William Loeb in 1974. Photo via the Spencer Grant Collection / Boston Public Library.
I thought the final days of 2022 would be a good time to take stock of the state of Media Nation. I’ve put more of an effort into it since giving up my weekly column at GBH News last spring. Even though I stopped writing for GBH so that I could concentrate on writing the book that Ellen Clegg and I are co-authoring on local news, I’ve also tried to put more of an effort into the blog. It seems to have paid off.
According to the data, Media Nation received more page views in 2022 (243,489) than it had since 2014 (258,982). More visitors (160,548) dropped by than in any year for which I have data — the numbers only go back to 2013, and I’ve been blogging independently since 2005. I also published 329 posts in 2022, which is more than any year except 2021, when I published 530. I really don’t know what that was all about; it seems to me that I’ve been blogging more this year than last.
As you may know, this is the age of newsletters, and blogs are considered passé in many circles. So I’m pleased that 2,156 people have signed up for free email delivery of new posts to Media Nation, which makes this place a newsletter as much as it is a blog. I also have a small but hardy band of members who pay $5 a month to keep the blog going. If you’d like to join them, you can sign up here.
What follows are my top 10 posts for 2022. The most trafficked post was about revelations that the late William Loeb, the notorious right-wing publisher of the Manchester Union Leader, was a child molester. Five of the top 10 pertain to the Gannett newspaper chain, which went on a downsizing crusade in 2022 that made its previous efforts look almost benevolent. And away we go.
1. William Loeb’s stepdaughter says the toxic publisher was also a child molester, May 1 (8,820 views). Who would have thought that Loeb’s deservedly ugly reputation for racism, antisemitism and all-around hate-mongering could get any worse? Well, it did — so much so that his old paper, since rechristened the New Hampshire Union Leader, removed his name from the masthead.
2. Gannett goes on a massive spree of merging and closing papers weekly newspapers, March 17 (7,634 views). This will go down as the year when Gannett more or less got out of the weekly newspaper business in Massachusetts. The chain also made deep cuts at its 200 dailies, including its flagship, USA Today. But the weeklies, in particular, have been targeted for elimination.
3. While Gannett journalists brace for layoffs, those at the top rake in big bucks, Aug. 8. (6,273 views). Chair and CEO Michael Reed’s compensation has been an issue for years, but it seemed especially relevant at a time when his underpaid journalists were losing their jobs by the hundreds. According to company documents, Reed was paid more than $7.7 million in salary and other benefits in 2021. Compensation for other executives and for part-time board members was eye-popping as well. Who says the newspaper business doesn’t pay?
4. Gannett’s Mass. weeklies to replace much of their local news with regional coverage, Feb. 16. (5,120 views). To my mind, this was worse than shutting down and merging many of the weeklies. With the exception of just three papers (the Cambridge Chronicle, the Old Colony Memorial of Plymouth and the Provincetown Banner), Gannett eliminated virtually all local coverage, replacing it with regional beats such as climate change, the criminal justice system and food. Those are not unworthy topics, but who’s going to keep an eye on town hall? Fortunately, the year was also defined by the rise of new local news outlets in Marblehead, Concord, Newton and elsewhere — a trend I expect will continue in 2023.
5. Gannett lays off journalists, closes papers and keeps the numbers to itself, Aug. 15 (4,932 views). Yet another round of cuts by the chain, beleaguered by debt and greed in the executive suites.
6. “A Civil Action”: The real story, Dec. 18, 1998 (4,738 views). Now this one is a real mystery. I wrote the piece for The Boston Phoenix just before the movie version premiered, reporting on what actually happened to the Woburn families who sued three industrial polluters after their children became sick with leukemia; two of the children died. Since Northeastern University now owns the rights to the Phoenix archives, I posted it on Media Nation in 2015 in order to make it more accessible. But I have no idea why it got so many views in 2022. All I can think of is that someone assigned it for a course.
7. A terrible day for Gannett, to be followed by terrible days for its staff and communities, Aug. 5 (4,662 views). In which the company announced that it had lost $54 million during the second quarter on revenues of $749 million, thus leading to the cuts I wrote about 10 days later.
8. A Long Island weekly had the goods on Santos several weeks before Election Day, Dec. 23 (4,152 views). This one is still resonating and may move up in the rankings before the year draws to a close. Following up on reporting by Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, I found that The North Shore Leader had exposed some of the details about serial liar George Santos several weeks before Election Day — raising questions about why larger news organizations such as The New York Times and Newsday didn’t take notice.
9. The ugly truth about Eric Clapton — and the line between the art and the artist, Oct. 18, 2021 (3,255 views). The great guitarist came out as an anti-vaxxer, raising questions about why we didn’t understand that he was a jerk (and a racist) all along. This was also 12th on my most-viewed list for 2021.
10. Bob Garfield revisits his firing from ‘On the Media’ and brings his podcast to a close, June 21 (2,484 views). The public radio program “On the Media” has been one of my must-listens for many years, although I’m not happy that the program is less and less about the media. (There have been some recent signs of a return to form.) The chemistry between co-hosts Garfield and Brooke Gladstone was one of the things that made it special, even though we now know they hated each other’s guts. Garfield was fired in 2021 and accused of abusive behavior in the workplace, an accusation he more or less admitted to but defended anyway. And by the way, my post on Gladstone’s taking to the airwaves to say that Garfield got what he deserved was my most viewed (9,172 times) of 2021. The break-up of Gladstone and Garfield’s professional partnership obviously meant a lot to many people.