Boston Globe promotes two minority editors to masthead positions

Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory today announced two promotions. In a memo to the staff, McGrory said that Ideas section editor Anica Butler has been named the deputy managing editor for local news, replacing Felice Belman, who recently departed for The New York Times. City editor Nestor Ramos will receive a new title — senior assistant managing editor for local news.

Both Butler’s and Ramos’ names will appear on the masthead, which represents a step forward for a paper seeking to become more diverse. Butler is the first Black woman and Ramos the first Latino to ascend to news-side* masthead positions. Years ago, Greg Moore, who’s African American, was the Globe’s managing editor (the No. 3 position in the newsroom at that time), but he left for The Denver Post in 2002.

A trusted source provided me with McGrory’s memo a little while ago. The full text follows.

Personnel

I’m beyond delighted to share a pair of key personnel announcements.

First, Anica Butler will take over as the Globe’s new deputy managing editor for local news, better known as the metro editor, among the most pivotal roles in any newsroom. She’s been preparing for this job for many years, and preparing extraordinarily well. Her nearly nine years at the Globe have been marked by seismic stories, and Anica always seems to be in the throes of them. She managed, morning to night, our coverage of the Aaron Hernandez, Tsarnaev, and Whitey Bulger trials, three epic events in this city’s history. She brought to all of them a digital, in-the-moment mindset that in many ways laid the groundwork for how we’ve approached big, unfolding stories ever since. In a somewhat gaudy display of her broad range, she then went on to edit a key installment in our 2017 series on the state’s woefully inadequate mental health system, a project that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting.

Anica served a relatively short stint as Felice Belman’s main deputy on the metro desk, and as such, was a key bridge between metro and the digital world, organizing the day in the early morning, dispatching reporters, keying in on the most important journalism that we would focus on that cycle. She was pulled away by the siren song of the Nieman fellowship at Harvard University. When she returned, Anica took over the Ideas section, making it ever more compelling as it took on newsier subjects and brought far greater diversity in voices.

I certainly don’t have to tell anyone that Anica is a wonderful colleague. She’s also the brand new mother of a ten-week-old daughter. As has often been said, when you want to get something done, ask a busy person. Anica will start in this new role when her family leave ends on September 8.

Nestor Ramos, who has proven himself invaluable in his relatively new role as deputy metro editor, better known as the city editor, will take on the enhanced title of senior assistant managing editor for local news, a masthead position. This is a straight-up acknowledgement of his enormous impact on the room and our coverage. Given the coronavirus, given the economic collapse, remote work, social justice, racial injustice, he has been a pivotal leader in what has basically been a decade’s worth of news crammed into the first seven-plus months of 2020. Back in December, when Jen, Jason, and I convinced a reluctant columnist to become an editor,  we knew we needed him at the figurative and literal center of our newsroom. We had no idea how much we needed him, or just how well Nestor would perform — with reporters, other editors, ideas, copy, hiring, you name it. On top of all this, Nestor was announced as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing this spring for his jaw-dropping story on how the climate crisis has ravaged Cape Cod. Nestor, too, is a hall-of-fame colleague in ways big and small, plus the father of two young daughters, ages 4 and 1. The promotion will take effect immediately, and Nestor will report to Anica, in what will be as formidable a duo as there is in this industry.

Please reach out and congratulate Anica and Nestor, and thank them for all they’re about to do.

Brian

*Correction: Added “news-side” to make it clear that there have been persons of color on the masthead from the opinion operation.

Correction No. 2: I’ve changed the headline to reflect the fact that Ramos does not identify as a person of color.

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Godwin’s law, the speaker and the Concord Monitor

Click to watch video at Patch.com

(This commentary is also online at the Huffington Post and at the New England First Amendment Center.)

Godwin’s law came to New Hampshire earlier this year. And Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien is retaliating against the Concord Monitor in a manner that may violate the First Amendment.

For those unfamiliar with the phrase, Godwin’s law — first espoused by Mike Godwin, a lawyer and veteran Internet free-speech activist — pertains to the tendency of online debate to devolve into Nazi analogies. As Godwin put it some years ago, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”

Maybe it’s the Internet effect, but the Nazification of real-world political debate has been under way for some time now. And so it was in mid-May, when state Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Republican, grew frustrated with what he saw as efforts by Speaker O’Brien, also a Republican, to silence him. So Vaillancourt directed a toxic remark at O’Brien: “Seig Heil.” He was ejected from the chamber and forced to apologize.

Enter Mike Marland, who draws editorial cartoons for the Concord Monitor. He depicted O’Brien with a Hitler-style mustache, holding a razor. The caption: “If the mustache fits …” You can see the cartoon here, along with a commentary by Monitor editor Felice Belman. Despite having written an editorial taking Vaillancourt to task for his Third Reich-style outburst, Belman defended Marland’s cartoon in defiance of Republican demands that the paper apologize:

When Marland submitted the O’Brien cartoon, there was significant discussion here among the senior editors and our publisher about whether to put it into the paper. In the end, we are not Marland’s censors. He is entitled to his view of the speaker, and his views are his own. This cartoon was harsh, no doubt. But it seemed on point, given last week’s circus. In fact, several Monitor letter writers have made a similar point — in words, if not images.

There matters stood until last Friday, when O’Brien held a news conference in his Statehouse office — and banned two Monitor reporters from attending. Concord Patch editor Tony Schinella, who was among those covering the event, wrote that the reporters, Annmarie Timmins and Matt Spolar, “were told they weren’t invited and were held at bay at the door.” Schinella also shot video of the reporters being turned away (above), and of O’Brien refusing to answer a question as to why he wouldn’t let them in. (Timmins’ own video of the encounter makes for must-see viewing as well.)

O’Brien’s spokeswoman later released a statement: “When the Concord Monitor proves they have chosen to become a responsible media outlet, we’ll be happy to invite them to future media events.”

As the Monitor put it in an editorial, “It’s hard to know which is more startling: a politician attempting to pick his own press corps or the notion that a politician — or a politician’s mouthpiece — gets to decide what constitutes ‘a responsible media outlet.’ Are these people new to this country?”

Now, depending on your point of view, you might think O’Brien’s behavior was either boorish or principled. But perhaps you wouldn’t question his right to do it. Indeed, even the Monitor editorial included this: “There’s nothing requiring O’Brien to let the Monitor into his press conference.”

In fact, though, O’Brien may well have been interfering with the Monitor’s First Amendment right to cover the news.

Several decades ago, a similar situation unfolded in Hawaii, where an aggressive reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin named Richard Borreca butted heads with the mayor, Frank Fasi. Fasi decided to ban Borreca from regularly scheduled news conferences at his City Hall office. The Star-Bulletin went to court. And in the 1974 case of Borreca v. Fasi, U.S. District Court Judge Samuel King ruled that Fasi had to open his news conferences to all reporters. King wrote:

A free press is not necessarily an angelic press. Newspapers take sides, especially in political contests. Newspaper reporters are not always accurate and objective. They are subject to criticism, and the right of a governmental official to criticize is within First Amendment guarantees.

But when criticism transforms into an attempt to use the powers of governmental office to intimidate or to discipline the press or one of its members because of what appears in print, a compelling governmental interest that cannot be served by less restrictive means must be shown for such use to meet Constitutional standards. No compelling governmental interest has been shown or even claimed here.

Judge King made it clear that no member of the press was entitled to special privileges. If the mayor wanted to grant interviews to some reporters but not others, that was his prerogative. If he refused to answer a reporter’s questions, that was within his rights as well. But he could not discriminate against some members of the press when scheduling a formal, official event such as a news conference.

The parallel between the Honolulu and Concord situations is pretty obvious, though it’s impossible to say whether a different court would come to the same conclusion nearly 40 years later. In a commentary published by the Monitor, Steven Gordon, a lawyer, argued that O’Brien’s action may well have been an unconstitutional abridgement of the paper’s free-press rights.

I just hope Speaker O’Brien comes to his senses and realizes that the Monitor was well within its rights to run the Hitler cartoon no matter how much he may wish it hadn’t done so. He, on the other hand, has no right to discriminate against a media outlet he doesn’t like.