperlocal journalism this week: Kate Maxwell, the co-founder and publisher of The Mendocino Voice in Northern California, is moving on. The Voice, which is nominally a for-profit, is becoming part of the nonprofit Bay City News Foundation, which, according to an announcement on Tuesday, “will allow both organizations to expand the geographic reach and depth of their public service reporting.”

In a message to readers, Maxwell writes that “as part of this new chapter, I’ve chosen to move on from my role as publisher.” No word as to what she’ll do next. She adds:

Thanks to your support, we’ve published nearly 5,000 articles, reached millions of readers, created living wage jobs for experienced local reporters, held government officials accountable, received national funding and awards, and shared important Mendocino stories with readers around the state and country. Most importantly, we’ve been able to provide the diverse communities in Mendocino with news that’s been useful to you, our friends and neighbors.

Although the Voice will continue as a standalone free website, it will do so without either of the co-founders. The site’s first editor, Adrian Fernandez Baumann, left several years ago. Here’s part of an FAQ explaining what the change will mean for readers:

This partnership will give The Mendocino Voice the stability to maintain its news operation and support its journalists. It’ll create a regional network all along the coast as well as the inland areas and give reporters the opportunity to grow. It’s a promise of long-term sustainability. Joining with Bay City News Foundation means that we’ll have the capacity for deeper coverage of environmental issues, plus more resources for bringing you that news, including more photographers, data journalists and round-the-clock editors.

The Mendo Voice was the first project I visited in my reporting for “What Works in Community News.” I was on the ground during the first week of March in 2020, and we all know what happened that week. I covered an event the Voice hosted at a local brewpub on Super Tuesday, which I reported on for GBH News. Two days later, I was on hand as Maxwell and Baumann reported on a news conference to announce the first measures being taken in response to what was then called the “novel coronavirus.” The nationwide shutdown loomed.

The reason I wanted to include The Mendo Voice in the book that Ellen Clegg and I were writing was that Maxwell and Baumann were planning to convert the project they had founded in 2016 to a cooperative form of ownership. “We are going to be owned by our readers and our staff,” Maxwell told the Super Tuesday gathering. “We think that’s the best way to be sustainable and locally owned.”

After years of following a nascent news co-op in Haverhill, Massachusetts, which ultimately failed to launch, I was intrigued. Unfortunately, the co-op that Maxwell and Baumann envisioned did not come to pass, either. COVID-19 wreaked havoc with their plans, though the Voice continued to publish and provide “useful news for all of Mendocino.”  Baumann took a personal leave that ended up becoming permanent. And Maxwell was unable to move ahead with the community meetings she had envisioned to make the co-op a reality. “I think we basically had a year’s worth of events that we were planning,” she told me in 2022.

By then, the Voice was essentially operating as a hybrid — a for-profit that had a relationship with a nonprofit organization that allowed for tax-deductible donations to support the Voice’s reporting. Eventually, she said, the site was likely to move toward a more traditional nonprofit model.

The co-op idea is an interesting one, but to this day I’m not aware of a successful example at the local level. The Defector has made it work, but that’s a national project. In Akron, Ohio, The Devil Strip, an arts-focused magazine and website, tried for a while but then collapsed in an ugly fashion.

Maxwell and Baumann, two young journalists who launched The Mendocino Voice after leaving jobs at Mendo County newspapers being destroyed by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital, built something of lasting value. Best wishes to both of them.

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Cuts at WBUR underscore the black swan event that now threatens public radio

Photo (cc) 2023 by Todd Van Hoosear

There are many reasons that can be cited for the crisis in which much of the news media finds itself. Essentially, though, journalism is attempting to adjust to two massive black swan events.

The first was the rise of the internet, which destroyed much of the business model for newspapers and magazines by transferring the vast majority of advertising revenues to Craigslist, Google, Facebook and Amazon. Yes, some publications have survived and even thrived by persuading their readers to pick up the costs in the form of digital subscriptions. But we are a long way from the days when ads accounted for 80% of a typical newspaper’s income.

The second is playing out right now: the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is devastating public radio, our most important source of free news. Even as newspaper paywalls have excluded those who either can’t afford or don’t wish to pay, NPR and its network of local public radio stations have remained free to all. Now a dramatic change in listening patterns is threatening all that.

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That threat hit Boston big-time on Wednesday, as WBUR announced it was cutting 31 employees, 24 through a voluntary buyout and seven through layoffs. According to Aidan Ryan of The Boston Globe, the cuts amount to 14% of the station’s staff and will save the station $4 million. WBUR reporter Todd Wallack, in the station’s own story on downsizing, writes that the cuts will “help offset a steep decline in on-air sponsorships, also known as underwriting.”

“We didn’t have a choice financially,” WBUR chief executive Margaret Low was quoted as saying. “We ultimately need to make as much money as we’re spending.” Wallack added that other costs will be trimmed as well.

WBUR’s news competitor, GBH, is also facing financial challenges and may soon announce its own round of layoffs, the Globe reported last month. And those local problems come in the midst of a national challenge that has hit station after station as well as NPR itself.

In The New York Times, Benjamin Mullin and Jeremy W. Peters report that NPR has been dealing with a massive slippage in audience in recent years. Here is the heart of their story:

NPR’s traditional broadcast audience, still the bulk of its listenership, is in long-term decline that accelerated when the pandemic interrupted long car commutes for millions of people. The network has begun to sign up digital subscribers who pay for ad-free podcasts, but that business has lagged far behind that of its competitors.

While NPR still has an audience of about 42 million who listen every week, many of them digitally, that is down from an estimated 60 million in 2020, according to an internal March audience report, a faster falloff than for broadcast radio, which is also in a long-term decline.

That’s a drop of 30% in listenership since just before COVID. Given that many people are now working in person three days a week rather than five, that drop correlates pretty directly with the change in driving habits. NPR has tried to offset the decline with podcasts, but where do people listen to podcasts? For many, it’s in their cars. In any case, there’s little money in podcasts except for a few at the very top. The rise of podcasts has also exacerbated tensions between NPR and its member stations, since the network can distribute them directly without relying on the stations. More than anything, fewer listeners means fewer donors.

One interesting tidbit in the Times story relates to former senior business editor Uri Berliner’s error-filled screed about NPR’s shift to the progressive left — a shift he attributed in part to the network’s embrace of various diversity initiatives. As Mullin and Peters write, NPR was seeking to diversify its on-air talent not just because it was the right thing to do but because top executives were desperately seeking to expand their audience beyond affluent, aging white suburbanites. For the most part, they say, it hasn’t worked:

NPR’s leaders redoubled their efforts to diversify their audience and work force and closely tracked metrics for each. They added podcasts aimed at people of color and younger listeners. They promoted people of color to high-profile reporting and hosting jobs. All of these moves were meant to ensure the nation’s public radio network would remain competitive as the country’s population continued to grow more diverse.

So it came as a disappointment to some people on NPR’s board last fall when they were presented with new internal data showing their efforts hadn’t moved the needle much with Black and Hispanic podcast listeners.

As with newspaper executives trying to adjust to the internet era, public radio leaders have made plenty of mistakes along the way, and the Times story includes a number of bone-headed moves. Few, though, rival what’s taking place at WAMU in Washington, D.C., which earlier this year closed its DCist local website and has been beset by turmoil ever since.

Andrew Beaujon, writing for Washingtonian, recently posted a wild story of what’s taking place inside WAMU, leading off with a killer anecdote: the legendary Diane Rehm’s apparently having her mic cut when she dared to speak up at an internal staff meeting with general manager Erika Pulley-Hayes. Beaujon includes this exchange:

“What I did not understand,” Rehm said during the March 6 meeting, “was the layoff of a fine reporter like Jacob Fenston or the director of technology, Rob Bertrand, or James Coates —”

“Diane,” Pulley-Hayes interrupted.

“— who just two years ago won a prestigious award here at the university,” Rehm continued. “And so it would have seemed that you sort of publicized that you were taking down DCist. But you did not talk much about the other — that other staff members who were losing their jobs. It’s as though they just disappeared because somebody didn’t want them here anymore —”

Multiple staffers say that at this point they saw Rehm’s mouth moving, but she produced no sound. Rehm declined to comment for this article, but she told other staffers that she did not mute herself.

“Diane, thanks for your feedback,” Pulley-Hayes said, as the 50-plus-year veteran of public broadcasting appeared to continue to try to speak. “But it’s really inappropriate to talk about HR decisions in a public forum. So I’m not at liberty to address it in this forum, to talk to you. You’re asking HR questions that I cannot answer.” Pulley-Hayes then called on another employee.

“Diane Rehm is a legend,” one WAMU staffer tells Washingtonian. “We were all shocked.”

Critics like Uri Berliner would have us believe that public radio is suffering because of liberal bias, but that’s based on the dubious premise that there is some large bloc of conservative listeners who’ve stopped listening, or that underwriters suddenly were offended by what they heard. There is no evidence for either proposition. Rather, this is a business problem, and it’s not at all clear what the solution is going to be.

Just as newspapers have found there was nothing quite like the glory days of monopoly print, public radio executives are discovering that they benefited at one time from a unique set of circumstances that no longer exists — an era when broadcast radio was the audio format of choice; when commuters were stuck in the cars five days each week; and when deregulation led to the decline of commercial radio as stations were scooped up by corporate chains that destroyed what made them unique.

Finding a way to solve those challenges is not going to be easy.

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Fish in a barrel: Berliner’s case against NPR is based on false and out-of-context facts

Robert Mueller. Photo (cc) 2012 by the White House.

Nearly 40 years ago I heard a lawyer tell a jury something in court that has stuck with me: If there’s a rotten fish floating around the top of the barrel, you’re under no obligation to reach in to see if there’s something better underneath. He was more eloquent (if no less graphic) than I, but you get the idea. If someone bolsters their argument with false or distorted facts, then you should feel free to disregard their larger point.

That’s why I want to return one more time to NPR senior business editor Uri Berliner’s long essay in The Free Press about what he regards as his employer’s move to the fringe left. Mainly he seems to be worked up about diversity workshops and a change in NPR’s audience from one that was more or less balanced ideologically to one that is overwhelmingly liberal and progressive — which, as I wrote earlier this week, is more a consequence of the great national sorting-out than of anything NPR itself has done.

But there were also three factual assertions he made. One is flat-out false; one is devoid of crucial context; and one is questionable. So here we go.

False. Berliner writes that special counsel Robert Mueller found “no credible evidence” that Donald Trump had engaged in collusion with Russia, writing, “Russiagate quietly faded from our programming.”

Berliner has essentially adopted then-Attorney General Bill Barr’s gloss of the Mueller report, which itself was false. When the full report came out, and when Mueller himself finally testified before a congressional committee, we learned that the truth was more complicated. First, “collusion” is not a legal concept. Second, there was massive evidence of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Third, there was evidence that Trump had obstructed justice and had attempted to obstruct justice only to be stopped by those around him.

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“In his report, Mueller said his team declined to make a prosecutorial judgment on whether to charge Trump, partly because of a Justice Department legal opinion that said sitting presidents shouldn’t be indicted,” according to this detailed fact-check by The Associated Press, headlined “Trump falsely claims Mueller exonerated him.” The AP added that Mueller “deliberately drew no conclusions about whether he collected sufficient evidence to charge Trump with a crime. He merely said that if prosecutors want to charge Trump once he is out of office, they would have that ability because obstacles to indicting a sitting president would be gone.”

Lacking crucial context. Berliner blasts NPR for failing to report on Hunter Biden’s laptop in the waning days of the 2020 campaign and for failing to come clean when it was later found to be genuine, writing: “The laptop did belong to Hunter Biden. Its contents revealed his connection to the corrupt world of multimillion-dollar influence peddling and its possible implications for his father.”

As proof, Berliner links to a Washington Post story that was published in March 2022 — that is, a year and a half after the New York Post published its initial story. That’s how long it took for The Washington to verify at least part of the hard drive’s content as genuine. The story notes: “The vast majority of the data — and most of the nearly 129,000 emails it contained — could not be verified by either of the two security experts who reviewed the data for The Post.” There’s also this:

Some other emails on the drive that have been the foundation for previous news reports could not be verified because the messages lacked verifiable cryptographic signatures. One such email was widely described as referring to Joe Biden as “the big guy” and suggesting the elder Biden would receive a cut of a business deal. One of the recipients of that email has vouched publicly for its authenticity but President Biden has denied being involved in any business arrangements.

In other words, The Washington Post was not able to find a single verified email tying President Biden to his son’s business dealings, leaving anything beyond that to the he-said/he-said that we already knew about.

In addition, Berliner makes it sounded like NPR was unique in holding back on the laptop story in October 2020. But as The New York Times reported, even the New York Post — which, after all, is part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire — had trouble getting it out there. The reporter who wrote most of it refused to let the paper put his byline on it “because he had concerns over the article’s credibility.” Another staff member whose byline did appear did little work on the story and didn’t realize her name would be on it until after it was published.

Even worse, Fox News, Murdoch’s 800-pound gorilla, reportedly took a pass on it, according to Mediaite, because the Trump operative who brought it to them, Rudy Giuliani, could not provide “sourcing and veracity” for the emails.

Contrary to Berliner’s complaint, the restraint that NPR showed was no different from that of any other news organization — including Fox News. No more than a small portion of the emails on hard drive have ever been verified, and none of those emails suggest any wrongdoing on the part of President Biden.

• Questionable. Berliner takes NPR to task for accepting without reservation the theory that COVID-19’s origins were most likely from a wild animal market in Wuhan, China, rather than from a leak at a nearby lab, complaining that “politics were blotting out the curiosity and independence that ought to have been driving our work.”

Admittedly, this complaint by Berliner is more legitimate than his other two examples. More than four years after the virus was discovered, we still don’t fully understand its origins, and it’s a fact that the story got caught up in our toxic political environment. As I wrote for GBH News in June 2021, the media — in their haste to dismiss a right-wing conspiracy theory that COVID was created as part of a Chinese bioweapons program — leaned too hard in the other direction, rejecting any possibility that COVID had come from anywhere other than the Wuhan market.

That said, deep dives by the media over the past several years have turned up nothing definitive, and it still seems more likely than not that COVID sprang up from the market rather than from a lab experiment gone awry. Once again, I think Berliner is being too hard on his employer.

Which appears to be the point. By going public with his complaints about the culture inside NPR, Berliner may have accomplished the impossible: He’s made it so that his continued tenure at NPR is untenable while at the same time rendering himself unfirable. I detect a resignation and a fat contract with Fox News in Berliner’s immediate future.

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COVID at 4

It was four years ago today, a Wednesday, that COVID-19 became the central reality of our lives. I had spent the previous week on a reporting trip in Mendocino County, California. Nationally, the news was getting more ominous by the day. We attended a college assembly in a packed, windowless hall, with the usual buffet replaced with boxed lunches as some sort of appeasement to the Gods of Disease.

Word finally came down during our faculty meeting that classes would be canceled starting the next day. That evening, in my graduate ethics seminar, came the triple-header: the NBA suspended its season and sent everyone home from a game in Oklahoma City; Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, announced they’d caught COVID while in Australia; and Donald Trump delivered a speech from the Oval Office that was so unnerving the stock market crashed.

We watched Trump in class. I remember telling my students we’d probably be back in few weeks. Little did we know.

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Muzzle follow-up: RFK Jr. loses his appeal over Warren’s criticism of his COVID book

Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Photo (cc) 2019 by Gage Skidmore.

A federal appeals court has sided with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren in her battle with Amazon over a book that promoted falsehoods about COVID-19. Presidential candidate and noted conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who contributed to the book, sued Warren on First Amendment grounds, but Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub — who keeps an eye on the courts so that I don’t have to — reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently ruled that Warren has the same right to criticize Amazon as anyone else.

🗽The New England Muzzles🗽

Last July, I gave Warren a New England Muzzle Award, arguing that though she did indeed have the right to criticize Amazon, a statement she issued targeting Amazon’s algorithmic promotion of books such as “The Truth about COVID-19,” for which Kennedy wrote the introduction, suggested that she was threatening to use her position as a prominent elected official to seek regulation of Amazon’s business practices. In a press release issued in 2021, Warren criticized a “pattern and practice of misbehavior” that “suggests that Amazon is either unwilling or unable to modify its business practices to prevent the spread of falsehoods or the sale of inappropriate products — an unethical, unacceptable, and potentially unlawful course of action from one of the nation’s largest retailers.”

Prominent civil rights lawyer Harvey Silverglate told The Boston Globe that Kennedy and his fellow plaintiffs had a strong case, saying, “You’d think that a former Harvard law professor would know better.”

But a federal district court disagreed, and now the appeals court has disagreed as well. From the appeals court’s decision:

Elizabeth Warren, as a single Senator, has no unilateral power to penalize Amazon for promoting “The Truth About COVID-19.” This absence of authority influences how a reasonable person would read her letter. A similar letter might be inherently coercive if sent by a prosecutor with the power to bring charges against the recipient…. The letter could be viewed as more threatening if it were penned by an executive official with unilateral power that could be wielded in an unfair way if the recipient did not acquiesce…. But as one member of a legislature who is removed from the relevant levers of power, Senator Warren would more naturally be viewed as relying on her persuasive authority rather than on the coercive power of the government to take action against Amazon.

Although it was admittedly a stretch to argue that Warren’s statement amounted to a threat rather than mere criticism of Amazon’s business practices, she could have followed up by holding hearings and filing legislation that would, for instance, ban the use of algorithmic promotion of books that indulge in falsehoods. We have enough book-banning going on in the country, thanks to Ron DeSantis and his ilk, without having one of our leading progressive senators taking part. Given that Warren did not actually seek to follow up her words with actions, though, I’ll concede that the courts got it right.

Bret Stephens wants you to misunderstand an easily misunderstood report on masking

A pre-vaccine selfie in the Middlesex Fells, January 2021.

None of us will forget those early, terrifying months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when there were no vaccines. No one knew what to do, so we all masked up. I was so careful that if I was hiking in the woods and saw someone approaching, I’d quickly put on my bandana and hope they’d do the same. What did we know? I mean, we had friends who had their groceries delivered to their garage and wouldn’t touch them for several days.

These days, the fear has subsided for those of us who are healthy and fully vaxxed. People are still dying unnecessarily of COVID, but mask mandates are pretty much behind us. I still wear a mask on public transportation but nowhere else.

So I read with great interest recently that a new report shows mask mandates did not work. Yasmin Tayag wrote about it in The Atlantic on Feb. 13. The report — “a rigorous assessment of 78 studies” — showed that there was no difference in the COVID rate when the general population wore masks, whether they were cloth or high-grade N95s.

Yet what the report actually found was complicated and easily misunderstood and/or mis-explained by the media. The paper wasn’t saying that masking doesn’t work — it was saying that mandates don’t work at the community level. In other words, if you are wearing a high-quality mask and making sure that it fits properly, you are doing a decent job of protecting yourself from others. It’s just that too many people weren’t masking, or weren’t wearing a proper mask, for it to make much difference at the population level. Tayag wrote:

The population-level detail is important: It indicates uncertainty about whether requiring everyone to wear a mask makes a difference in viral spread. This is different from the impact of individual masking, which has been better researched. Doctors, after all, routinely mask when they’re around sick patients and do not seem to be infected more often than anyone else. “We have fairly decent evidence that masks can protect the wearer,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Brown University, told me. “Where I think it sort of falls apart is relating that to the population level.”

Naturally, such nuances get obliterated by bad-faith commentators — like Bret Stephens of The New York Times, who writes today that the study shows masking doesn’t work, period, and that those who pushed for mandates should apologize. Stephens does include a to-be-sure paragraph acknowledging that individual mask-wearing may make sense, but he blows right past it, writing:

Those skeptics who were furiously mocked as cranks and occasionally censored as “misinformers” for opposing mandates were right. The mainstream experts and pundits who supported mandates were wrong. In a better world, it would behoove the latter group to acknowledge their error, along with its considerable physical, psychological, pedagogical and political costs.

No. The “misinformers” claimed that masking itself didn’t work, and that we were killing ourselves by breathing our own carbon dioxide. Stephens knows this, I assume, but he’s more than happy to let us confuse mandates-don’t-work with masking-doesn’t-work, and to elide the reality that universal masking probably would have worked if everyone wore high-quality masks over their mouths and noses rather than their chins.

I’ve never been all-in on masking. As I said, I continue to mask up on public transportation, but nowhere else. And I always enjoy seeing a cyclist wearing a mask but not a helmet, which is truly a cosmically hilarious misunderstanding of risk. But there is good reason to think that if you wear a proper mask properly that you’ll reduce your chances of getting COVID.

COVID, the elderly and the rising death rate: What the media still haven’t reported

The bad old days. Middlesex Fells, July 2020.

Last month I criticized an opinion piece by David Wallace-Wells in The New York Times for failing to pull together two lines of statistics about the elderly and COVID-19. Yes, the death rate among those 80 and older remains very high, but we don’t have a clear sense of how many of those who died had received the bivalent booster, the best protection available against serious illness and death.

Today we run into a similar problem in The Boston Globe, although at least reporter Felice J. Freyer doesn’t make any opinionated assertions for which she lacks data. Freyer reports that the COVID death rate in Massachusetts is jumping up again. In a chart that accompanies her story, we learn that the latest death rate is now 62.14 per 100,000 cases. Of the 129 deaths, 76.8% were 80 and older, and 15.9% were between 70 and 79. The rate among those 29 and younger was zero.

We also learn from Freyer’s reporting that 59% of Massachusetts residents 65 and older have received the bivalent booster, a much higher proportion than the 38% who’ve received it in the country as a whole. That is to our credit.

But here’s where the twain never meets. What we would really like to know, more than anything, is how many of those elderly people in Massachusetts who are dying of COVID are also among the 41% who didn’t receive the bivalent booster. We can be reasonably sure that the death rate among the unboosted elderly is higher than it is for those who’ve been boosted. But how much higher? Does anyone know?

Fuzzy math: COVID, the elderly and The New York Times

Photo (cc) 2020 by Administración del Principado de Asturias

This kind of fuzziness drives me crazy. David Wallace-Wells, writing in his New York Times newsletter, is rightly concerned that the death rate from COVID-19 remains high among the elderly, which he defines roughly as those 80 and older. And he notes that 94% of Americans 65 and older have been vaccinated.

He puts it this way: “If it was ever comfortable to say that the unconscionable levels of American deaths were a pandemic of the unvaccinated, it is surely now accurate to describe the ongoing toll as a pandemic of the old.” His message, not clearly stated (there is little that’s clear about this piece), is that vaccines are not protecting the elderly from dying from COVID, which is a pretty serious assertion.

But what does he mean by “vaccinated”? Farther down he writes of the high death rate among the elderly:

It is also partly a reflection of how many fewer Americans, including older ones, have gotten boosters than got the initial vaccines: 34 percent, compared with 69 percent. The number of those who have gotten updated bivalent boosters is lower still — just 12.7 percent of Americans over the age of 5.

So is getting fully boosted, including with the bivalent vaccine, decent protection against death and serious illness among the elderly or isn’t it? He doesn’t say, and he probably doesn’t know. I’m guessing that the 94% figure he cites means “fully vaccinated,” which is defined as two shots. As we know, that’s not very protective. At this point, I’ve had four shots plus a mild case of COVID for a total of five immunity-boosting events.

This NBC News story by Aria Bendix is more helpful. Analyzing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bendix reports that 85% of people who died of COVID in November were 65 and older, but only 31% of that age group had received a bivalent booster. Here, too, though, we have two different numbers passing in the night: We don’t know what the death rate was among elderly people who had gotten the bivalent shot. That’s the key fact, right?

This is important, because COVID is both serious business and the subject of ongoing fear-mongering among those who envision all of us wearing masks forever. (I’m not anti-mask; I wear one on public transportation.) What Wallace-Wells establishes is that the elderly, despite vaccines, are dying of COVID at a frighteningly high rate. What he doesn’t establish is whether that’s a consequence of them not getting the bivalent booster.

As Wallace-Wells notes, the elderly don’t get as much protection from vaccines in general because their immune systems are less active. Still, an 80-year-old who’s had the bivalent booster is surely less likely to become seriously ill or die from COVID if they’ve received the bivalent booster than if they’ve only had the first two shots. How much less likely? Who knows?

Amid COVID-19 and a failing MBTA, more and more people turn to biking

The rise of Bluebikes has helped fuel an increase in the number of people traveling on two wheels in the Boston area. Photo by Henry Shifrin.

My wonderful Northeastern intermediate reporting students have produced a terrific story on urban biking for The Scope, our School of Journalism’s digital publication covering issues related to social justice.

Here’s how we did it. Eleven of the 14 students interviewed experts, policymakers and ordinary cyclists, combining all of their notes onto one Google Doc. One student took photos. Two contributed research. Each of them wrote a story based on everyone’s notes. Finally, I pulled together an article from several of their stories.

I am pleased with the results and incredibly proud of my students. You can read their story right here.

Boston Globe employees told to return to the office starting next Tuesday

Like many organizations not dependent on face-to-face contact with the public, The Boston Globe has delayed bringing its employees back to the office. Several attempts have been made in the past, only to be set aside in response to a new COVID-19 surge.

Those days now appear to be over. Starting Tuesday, Sept. 20, non-production employees have been told to report for in-person work. Most employees, including journalists, will be expected to come in Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays with the option of working at home on Mondays and Fridays. This three-day schedule seems to be the new norm. It also coincides with the restoration of Orange Line service.

Here’s part of a memo sent to employees by Rodrigo Tajona, the Globe’s chief people officer:

I hope this note finds you safe and well. First of all, I would like to appreciate and recognize everything that each one of you has been doing for the company, before, during and post COVID. We understand that it hasn’t been easy, but we’ve managed to navigate through these unprecedented times by working together. This is a tremendous credit to each one of you and we are grateful in acknowledging these efforts.

During this time, when most of our non-production employees have been working from home, there’s no doubt that we have been executing positively towards achieving our goals as a company. However, there is also a clear sense that something is missing. We have welcomed over 200 new members of our community since the offices closed, and they haven’t had many opportunities to get to know their colleagues. There are follow-up conversations that don’t happen when a zoom window closes. The brainstorming and creative thinking that we need to continue to innovate as a modern media company is hindered by not being in the same room. The ability to learn from the expertise of our colleagues and to mentor newer colleagues is limited. And we have a civic duty to be part of the city that we cover. In the pages of the Globe, we have reported on the impact of closed offices on Boston. It is great to see that so many offices have returned, and our building at Exchange Place is bustling again.

We have had all of our BGMP [Boston Globe Media Partners] locations open for a while, and we have been happy to hear about the productive meetings and collaborations taking place in our beautiful offices.  As we have communicated in Town Halls and in company memos, we are ready and thrilled to have employees return to the office on a regular schedule effective September 20th 2022.

The following guidelines have been taken into consideration, understanding that life happens and flexibility is important to each one of us:

  • Although the offices will be open every day, we expect employees and managers to follow a 3/2 hybrid schedule; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, to be at the office. Mondays and Fridays are flexible for location. This gives us the benefit of having people in the office at the same time to get the most out of in-person time. Employees will be expected to work from the office typical office hours for their role, or in some exceptions as agreed upon with their individual managers (such schedule to be approved at the manager’s discretion).
  • We expect employees and managers to schedule meetings for employees to attend in-person at the office, versus having an employee at the office, attending a virtual meeting.
  • Individual requests to work remotely will be managed by department heads. Requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis, based on the nature of the job, department needs, and in accordance with collective bargaining agreements, where relevant….

While we have done our best to anticipate how best to help you with your return to work, we count on your unique experience to help us help other employees too. We’re very excited to receive your feedback, and to seek how to move forward together in the best possible way.

Please connect with your manager or HR, if you have any questions or comments.

Welcome back! I am excited to see you.

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