A few thoughts on the 2016 Pulitzers

Congratulations to my former Beat the Press colleague Farah Stockman and to Jessica Rinaldi, both of whom won Pulitzer Prizes earlier today for their work for the Boston Globe.

Rinaldi won the Feature Photography award for her photo series of Strider Wolf, a boy in rural Maine trying to overcome a harrowingly dysfunctional upbringing. Amazingly, Rinaldi was also one of two runners-up in the same category for her photos of a Massachusetts drug addict caught up in the opioid epidemic.

Stockman, who is now a reporter with the New York Times, won in Commentary for a series on the legacy of Boston’s school-desegregation turmoil in the 1970s and ’80s. Stockman’s award is the third fourth Pulitzer recognition in a row for the Globe‘s editorial pages: last year Katie Kingsbury won for editorials that shed light on the harsh world of restaurant work; in 2014 Dante Ramos was a runner-up for writing about how to revive Boston’s less-than-vibrant nightlife; and in 2013 Juliette Kayyem was a finalist in Commentary.

The Globe covers its Pulitzer wins here.

Among the other Pulitzer winners, I was especially pleased to see the Washington Post win the National Reporting award for its deep investigation of fatal shootings of civilians by police. Not only is it an important topic, but it was based on a meticulously detailed database that the Post built in-house.

Last October, FBI director James Comey lamented that the Post and the Guardian, which assembled a similar database, had better data on police-involved shootings than law-enforcement agencies. “It is unacceptable that the Washington Post and the Guardian newspaper from the UK are becoming the lead source of information about violent encounters between police and civilians,” Comey said. “That is not good for anybody.”

The Post‘s coverage of its Pulitzer victory is here.

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The Globe drags its opinion pages into the 21st century

Of all the hoary traditions of 20th-century newspapering, few seem quite so hoary as the editorial and op-ed pages. Mixing editorials (unsigned because they represent the institutional views of the newspaper), cartoons, columns by staff members and outside contributors, and letters from readers, the opinion pages often seem anachronistic in the digital age — a bit too formal, more than a bit too predictable and way too slow off the mark.

Starting today, The Boston Globe is attempting to bring that nearly half-century-old construct up to date. No longer is the left-hand page labeled “Editorial” and the right “Opinion.” Instead, both pages are unified under “Opinion.” Content — some of it new, some familiar — is free-floating.

Much of it is what you’d expect: a pro-Olympics editorial (sigh) as well as staff columns by Joan Vennochi and Dante Ramos. Some is new: a roundup of opinion from elsewhere called “What They’re Saying,” a very short take by staff columnist Joanna Weiss on a much-delayed skate park, and an amalgamation of letters, tweets and online comments rebranded as “Inbox.” (The changes are outlined here.)

“You could look at this as a meal where you want snackable content and meatier content and the occasional dessert,” says interim editorial-page editor Ellen Clegg. Some of the ideas, she adds, were developed by experimenting with the opinion content of Capital, the Globe’s Friday political section.

Globe Opinion pages

Regular columns have been cut from 700 to 600 words. But op-ed-page editor Marjorie Pritchard says that the new Opinion section will also be more flexible, with pieces running from 400 to 1,200 or more words. (Coincidentally, this article in Digiday, in which Kevin Delaney of Quartz calls for the demise of the standard 800-word article, is the talk of Twitter this week.)

The Globe’s opinion operation has been on a roll under Clegg and her predecessor, Peter Canellos (now executive editor of Politico), with Kathleen Kingsbury winning a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing last month and Ramos being named a finalist in 2014. But the look and feel of the pages haven’t changed much since the 1970s.

And then there’s the whole matter of print in the digital age. Globe editor Brian McGrory recently told his staff that a print-first mentality still prevails, writing that “too many of us — editors, reporters, photographers, graphic artists — think of just print too often.”

McGrory does not run the opinion pages, as both he and Clegg report directly to publisher John Henry. But the redesigned print section, with its careful attention to art and graphics, has the look and feel of a print-first play. In fact, Clegg is pursuing a two-track strategy — an improved but tightly curated print section and a larger online Opinion site. “Brian as usual captured it beautifully,” Clegg says. “I think that captured the ethos of where we’re all going, where we’re all headed.”

For some time now Clegg herself has been writing an online-only “Morning Opinion Digest” with summaries and links to provocative content elsewhere. Opinion pieces often run online before they appear in print. And some pieces are Web exclusives, such as this commentary by editorial writer Marcela García on the cultural stereotypes surrounding Cinco de Mayo.

Says Pritchard: “We’ve run a lot of online exclusives in the past, and we’re trying to beef that up.” Clegg adds that “we certainly don’t want to shortchange the print reader, but we want to enhance the digital experience. There has to be a balance.”

It was a half-century ago that The New York Times developed the modern op-ed page. Times editorial board member John Oakes, the Ochs-Sulzberger family member who was largely responsible for the idea, once called it “one of the great newspaper innovations of the century,” according to this Jack Shafer piece.

By contrast, the Globe’s new Opinion section should be seen as a modest improvement. But at a time when newspapers, both in print and online, are fighting to maintain their relevance, the Globe deserves credit for trying something new.

Also posted at WGBHNews.org.

Globe’s Pulitzer-winning editorials target income inequality

Over the past few years The Boston Globe has been quietly nurturing some talented editorial writers. Last year, Dante Ramos — now an op-ed columnist — was a Pulitzer finalist for a series of editorials on revitalizing Boston’s night life. On Monday, Kathleen Kingsbury won a Pulitzer that is especially timely given rising concerns over income inequality: eight editorials on the harsh realities of restaurant work, particularly in the fast-food industry.

Like Ramos, Kingsbury has moved on — she’s now the editor of the Sunday Ideas section. Still, Kingsbury and Ramos have showed that there’s life in those unsigned voice-of-the-institution editorials, derided by some critics (including me on occasion) as obsolete.

The Globe came close in two other Pulitzer categories, including the prestigious public service award. Its “Shadow Campus” series on shamefully inadequate and dangerous housing for the city’s thousands of college students was a finalist, coming in behind the surprise winner of the 2015 awards: the smallish Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, which shone a light on the state’s high death rate from domestic abuse. The Globe last won the public service award in 2003, for its reporting on the sexual-abuse scandal within the Catholic Church.

In addition, the Globe’s Sarah Schweitzer was a finalist in the feature-writing category for her story on a scientist’s quest to save a rare North Atlantic right whale. I thought it was notable that the Pulitzer judges specifically cited the article’s “disciplined use of multimedia,” an acknowledgment that the full experience is available only online.

Finally, I can’t avoid noting that restaurant workers are not the only people facing harsh realities. Kevin Roderick of LA Observed reports that Rob Kuznia, who shared a Pulitzer on Monday for his work with the Daily Breeze of Torrance, California, had left the paper a while ago to take a job in public relations.

“I spoke with him this afternoon,” Roderick writes, “and he admitted to a twinge of regret at no longer being a journalist, but he said it was too difficult to make ends meet on his newspaper salary while renting in the LA area.”

Also online at WGBHNews.org.

Ellen Clegg replaces Peter Canellos at The Boston Globe

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Peter Canellos

Boston Globe editorial-page editor Peter Canellos, a former metro editor and Washington bureau chief for the paper, is leaving. According to a press release issued earlier today, Canellos will depart after 26 years at the Globe. He is also an alumnus of The Boston Phoenix.

Canellos will be replaced on an interim basis by Ellen Clegg, a former newsroom editor who is currently executive director of communication and president of the Boston Globe Foundation.

Here is Globe reporter Beth Healy’s story on Canellos’ departure.

The timing is especially interesting given that we are in the midst of endorsement season. Though the Globe is a staunchly liberal paper, the opinion pages have shown a penchant over the years for endorsing the occasional moderate Republican. Already I’ve heard speculation that the Globe might endorse Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker over Democrat Martha Coakley. Presumably the paper’s owner/publisher, John Henry, will have the final word.

Canellos has long had a reputation for being one of the more cerebral journalists at 135 Morrissey Blvd. He oversaw the Sunday Ideas section as well as the opinion pages. In my dealings with him over the years I have always found him to be decent and thoughtful.

According to Craig Douglas of the Boston Business Journal, Canellos took an employee-buyout offer made earlier this summer. Also leaving, Douglas reports, is Kyle Alspach, a tech reporter for the Globe’s innovation site, BetaBoston. Alspach is going to work in a national position for Streetwise Media, which publishes the local site BostInno and which shares a common owner with the BBJ.

Here is an email from Canellos to the staff, a copy of which I obtained earlier today:

It’s been more than 26 years since I walked into the Globe newsroom to meet the then-Metro editor, our own David Scharfenberg’s brilliant father, Kirk. At the time, I could barely envision the breathtaking array of adventures to come. Now, more than half my life later, I will finish my Globe career as editorial page editor. It’s a perfect time, personally and professionally, to pursue exciting new opportunities. But it’s a tribute to all of you that it took me so long to prepare for another chapter.

At a time like this, it’s natural to think of all the editors, starting with the never-forgotten Kirk, who nurtured and encouraged me. There are too many to name, but all are in my thoughts. For a long time, though, I’ve had the honor of being an editor myself. And my own strength and inspiration, day in and day out, has come from the writers and fellow editors with whom I’ve worked over the past 15 years. During that time, I’ve had the unique privilege of holding three entirely different portfolios, from Metro to the Washington bureau to the opinion pages. And I owe all my satisfaction to the stimulating interactions with colleagues in all three departments.

Over the years, I’ve urged many Globe writers to consider doing stints as editors, on these grounds: It gives you a chance to look at the journalistic endeavor with fresh eyes; and it turns what can feel like a solitary and sometimes nerve-wracking process of creating great journalism into a truly collaborative experience.

Now, looking back over the years, it’s all those collaborations that I remember. I can see the people more clearly than the stories. All those days and nights talking through ideas, matching wits behind the keyboard, and then nervously watching the product take shape were meaningful because of the sense of shared creation.

Those stories live on, but so too do the relationships. Having shifted seats a few times, I’ve learned that the great reward at the end of any editing tenure is that colleagues can finally become friends. The breaking of the professional bond is only the start of an even more rewarding personal one. So it was when I left my previous two posts. So it will be again. I can only say how grateful I have been for these opportunities, and how happy I am in knowing — without any doubt — that while the work may end, the friendships will continue to grow. Thank you,

Peter

And here is the Globe’s press release announcing Canellos’ departure and Clegg’s new responsibilities:

Boston (September 15, 2014) – Boston Globe Media Partners today announced a change in leadership of its editorial and opinion pages. Peter Canellos is leaving his job as editorial page editor after five years in the role and 26 years at the Globe.

“It’s been more than 26 years since I walked into the Globe newsroom to meet the then-Metro editor, our own David Scharfenberg’s brilliant father, Kirk. At the time, I could barely envision the breathtaking array of adventures to come,” Canellos said. “Now, more than half my life later, I will finish my Globe career as editorial page editor. It’s a perfect time, personally and professionally, to pursue exciting new opportunities.”

Canellos was responsible for the paper’s editorial and op-ed pages, and Sunday Ideas section. As the head of the editorial board, he has played the leading role in crafting the paper’s positions on local, national, and foreign issues. During his tenure as editorial page editor, two writers were named finalists for the Pulitzer Prize: in 2013, columnist Juliette Kayyem was nominated as finalist for commentary, and this year deputy managing editor Dante Ramos was named a finalist for editorial writing.

“Peter is a singular talent, and we are extraordinarily thankful for the years he devoted to the Globe,” said John Henry, Globe owner and publisher. “He is a master storyteller, deep thinker and adept communicator.”

Ellen Clegg, who spent 30 years in the Globe’s newsroom and is now executive director of communication and president of the Boston Globe Foundation, will serve as interim editorial page editor. In the newsroom, she served as deputy managing editor for news operations; deputy managing editor for the Boston Sunday Globe; assistant managing editor for regional news; city editor, and specialist editor, where she oversaw reporting on health and science, religion, education, and ideas. In between stints at the Globe, she was a science writer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. She is the author of “ChemoBrain,” which was named consumer health book of the year by the American Journal of Nursing, and co-author of “The Alzheimer’s Solution.”

Henry has pledged that the Globe will continue to challenge convention and rethink the presentation of its opinion and editorial pages for the digital age.

“Our content, whether news, sports, entertainment or editorial, must be presented in formats that engage the broadest range of readers, wherever they are in the world and however they are reading the Globe,” said Henry.

Prior to becoming editorial page editor, Canellos was chief of the Globe’s Washington bureau, where he led the Globe’s bureau in its coverage of the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns and the insurgency in Iraq, among many other major issues. During his tenure the Globe’s bureau won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

In 2011, Canellos won a distinguished writing award from the American Society of News Editors.

Canellos also oversaw the development of the Globe’s best-selling biography “Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy,” which reached number seven on the New York Times best-seller list.

He began working for the Globe in 1988, covering housing and urban affairs.

From 1999 to 2003, he was assistant managing editor for local news, overseeing all news coverage of the city and the region.

Globe wins Pulitzer for ‘story none of us wanted to cover’

Brian McGrory during the Pulitzer announcement.
Brian McGrory during the Pulitzer announcement. (Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe.)

This article was published earlier at WGBH News.

Within moments of the announcement that The Boston Globe had won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting, Martine Powers tweeted from the newsroom. “This was a story none of us wanted to cover,” she quoted editor Brian McGrory as saying. The staff, she said, then observed a moment of silence at McGrory’s request for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

The Globe easily could have won two or three Pulitzers for its coverage of the bombings and their aftermath. The breaking-news award, of course, was well-deserved, and frankly it was unimaginable that it would go to anyone else. But the paper also had worthy marathon-related finalists in Breaking News Photography (John Tlumacki and David L. Ryan) as well as Commentary (Kevin Cullen, who emerged as the voice and conscience of the city after the attack).

McGrory’s classy response to winning underscores the sad reality that the Globe’s excellent coverage was driven by a terrible tragedy — the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001. (The Globe was also a finalist in Editorial Writing, as Dante Ramos was honored for a non-marathon-related topic: improving the city’s night life.)

The Pulitzer also caps what has been a remarkable year for the Globe. On Marathon Monday 2013, McGrory was relatively untested as editor and the paper’s prospects were uncertain, as the New York Times Co. was trying to unload it for the second time in four years.

The Globe’s marathon coverage — widely praised long before today’s Pulitzers were announced — have defined McGrory’s brief term as editor as surely as the paper’s pedophile-priest coverage (which earned a Pulitzer for Public Service) defined Marty Baron’s. Moreover, the Globe now has a local, deep-pockets owner in John Henry who’s willing to invest in journalism.

But the focus should be on Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu and Sean Collier, as well as their families and all the other survivors. Good for McGrory for reminding everyone of that.

A couple of other Pulitzer notes:

• A lot of observers were waiting to see whether the judges would honor the stories based on the Edward Snowden leaks. They did, as the Pulitzer for Public Service went to The Guardian and The Washington Post.

Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, then affiliated with The Guardian and now with the start-up First Look Media, as well as Barton Gellman of the Post, were the recipients of the Snowden leaks, which revealed a vast U.S. spying apparatus keeping track of ordinary citizens and world leaders both in the United States and abroad.

The choice is bound to be controversial in some circles. U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., has already called the award “a disgrace.” But it was the ultimate example of journalism speaking truth to power, and thus was a worthy choice.

• The oddest move was the Pulitzer judges’ decision not to award a prize in Feature Writing. I thought it might go to the New York Times’ series “Invisible Child: Dasani’s Homeless Life,” or possibly to the Globe’s “The Fall of the House of Tsarnaev.” (I should note that neither of those stories was listed as a finalist.)

The Pulitzer process can be mysterious. But it would be interesting to see if someone can pry some information out of the judges to find out why they believed there wasn’t a single feature story in 2013 worthy of journalism’s highest honor.