For the past 20 years, I’ve had the privilege of being part of something that has grown into a Boston institution: “Beat the Press,” a weekly media-criticism show on WGBH-TV (Channel 2) launched by Emily Rooney in 1998.
On Friday night we celebrated with a half-hour retrospective followed by a Q&A on Facebook Live. It was an honor to be part of it. And it was great to see Emily get the credit she’s due both for conceiving of the show and for maintaining its excellence during the past two decades.
There are so many people who are part of the show, and I know that if I start listing them, I’ll leave out others who are just as deserving. You know who you are. I’m filled with appreciation and gratitude for all of you.
My WGBH News colleague (and “Beat the Press” host) Emily Rooney and I talked about “The Return of the Moguls” Tuesday in a Facebook Live event at WGBH’s Boston Public Library studio. You can watch by clicking here.
Well, that was fast. Just a day after Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory announced that chief digital guy David Skok would be leaving later this year, two people who will take over some of his duties have been named. One is a real eye-opener: Linda Pizzuti Henry, wife of Globe owner John Henry, who will oversee Boston.com.
The other is Anthony Bonfiglio, currently the executive director of engineering, who’ll be in charge of engineering, development, product, and design.
It’s also not clear how hands-on Linda Henry intends to be. Eleanor Cleverly, the general manager of Boston.com, has gotten good reviews for stabilizing the site after a rocky transition from being the Globe‘s online home to its current incarnation as a free standalone service. And Cleverly will remain.
It’s way too early to assess what this will all mean, but I’ve heard from a number of insiders that Linda Henry is smart and generally a force for good. Still, it’s an unorthodox move.
The Globe still needs a journalist to replace Skok as managing editor for digital (he’s vice president for digital at Boston Globe Media Partners as well). But since Skok isn’t leaving right away, I suppose that can wait.
What follows is a memo from Mike Sheehan, chief executive of BGMP.
I want to let everyone know that Anthony Bonfiglio will now oversee digital operations, including engineering/development, product, and design across all of BGMP.
Anthony joined us two years ago from Visible Measures, where he was VP of Engineering. Since then, his impact has been immense. He oversaw the rollout of agile software development processes and best practices across the product and engineering teams. As a result, we’ve shortened time-to-market from weeks to multiple releases every week across all teams, creating a predictable and transparent development process. Anthony helped transition much of the business to WordPress and has overseen many of our digital redesigns. He was a key contributor in the launch of Stat.
On the business side, Anthony folded creative services developers into the overall engineering organization and greatly increased their productivity. He also successfully assumed management of our ad operations organization during a critical phase and has since transitioned it back to Advertising.
In short, Anthony has proven himself as a leader who can make a very complex organization faster, better, and more agile. He will continue to report to Wade Sendall.
Brian McGrory informed the newsroom yesterday that David Skok has decided to leave the Globe by the end of the year. Regarding David’s boston.com responsibilities, Eleanor Cleverly will continue day-to-day oversight and management of boston.com, but it will now report to Linda Henry in her current role as Managing Director.
I know I join everyone in wishing David Skok nothing but success and happiness in all his future endeavors and in expressing deep gratitude for all he’s done over the past three years. He has been a driving force in the success we’ve experienced on bostonglobe.com and, with Eleanor and her team, was key to stabilizing boston.com over the past six months. As he transitions out, the leadership of Anthony, Eleanor, and Linda will help us continue to be the region’s leading source of journalism that becomes more relevant and interesting by the hour.
(Conflict alert: I am a paid panelist on Channel 2’s Friday “Beat the Press” and an unpaid contributor to WGBHNews.org. And yes, Rooney will continue to host “Beat the Press.”)
I covered Braude as far back as the 1980s, when he was head of the liberal Tax Equity Alliance for Massachusetts and I was a reporter for the Daily Times Chronicle of Woburn. He and Barbara Anderson, who ran Citizens for Limited Taxation, often debated in public, even traveling together despite their different ideological viewpoints.
In 1996 I interviewed Braude when he was launching a liberal magazine called Otherwise and I was covering the media for The Boston Phoenix. The idea, he told me at the time, was motivated in part by complaints on the left that they were too often ignored by the mainstream.
“We’ve done so much bitching about media access for so long that my reaction is to just do it,” Braude said. “The environment is as ripe as it could be.”
Otherwise had a decent run, but as is generally the case with startup magazines, it eventually faded away. Braude hasn’t. His program on New England Cable News, “BroadSide,” which he’s leaving, has been a bastion of intelligence for years. His radio show with Eagan — the only listenable program on the late, unlamented WTKK — was so good that it brought both of them to WGBH.
The big question is how “Greater Boston” will change with Braude at the helm. “I love Emily,” he tells The Boston Globe’s Shirley Leung. “We are different people with different styles. Beyond that, stay tuned.”
I’ve had the privilege of being part of “Beat the Press” since the late ’90s, first as an occasional guest and later as a regular. Congratulations to Emily on a job well done — and thank you for remaining a part of our Friday nights.
Update: I’m not sure when this was added, but Herald editorial-page editor Rachelle Cohen tells Romenesko that she vetted the cartoon: “Herald editorial page editor Rachelle Cohen tells me neither she nor artist Jerry Holbert saw anything wrong with the cartoon. ‘Jerry doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,’ she says. He chose watermelon because he had just seen that flavor of toothpaste in his house, says Cohen.” So now we have the cartoonist and his editor both claiming that they didn’t see any racist intent in the watermelon reference. At best, this speaks to a lack of diversity in the newsroom.
To their credit, the folks at the Boston Herald clearly and quickly understood that they had a problem on their hands Wednesday after publishing an editorial cartoon by Jerry Holbert that was racist in its effect, if not in Holbert’s intent. The cartoon depicted an intruder in a White House bathroom asking President Obama if he had “tried the new watermelon-flavored toothpaste.”
But now it’s time for the Herald to close the circle. Even if Holbert didn’t understand why African-Americans are offended by stereotypes of black people as placid, happy watermelon-eaters, are we to believe that editorial cartoons somehow leap onto the pages of the Herald with no intervention on the part of editors?
While the exact origins of this stereotype remain unclear, an association of African Americans and watermelon goes back to the time of slavery in the United States. Defenders of slavery used the fruit to paint African Americans as a simple-minded people who were happy when provided watermelon and a little rest. The stereotype was perpetuated in minstrel shows often depicting African Americans as ignorant and workshy, given to song and dance and inordinately fond of watermelon.
I agree with my WGBH colleague Emily Rooney of “Greater Boston,” who said last night (above) that she believes Holbert when he says he had no racial intent — but that someone at the Herald should have caught it before publication. The Herald should tell us who approved the cartoon and why.
This past Friday we did something unusual on “Beat the Press” — we ran an extended interview with Phil Balboni, the president and CEO of GlobalPost, about his organization’s efforts to save the life of correspondent James Foley. Those efforts failed, and the Islamic State, the terrorist group that had been holding him, recently released a video of Foley’s beheading.
In the interview, conducted by Emily Rooney, Balboni comes across as compassionate and utterly devastated. It’s riveting television, yet it’s painful to watch. But watch.
On Feb. 6, 1997, just after the debut of “Greater Boston” on WGBH-TV (Channel 2), I wrote an article for The Boston Phoenix on the state of the city’s two major public broadcasters, WGBH and WBUR. It was the first time I’d met the host, Emily Rooney. The original is online here, but, as you will see, it’s unreadable; thus, I have reproduced it in full below. In re-reading it, I was struck by what an interesting moment in time that was, with many of the same names and issues still with us 17 years later.
With commercial stations going lowbrow, Boston’s public broadcasters are fine-tuning their strategies. The question: are WGBH & WBUR doing their duty?
Emily Rooney is taping the intro to a segment of WGBH-TV’s new local public-affairs show, Greater Boston. Or trying to, anyway. It’s been a long day. Her feet are killing her. And her first few attempts at hyping an interview with Charles Murray, the controversial academic who’s currently promoting his new book on libertarianism, haven’t gone particularly well.
After several tries, though, she nails it. “That was warmer,” says a voice in the control room. “That was very nice.”
She sighs, visibly relieved at getting a break from the unblinking eye of the lens.
Rooney, the former news director of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), may be a respected newswoman, but the debut of Greater Boston last week showed that her transition to an on-camera role is going to take some time. And if Rooney and Greater Boston are struggling to find their voice, so, too, is WGBH.
This is, after all, the first significant foray into local public-affairs programming for WGBH (Channels 2 and 44, plus a radio station) since 1991, when it canceled The Ten O’Clock News. The new show is a huge improvement over the one it replaces, The Group, an unmoderated roundtable discussion that rose from the ashes of the News. (“A tawdry, pathetic little show,” huffs one industry observer of The Group, widely derided as “The Grope.”) Still, Greater Boston is going to need some work. Week One’s topics, which included the Super Bowl and cute animals, were too light and fluffy to qualify the show as a must-watch. And Rooney, who doubles as Greater Boston‘s executive editor, needs to overcome her on-the-set jitters.
It’s crucial that ’GBH get it right. With commercial broadcasters in full retreat from serious news and public affairs, public-broadcasting stations are the last redoubt. Boston’s two major public stations — WGBH-TV and WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) — are among the most admired in the country. It’s by no means clear, however, that the people who run those stations are willing or able to fill the gap created by the commercial stations’ retreat into sensationalism and frivolity. Continue reading “Flashback: Emily Rooney and public broadcasting in 1997”→
Emily Rooney is scaling back her duties at WGBH, although you will be as relieved as I was to learn that she will continue to host our Friday-evening media show on Channel 2, “Beat the Press.”
Rooney, the daughter of the late Andy Rooney and a broadcasting legend in her own right, will be stepping aside from “Greater Boston” on Monday though Thursday evenings next January. She’ll become a special correspondent and will continue to be involved in “Boston Public Radio” on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM).
Rooney’s changing role will be a big loss for the city and the region. Since the late 1990s, she has been the face of WGBH locally, hosting not just her nightly program but also countless political debates and other events.
And here’s a bit of trivia for you. When “Greater Boston” made its debut in 1997, it was strictly a four-day show. Friday evenings were taken up by a left-right political talk show hosted by former secretary of labor Robert Reich and former senator Alan Simpson called “The Long and the Short of It.” When that program ran its course, Emily was ready with an idea she’d been developing to hold the media to account.
This is a huge change, although, thankfully, not for viewers of “Beat the Press” or for those of us who take part in it. I wish my very best to Emily. Below is the complete press release from WGBH.
Emily Rooney to Step Back from Daily News Role Greater Boston host to focus on and continue to moderate Beat the Press Named Special Correspondent for WGBH News
BOSTON, Mass. (May 29, 2014) — After hosting WGBH’s award-winning Greater Boston for 18 years and working the daily grind in newsrooms at WCVB, ABC and FOX for 25 years before that, Emily Rooney has decided to step back from her daily newsroom and Greater Boston hosting duties to focus on the weekly Beat the Press program. In addition to moderating Beat the Press, Rooney will move into a role in January as a Special Correspondent to WGBH News and will continue to appear regularly on 89.7 WGBH’s Boston Public Radio.
“When I came to WGBH in 1997, I was an on-air rookie tasked with shaping a nightly news and public affairs show that would be accessible to everyone,” said Rooney. “I’m proud of the program we’ve fine-tuned over the years and grateful to WGBH for giving me the chance to reinvent myself. It all happened in large part due to the loyal and dedicated staff who have stayed with the show all these years.”
Over the years, Rooney has cultivated a loyal viewership, producing the last remaining daily broadcast in-depth talk show in the city attracting local and national dignitaries and everyday people to a community roundtable of ideas and hot-button topics.
“We are extremely indebted to Emily for her guidance and commitment to WGBH’s local coverage of issues and newsmakers. For so many years Emily was WGBH News,” said WGBH Radio General Manager Phil Redo, who also oversees WGBH News. “On behalf of everyone connected to the news department, we thank her for the first 18 years with WGBH, and look forward to the many still ahead in her new and only slightly adjusted role.”
Under Rooney’s leadership in the WGBH newsroom, Greater Boston and Beat the Press have won a number of awards, including Regional Edward R. Murrow broadcast awards and New England Emmy Awards. Beat the Press is a five-time winner of the National Press Club’s Arthur Rowse Award for Media Criticism. Last week Beat the Press picked up Penn State’s Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism for coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings among other issues. Rooney herself has been honored with the Dennis Kauff Award for Excellence in Reporting, Reporter of the Year from the Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Yankee Quill Award from the American Newspaper Society. She was recently inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Before joining WGBH, Rooney was director of political coverage and special events at FOX Network in New York. Prior to that, she was executive producer of ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. She worked at WCVB-TV in Boston from 1979-1993, including three years as the local ABC affiliate’s news director.
In recent years, the WGBH News division has expanded from the strong foundation laid by Rooney and the Greater Boston production. The entire newsroom works collaboratively across all electronic platforms — television, radio and digital. In addition to Greater Boston and Beat the Press, WGBH News produces the weekly television program Basic Black for WGBH 2, as well as Boston Public Radio, Innovation Hub and Under the Radar with Callie Crossley for 89.7 WGBH. It is also a co-producer of The Takeaway and The World radio programs.
In the coming months, Redo will consider options for filling Rooney’s role on Greater Boston.
When Boston Globe arts reporter Geoff Edgers and multimedia producer Darren Durlach proposed making a documentary about five runners who were crossing the Boston Marathon finish line at the moment that the bombings took place, editor Brian McGrory’s reaction was: Why not?
“What do you need? Two weeks?” McGrory recalled asking them.
As it turned out, it took Edgers and Durlach eight months, thousands of miles on the road and, as McGrory put it, “God knows how many dollars” to make “5 Runners,” which premiered before a crowd of several hundred people at the JFK Library Thursday evening.
The 25-minute film, which McGrory called “the first full-fledged documentary that theBoston Globe has ever produced,” will debut on NESN on Monday. It’s an early sign that a strategy to move into television, which Globe owner John Henry announced earlier this year, is beginning to take shape — although Edgers and Durlach began working on the film before Henry bought the paper. (Henry is also the principal owner of the Red Sox, which controls a chunk of NESN.)
The film, which grew out of a story Edgers wrote last April 21, follows the runners’ quest to return to the starting line of the 2014 marathon. I won’t give away how many make it. But “5 Runners” is deeply felt and unusual in its focus on how athletes — ordinary men and women who were well off the pace of the elite runners — were affected by the terrorist attack.
In a panel discussion after the film moderated by Globe deputy managing editor for features Janice Page, Edgers talked about the difficulties he and Durlach faced in staying in touch with their subjects. One of the runners, Volker Fischer, simply stopped responding, so Edgers sent him a card that read: “Volker — call me.”
When Edgers finally was able to connect with Fischer and visit his home in Illinois, he saw the card, unopened, on the refrigerator. “‘I liked the stamp,’” Edgers recalled Fischer telling him, explaining: “It was a Johnny Cash stamp.” (Disclosure: Edgers and I worked together at The Boston Phoenix in the mid-1990s. His wife, journalist Carlene Hempel, and I are colleagues at Northeastern University.)
Durlach said that the runners were “hesitant” about putting themselves forward when so many others had died or were wounded. “People were killed. Why do you want to spend time on my story?” is the way Durlach characterized their reaction.
Also joining the panelists was one of the five runners, Mary Jenkins of Ohio (spoiler alert: she’ll be running this year’s marathon), who said she will “probably be a basket case” during the race.
“It’s going to be hard, I think, Marathon Day, but I think it’s going to be exciting, too,” she said.
Edgers and Durlach plan to be at this year’s marathon as well. Their goal, they said, is to keep covering the story, and to expand “5 Runners” into an hour-long film.