Nice doubleheader on the revival of local news in Greater Boston from my friends at GBH News. Jeremy Siegel reports on three startups in the suburbs — the Burlington Buzz, the Framingham Source and the Marblehead Beacon — as well as Boston Black News, a radio outlet. (Jeremy interviewed me as well.)
Tori Bedford has a piece on the ownership transition at The Bay State Banner, which has been covering the Black community since 1965 and whose new executives have some ambitious expansion plans.
Andrew Quemere, a journalist who doggedly follows open-government issues in Massachusetts at his newsletter, The Mass Dump, reports that newly minted Gov. Maura Healey may prove to be not quite the champion of Beacon Hill transparency that she claimed she would be.
No one should be too surprised — she is, after all, a two-time winner of the New England Muzzle Awards, a feature I wrote for 25 years for GBH News and, before that, The Boston Phoenix that tracked outrages against free speech. I’ll get to that. But first, the latest. Quemere’s item begins:
Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey’s administration said Monday that it will not release records from past administrations. The decision means that a vast amount of vital information about state government — including former Governor Charlie Baker’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the repeated safety problems at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, and the sprawling overtime-fraud scandal at the State Police — will remain secret.
Some background: Baker and previous governors declared that the state’s public records law did not cover either them or their immediate staff. Indeed, the notoriously weak law also doesn’t cover the legislative branch (see this 2020 report by Northeastern journalism students) or the judiciary, meaning that the only governmental groups that have to comply are cities, towns, the state’s executive agencies and quasi-independent authorities. (And county government, to the extent that we have county government, which we pretty much don’t.)
Healey told GBH News in December that she would end the exemption for her office — but then reversed herself, explaining, essentially, that she would take it on a case-by-case basis. Moreover, the Healey administration refused to provide Quemere with records pertaining to police and law enforcement dating back to Baker’s time in office, saying that the new, more open policy she has adopted is not retroactive.
So: Healey’s new policy of openness does not cover previous administrations; and we’re not clear what the new policy really means.
As for the Muzzle Awards, the most pertinent is from 2018, when she was singled out for upholding rulings that public information should, in some cases, remain private. Healey’s secretive approach to the people’s business when she was the state attorney general was revealed by then-Boston Globe reporter Todd Wallack, now with WBUR Radio. As I wrote at the time:
Wallack’s most startling finding: Healey’s office had upheld a ruling by the Worcester district attorney that records pertaining to the 1951 murder of a state trooper should not be made public. Healey’s decision reversed a ruling by Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office and denied a friend of the murder victim the opportunity to follow up some leads on his own. The friend has since died.
Wallack documented numerous other examples of Healey’s penchant for siding with the secret-keepers, including her decision to appeal an order that the state police provide the Globe with dates of birth for state troopers. That would have made it possible for the paper to examine the driving records of officers who had been involved in motor-vehicle accidents. Robert Ambrogi, a First Amendment lawyer and the director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, told Wallack: “I would expect more based on the promises she has made about open government.”
Her previous Muzzle was less germaine: I criticized her in 2015 for filing a formal defense of “a 1946 state law criminalizing political lies aimed at influencing an election.” Go ahead. You tell me what what’s a lie, what’s a mistake and what’s political hyperbole. I wrote:
As the libertarian Cato Institute was quoted as saying in an article by the State House News Service, it can be “incredibly difficult to assess the truth of a politician’s claims, especially in the chaos of an election campaign.” A number of advocacy groups and media organizations opposed Healey, including the ACLU of Massachusetts and the New England First Amendment Coalition.
We live in a time of intense political polarization, but there is an issue that unites Democrats and Republicans: the intense desire to conduct the public’s business out of public view. Let’s hope that Gov. Healey’s first steps aren’t a sign of things to come.
For years, the city of Worcester withheld public records about police misconduct that had been sought by the local daily newspaper, the Telegram & Gazette. It’s already cost the hapless taxpayers big-time: Nearly a year ago, an outraged judge ruled against the city and awarded the T&G $101,000 to cover about half the cost of the newspaper’s legal fees. She also assessed the city $5,000 in punitive damages.
That outrageous misconduct, overseen by former city manager Edward Augustus, was the subject of a 2022 New England Muzzle Award, published by GBH News.
Now a three-judge panel of the state Appeals Court is asking a logical question: If the T&G was in the right and the city was in the wrong, why shouldn’t the newspaper be compensated for all or most of its legal fees rather than just half? This week that panel overturned the lower-court ruling and ordered Superior Court Judge Janet Kenton-Walker to consider increasing the legal fees she awarded, according to a report by the T&G’s Brad Petrishen, who first began seeking the records in 2018.
Petrishen quoted Associate Justice John Englander as saying: “At 10,000 feet, what happened here is the newspaper wanted to write about something and it took them three years to get the documents they wanted to write about.”
The proceedings have been followed closely by Andrew Quemere, a journalist who writes a newsletter on public records called The Mass Dump. Quemere published a detailed account this week that includes some particularly entertaining quotes from an exchange Justice Englander had with the city’s lawyer, Wendy Quinn, at oral arguments in December:
“What did the plaintiffs request or push for that they were wrong about?” Englander asked.
Quinn paused for about six seconds before asking Englander to clarify his question.
“What the heck did you spend three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting over if they should have gotten [the records]?” Englander asked. “If you had a defense, I’d like to understand what the defense was.”
As Quemere notes, Judge Kenton-Walker has consistently taken the position that the city not only erred and acted in bad faith, ordering that the city turn over the documents that the T&G had sought in June 2021 and then awarding $101,000 in legal fees in February 2022.
Even so, the newspaper appealed, seeking the full $217,000 it had paid — and, as the Appeals Court panel has now ruled, it may very well be entitled to that money. Jeffrey Pyle, a Boston-based First Amendment lawyer who represented the T&G, put it this way at the oral arguments: “To cut [the fees] by 54% sends a message to public records requesters: Don’t bother suing, you’re not going to be made whole even if you win and show that the other side acted in bad faith.”
To make matters worse for city officials, the Department of Justice last November announced that it had launched an investigation to determine whether the police department had used excessive force or engaged in discrimination on the basis of race or gender, although it is not clear whether DOJ was motivated by the T&G’s reporting.
I hope the T&G gets every last dime that it spent on this case. But I should add that the newspaper’s corporate chain owner, Gannett, deserves credit for pursuing this without any guarantee that it would ever be compensated. I criticize Gannett’s cost-cutting frequently in this space, but the company and its predecessor, GateHouse Media, have always been dedicated to fighting for open government, even if it means going to court. They could have told the T&G’s editors to forget about it, but they didn’t.
Finally, a disclosure: David Nordman, who was the T&G’s editor until this past summer, is now a colleague of mine at Northeastern. We work on opposite sides of the campus, literally and figuratively: he’s the executive editor of Northeastern Global News, part of the university’s communications operation, and I’m a faculty member at the School of Journalism.
A true Boston original is heading into semi-retirement. Peter Kadzis, the politics editor at GBH News, announced Monday that he’s stepping down from full-time work at the end of the year, although he’ll continue as a contributor. The good news is that his distinctive Dorchester accent will still be heard on GBH Radio (89.7 FM) and television (Channel 2).
This is personal. Peter was the editor of The Boston Phoenix from the time I arrived as a copy editor in 1991 until I left as the media columnist in 2005. I continued to write for the Phoenix from time to time until it folded in 2013; Peter landed at GBH not long after, and I began writing a weekly column on media and politics for the GBH website in 2015. In other words, Peter was my editor for more than 30 years, right up until I decided to end my column earlier this year.
Peter was an important mentor. My career had stalled out when I was hired by the Phoenix, but he saw something in me, promoting me to managing editor and then news editor. But I wanted to return to the reporting and writing ranks, so, when Mark Jurkowitz (now at the Pew Research Center) left the Phoenix in 1994, Peter gave me a chance. His deep knowledge of Boston and of the media, both locally and nationally, was of enormous help to me as I groped my way toward my own voice and my own approach.
I should note, too, that GBH News became an outlet for a number of former Phoenix people. There were Fridays when three of the five panelists on “Beat the Press with Emily Rooney” were Phoenix alums — Jon Keller, Adam Reilly and me. Susan Ryan-Vollmar and David Bernstein write commentaries for the website from time to time. Sue O’Connell appears on radio and television. And, always, there was Peter, back in the newsroom. He continues to be a friend and colleague, and I wish him and his family nothing but the best.
What follows is the official announcement from Lee Hill, executive editor of GBH News:
I’m writing to share bittersweet news. A few weeks ago, our venerable Politics Editor Peter Kadzis informed me of his plans to retire from full-time work with GBH News. We decided together that we’d get through the beast that was the midterm election before announcing to the staff. The time has now come to share the news more broadly. Here’s Peter, in his own words:
After 50 years in the trenches, it’s time for me to scale back. That I’ve been able to cap my career at GBH News is, for me, still a source of wonder. And I hope that as we all move forward, we can find a way to continue our association. While I’m winding down, I’m not hanging it up.
As a kid reporter many years ago, I was one of the hordes of reporters who watched Boston school desegregation and the riots and street violence that ensued. Perhaps because of this experience, I’ve always had a sense of the potential for violence and dirty dealing that lies just below the surface of politics.
In my years at GBH, I’ve tried to put my feel for the dark side at the service of our audience. It helped me to see straight through the mayoralty of Tom Menino; the coming and going of Marty Walsh; and the rise of four remarkable political talents who have at least one thing in common — they are all women, and they are all women of color: Ayanna Pressley, Rachael Rollins, Michelle Wu, and Andrea Campbell.
I transition to part-time status after the disorienting years of Trump and COVID-19 and will watch with interest as Maura Healey tries to tame — or at least co-exist — with the undisciplined gang of ego maniacs known as the Massachusetts legislature.
In my blood, I feel confident that the newsroom’s commitment to the public good will only mature and intensify. I’m proud to have been part of the journey, which continues in the able hands of Katie Lannan, Saraya Wintersmith, Adam Reilly and the rest of you.
Peter is an important and towering presence in our newsroom whose contributions are innumerable because of the brilliance and wisdom he brings to his work. Under his leadership, the GBH News’ politics team has grown to become a respected (sometimes feared) powerhouse that has repeatedly shaped the local and regional conversation around politics and power in the Bay State. And our election coverage this year was consumed by the widest audience ever on GBH.org. That is in part because of his guidance and influence.
Thankfully, Peter isn’t going far anytime soon. He will continue in his current role through the end of January (as we search for a successor), before transitioning into a scaled back political contributor role with GBH News. Our audience will continue to benefit from his keen insights, analysis and wit.
Please join me in congratulating Peter on a stellar career, and to wish him all the best in this next chapter.
If we know anything about libel law, then we know that false, defamatory speech is not a crime. It’s a civil matter, to be worked out between the two parties in court. Right? Well … hold on.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that New Hampshire’s criminal-libel statute passes constitutional muster. The case was especially pernicious because the defendant, Robert Frese, was charged with claiming that the police chief in his town of Exeter was a coward who had “covered up for a dirty cop.” That statement may be entirely false; but the idea that someone could be charged with a misdemeanor for criticizing the police is chilling indeed.
In 2019, I gave the Exeter Police Department a New England Muzzle Award for charging Frese with a misdemeanor, writing that the New Hampshire law amounted to “seditious libel, making it a crime to criticize the government.” It’s something we thought had faded away with John Peter Zenger, a New York printer who was acquitted nearly 300 years ago.
But Judge Jeffrey Howard, noting that the Supreme Court’s landmark 1964 Times v. Sullivan decision does not protect knowingly false, defamatory speech directed at public officials, ruled that Frese did not have a case. Howard wrote:
No one would be surprised that Howard would assert that Times v. Sullivan doesn’t protect knowingly false, defamatory statements. But his assertion that such statements may form the basis of a criminal case rather than a civil lawsuit is worrisome — especially at a time when there are rumbles coming out of the Supreme Court that it may be inclined to dial back libel protections, as I wrote for GBH News last year.
Judge Howard and his colleagues had a chance to stand up for freedom of speech. Instead, they chose something else.
The Boston Globe’s free daily newsletter for college students and young professionals, The B-Side, made its debut this morning. Like similar offerings, it’s light and breezy, with an emphasis on stories aimed at appealing to the demo (“Does your employer pay for your MBTA pass?”) as well as on things to do.
The B-Side is joining a crowded field of similar newsletters from Axios Boston, WBUR, GBH News, the Boston Herald and 6AM City — and that’s not even getting into the political newsletters from Politico, State House News Service and CommonWealth Magazine. (Have I missed any? I hope not.)
What I’m talking about here is a certain type of newsletter. The Globe has multiple newsletters already, and so do the other news organizations I mentioned. It’s a matter of tone and emphasis, heavy on emoticons and bullet points, aimed at engaging an audience that might have never considered buying a digital newspaper subscription or tuning in to a public radio station. My students and I got an early peek last month; my reaction then and now is that it’s interesting, like its competitors, but that I’m not in the target audience.
Here’s a memo passed along by a trusted source from Andrew Grillo, the Globe’s director of new product and general manager of The B-Side:
We are excited to announce the launch of The B-Side, a new email and social-only product geared towards informing and entertaining new audiences. The B-Side’s focus is hyperlocal and will provide curated, authentic and relatable content that reimagines how local news is conveyed to the next generation of Bostonians.
As Boston’s population of university students and young professionals continues to grow, it is essential to evolve our coverage to meet this demographic where they are most engaged. The publication will focus on mobile-first formats, and will accompany its weekday newsletter with vertical video explainers, swipeable stories, and creator content.
The B-Side joins a growing portfolio of products that have launched out of BGMP’s innovation portal — the idea was crowned Innovation Week Champion in the Q4 2021. [BGMP stands for Boston Globe Media Partners.] Since inception, The B-Side has been refined and developed across all departments including marketing, revenue, editorial, and finance. Through this iterative approach, we have created a unique editorial product designed to engage the company’s future readership, and provide new revenue streams for the organization. This project showcases Boston Globe Media’s commitment to evolution and investment in new initiatives, and we are grateful of the internal support this project has received to achieve launch within one year.
Editorially, the team consists of three talented journalists. The content team is led by Emily Schario, a GBH alum and creative storyteller with expertise unpacking quintessential Boston stories across text and vertical video. Emily is joined by Multimedia Producer Katie Cole, a former BGM Audience Development team member, who runs the project’s social media and audience development strategy. The B-Side is edited and guided by Kaitlyn Johnston, one of the region’s most talented and forward-thinking editors.
We’d like to thank the organization’s support of this initiative, particularly the Senior Leadership Team who has guided this endeavor from inception to launch.
The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School is back in the news and, as usual, it’s for all the wrong reasons. This time it’s for sending a Muslim female student home because she was wearing a hijab in violation of the school’s uniform policy, according to Lara Salahi of NBC Boston. The school admitted to it and said all the family needed to do was seek an accommodation ahead of time. But why should they have to ask permission to practice their religion?
In a message sent out on Aug. 19, School Supt. Alexander Dan claims that the brouhaha was the result of “one of the child’s older siblings posting misleading information about this issue on social media.” Yet the “School Uniform Compliance Form” is as clear as can be — the student was punished for wearing a hijab without permission, an obvious violation of her First Amendment right to freedom of religion. “Hijab” is misspelled “jihab,” which, as one Facebook wag noticed, manages to combine “hijab” with “jihad.”
Mystic Valley is a public charter school that receives tax money.
Dan’s message is remarkably self-pitying, as he goes on to cite — and link to an audio recording of — a threatening message received by a school staff member. The message, Dan writes, “contains extremely offensive, obscene language,” and Malden Police were notified. Obviously that shouldn’t have happened, but this is about the school’s ongoing racist practices rather than the reaction to those practices.
In 2017, I gave Mystic Valley a GBH News New England Muzzle Award for banning hair extensions, an action that disproportionately affected young Black women. Black students with long braids and dreads were taken to the office and inspected to see if they were wearing extensions. Punishment was meted out, including detention and suspension from activities such as athletics and the prom. That fiasco led to an investigation by Attorney General Maura Healey and a settlement in which the school promised to behave itself in the future. Just recently, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law the CROWN Act, which bans discrimination on the basis of hair style and which was motivated in part by Mystic Valley’s actions.
In 2020, The Boston Globe’s Hayley Kaufman reported on concerns among alumni that the school was hampered by a “culture that penalized students who spoke out about inequities, while seeming to shrug off reports of bias.”
And now this. The time has come for the state to mete out some serious penalties.
By the way … sorry for the reproductions. I doubt you’ll be able to read them on a phone, but you should be able to read them on a laptop or tablet.
A Boston mayor who trampled on a religious group’s right to freedom of expression. A Worcester city manager who trampled on the public’s right to know about police misconduct. A New Hampshire state legislator who trampled on teachers’ rights by demanding that they take a “loyalty oath” promising not to teach their students about racism.
These are just a few of the winners of the 2022 New England Muzzle Awards.
This year is the 25th anniversary of the Muzzles, a Fourth of July roundup of outrages against freedom of speech and of the press in the six New England states.
With the Supreme Court on the brink of overturning Roe v. Wade, it’s a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the extent to which our democracy has lurched off the rails.
Three of the five anti-Roe justices — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — were nominated by a president who lost the popular vote and were confirmed by senators who represented far fewer Americans than those who voted against confirmation. Gorsuch occupies the stolen seat that should have gone to Merrick Garland. Barrett was rushed through at the last minute following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
This is not democracy. A few years ago, I laid it out at GBH News — and addressed the falsehood you’ll often hear that our system was designed to protect minority rights from majority rule. (The Bill of Rights is what protects the minority.) I hope you’ll give it a read. We are long overdue for a thorough-going update to our 18th-century constitution, which, quite simply, no longer works.
In what was surely the least surprising media news of the year, The New York Times announced Tuesday that executive editor Dean Baquet will be replaced by his deputy, Joe Kahn, this June, a few months before Baquet turns 66. The move is a clear indication that publisher A.G. Sulzberger and his family believe everything is just fine. And, in many ways, it is — the paper has a huge paying audience, great journalism and vibrant digital products.
But the political coverage is broken. Not all of it. The Times’ enterprise stories on politics grapple very well with the Republicans’ descent into insanity. But the day-to-day coverage treats the two parties as morally equivalent players rather than as a flawed but fundamentally normal Democratic Party and an insurrectionist, QAnon-poisoned Republican Party. With Kahn moving to the top of the masthead, it seems unlikely that anything is going to be done about that.
Four years ago, I wrote a piece for GBH News about what was wrong with the Times’ political coverage. Not much has changed. Kahn deserves a chance, of course, and the Times’ journalism is defined by far more than politics. Its coverage of the war in Ukraine has been nothing short of superb.
And congratulations to Boston Globe and Patriot Ledger alum Carolyn Ryan, who’s been named co-managing editor along with Marc Lacey.