In the beginning: Emily Rooney and the early days of the WGBH-WBUR rivalry

Photo (cc) 2019 by Dan Kennedy

Twenty-four years ago, Emily Rooney — whose long-running media-criticism program, “Beat the Press,” on which I was a panelist, was canceled last week by GBH News — was just beginning a new phase of her career, as host and executive editor of the news and public-affairs program “Greater Boston.” I wrote a piece for The Boston Phoenix about her debut as well as the state of the rivalry between WGBH and WBUR — a rivalry that, if anything, is more intense today than it was then. This story was published on Feb. 7, 1997. I’m republishing it here courtesy of the Northeastern University Archives.

Making waves

With commercial stations going lowbrow, Boston’s public broadcasters are fine-tuning their strategies. The question: are WGBH & WBUR doing their duty?

The Boston Phoenix • Feb. 7, 1997

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.

Continue reading “In the beginning: Emily Rooney and the early days of the WGBH-WBUR rivalry”

Best wishes to Emily Rooney as ‘Beat the Press’ comes to an end after 22 years

Our 20th anniversary show, Dec. 7, 2018

Major local media news today as GBH News has announced that it’s canceling “Beat the Press” after a 22-year run. I am proud to have been part of the show since its first year, 1998, and to have been a regular for many of those years. And I’m grateful to Emily Rooney, the host and creator of the show. We’ve been on hiatus since June 11; as it turns out, that was our finale.

I’ll continue writing my weekly column on media and politics for GBH News.

It’s hard to put into words what I’m feeling right now. For so many years, heading over to GBH to record “Beat the Press” was simply what I did on Friday afternoons. I hugely enjoyed getting to know Emily, Callie Crossley and everyone else. (I’ll stop at Emily and Callie because if I start naming names, I’ll leave too many out.)

Emily began hosting “Greater Boston” in the mid-’90s. From the beginning it was a Monday-through-Thursday show, with the Friday slot originally taken up by something called “The Long and the Short of It,” with Robert Reich and Alan Simpson. After that show had run its course, Emily pitched “Beat the Press” to WGBH executives (yes, the station still had a “W” back then), and we were off and running.

I haven’t had a chance to talk with Emily yet, but I wish her all the best. She is a legendary figure in Boston media, as news director of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), at the national level and, for the past quarter century, at GBH News. It will be interesting to see what she does next.

Finally, best wishes to Kara Miller, whose program on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM), “Innovation Hub,” will be coming to an end later this year as well.

What follows is the press release from GBH News:

GBH continues to build a multiplatform news organization that provides our community with the most distinctive, relevant and interesting stories of the day. GBH News is deepening its focus on audience-centered local stories, and concentrating its editorial efforts on the critical issues of education, social justice, Covid/public health and politics. As a result, GBH will discontinue production of two weekly programs, Beat the Press with Emily Rooney, which examines the local and national media, and the national radio series Innovation Hub with Kara Miller.

“This was a difficult decision. Beat the Press has been one of GBH’s longest running news shows and has provided viewers with informative and thought-provoking insight, commentary and perspective on the workings of the media. We are grateful to Emily Rooney for her award-winning work, her dedication to her craft, and her many contributions to GBH over 24 years.”

Innovation Hub has given us a deeper understanding of the inventive spirit of human ideas and technology over the course of a decade. We thank Kara Miller and the Innovation Hub production team for their exceptional work, creativity and contributions to public media.”

– Pam Johnston, General Manager GBH News

Beat the Press is currently on summer hiatus and will not return in September; Innovation Hub will continue to air through mid-November in national distribution with PRX.

Celebrating two decades of ‘Beat the Press’

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.

And I’m already looking forward to our 25th.

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Talking about ‘Moguls’ with Emily Rooney at the BPL

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.

Linda Henry, wife of Globe owner, will oversee Boston.com

Linda Henry. Photo via Twitter.
Linda Henry. Photo via Twitter.

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.

When I gave a “Rave” to Skok on Beat the Press Friday, host Emily Rooney asked me if Skok’s departure was related to Linda Henry’s elevation. My honest answer is that I have no idea. It’s something I would certainly like to find out.

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.

Jim Braude will succeed Emily Rooney at ‘Greater Boston’

Jim Braude. Photo by Tracy Powell/WGBH.
Jim Braude. Photo by Tracy Powell/WGBH.

Congratulations to Jim Braude, who has been named Emily Rooney’s successor as host of “Greater Boston” on WGBH-TV (Channel 2). Given that Braude already co-hosts “Boston Public Radio” with Margery Eagan on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM), the move makes a great deal of sense.

(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.”

Emily Rooney scales back, but will keep beating the press

Emily Rooney
Emily Rooney

It will be a big night in Boston media as Emily Rooney hosts “Greater Boston” for the last time. It’s been quite a run: Emily has been at the helm since 1997.

Fortunately, she will continue as host of the Friday “Beat the Press” show, and will contribute to WGBH Radio (89.7 FM) and WGBHNews.org as well.

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.

Earlier:

It’s time for the Herald to close the circle

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.”

Holbert went on the newspaper’s online radio station to apologize, and said he understood he compounded his error when he failed to notify the Herald that his syndicate had told him to alter the cartoon so as to eliminate the racial inference. And today, the paper publishes a straightforward apology. On the editorial page, Holbert apologizes again.

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?

Here is an excerpt from a well-sourced article at Wikipedia:

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.

In case you missed it, here is how the story unfolded on Wednesday.

Phil Balboni of GlobalPost talks about James Foley

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.

Flashback: Emily Rooney and public broadcasting in 1997

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.

Making waves

With commercial stations going lowbrow, Boston’s public broadcasters are fine-tuning their strategies. The question: are WGBH & WBUR doing their duty?

Copyright © 1997 by the Phoenix Media/Communications Group. All rights reserved.

GB_largeplayerEmily 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”