Herald reporter suspended for violating social-media policy

Boston Herald reporter Chris Villani was given a three-day suspension for violating the paper’s social-media policy. According to Chris Sweeney of Boston magazine, Villani tweeted out some breaking news on the Aaron Hernandez case without first seeking permission from the higher-ups. (Note: This post has now been updated with a message to the staff by Herald publisher Pat Purcell and a response to Purcell by the Newspaper Guild. Just keep scrolling.)

A number of Herald reporters are boycotting Twitter in response to Villani’s punishment. Here’s a statement from the union that represents Herald employees:

The policy is the policy. But having to get permission from a top editor before tweeting seems unworkable for a news organization hoping to make an impact in the digital space.

Adam Vaccaro of The Boston Globe has more. An interesting side note: Herald editor Joe Sciacca declined to comment to the Globe even after providing a rather fulsome statement to Boston magazine.

Update: Herald publisher Pat Purcell has weighed in.

Update II: The Newspaper Guild has now responded to Purcell.

Guild members are grateful to Pat Purcell for keeping the Boston Herald alive and thriving during a difficult time for the newspaper industry. We respect his leadership and his decades of experience.

No one is more concerned with matters of reputation and accuracy than his Guild employees. After all, our names go on the stories; our reputations are on the line if any of the information is wrong. The same holds true for our social media accounts, where our names, pictures, and occupations accompany every single post. We are well aware that if we were to use social media recklessly, we would lose the trust both of sources who help us do our jobs as well as our readers.

We agree with Pat that there is a need for a policy, but we have deep reservations about certain aspects that Herald Media Inc. has incorporated into its policy. In our view, the response our members have expressed about this recent enforcement is an opportunity to open the door to discuss making changes.

We remain committed to providing Boston Herald readers with the best quality journalism in the city and look forward to speaking with him.

The Guild

Talk about this post on Facebook.

Somehow, the Boston Herald keeps on keeping on

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 10.24.51 AM
Murdoch to the rescue: December 3, 1982

Chris Sweeney has written a sharp piece for Boston magazine on the state of the Boston Herald, the city’s number-two daily. As is generally the case with stories about the Herald, the overarching theme is: How much longer can the struggling tabloid cling to life?

And yet I wonder if that’s the right question. For a decade starting in the mid-1990s, I covered the Herald‘s ups and downs as the media columnist for the Boston Phoenix. If I had a dime for every person who told me the Herald had six months to live, I’d be a very rich man. Sadly, it was the Phoenix that didn’t survive.

As Sweeney notes, the Herald these days seems more like an extension of its online radio station than a standalone newspaper. Nearly two years ago editor Joe Sciacca gave me a tour of the paper’s new headquarters in South Boston, and I was impressed with what I saw—especially the amount of space devoted to multimedia and to the modern radio facilities.

My WGBH colleague Jim Braude tells Sweeney that not many people may be listening to Boston Herald Radio (OK, Braude’s actual quote is “I don’t think anyone listens”). But Braude also points out that it’s given the Herald a jolt of relevance in terms of high-profile guests like Mayor Marty Walsh, Governor Charlie Baker, and Donald Trump, whose appearances can then be written up and tweeted out.

Unfortunately, none of the top three executives at the Herald would speak with Sweeney, a group that comprises publisher Pat Purcell, Sciacca, and executive editor John Strahinich. It would have been useful to get some insights from them regarding the Herald‘s current business model. Not that I’m faulting Sweeney—I’ve been there. And his description of trying to get Strahinich to talk is pretty amusing.

But even though print circulation has shrunk precipitously and print advertising revenue is presumably scarce, the Herald does have some strengths. Sweeney does not report the size of the staff, but it’s small and therefore affordable. The sports section is very good. The website is slow and frustrating, but the third-party mobile app is excellent—and includes one-click access to Herald Radio. Purcell made a lot of money selling off the old headquarters in the South End; the Herald is now printed by the Boston Globe, which means that its larger competitor has every reason to keep its rival breathing.

So how long can the Herald survive? Keep those dimes rolling in.

Boston Herald wins innovation award for online radio

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 9.42.29 AMCongratulations to the Boston Herald, which won an Innovator of the Year award from the Associated Press Media Editors and American Society of News Editors for Boston Herald Radio. According to Herald editor-in-chief Joe Sciacca:

Herald Radio has enhanced our journalism, expanded our reach and empowered us to cover and present news in a true multimedia way in real time. But it wouldn’t work without the energy and commitment of our entire newsroom. I couldn’t be prouder of our staff. This award demonstrates that they are setting a new standard for our industry.

Herald Radio, a news and talk station, is an online-only operation. You can listen by visiting the Herald’s website or via the Herald’s smartphone app — which means that, with a bit of fiddling, you can also listen in your car.

Happy news breaks out at Media Nation

Tighter editing standards at Boston.com, improved online comments at the Boston Herald and well-deserved recognition for some first-rate political reporters. There’s so much good news on the local media front on this day-after-the-blizzard morning that it’s hard to know where to begin.

• Boston.com strives for civility. After a miserable stretch in which it falsely accused a Harvard Business School professor (and, gulp, lawyer) of sending a racist email to one of the owners of a Chinese restaurant and then mocked House Speaker John Boehner’s alleged drinking problem following an assassination threat, the folks at Boston.com sound determined to get it right.

In an interview with Benjamin Mullin at Poynter.org, Boston.com general manager Corey Gottlieb says he’s beefed up copy-editing and tightened standards in response to the two incidents. He tells Mullin:

We’ve made a pretty strong point about the fact that it’s OK to slow down. That we’d much rather not be first but get something right and be really thoughtful about it than rush to publish and bypass the discretion that should be required of any good content producer like ours.

The worst thing the Boston Globe-affiliated site could do is chase clicks. December turned out to be a boffo month for Boston.com, driven by its reporting on the Harvard professor’s harassment of the Chinese restaurant over a $4 overcharge — a righteous hit before it went off the rails. (T-shirts were involved, too.) According to Compete.com, Boston.com received nearly 3.7 million unique visits in December, way up from November’s 2.8 million. Compete’s numbers aren’t perfect by any means, but it’s safe to say Boston.com’s numbers were up a lot.

Yet quality matters. And according to Compete, BostonGlobe.com actually attracted more traffic than its free cousin in December, receiving more than 3.8 million unique visits — even though you have to pay a digital subscription fee to receive full access to the site (granted, free social sharing at BostonGlobe.com is pretty generous these days).

No doubt Gottlieb and company are going to stick with their plan to build a buzzy site with lots of viral content (here’s my alternative idea). But I’m glad to see that they understand what’s gone wrong and that they’re determined to do something about it.

One of Boston.com’s biggest problems is that it’s been flying without an editor (except for a few weeks last fall) since its relaunch last spring. That should be rectified as soon as possible.

• The Herald embraces Facebook. Online newspaper comments in general can make you despair for humanity. Over the years the Herald’s have been particularly loathsome. So kudos to publisher Pat Purcell and editor Joe Sciacca for switching to a Facebook-based commenting system.

Facebook isn’t perfect. Certainly there are issues with a news organization turning over its community platform to a giant corporation with its own agenda and priorities. But people are generally more civil and constructive when they’re on Facebook, in large measure because Facebook requires real names — and most people comply.

Check out the comments beneath Howie Carr’s ridiculous column on climate change today. Not bad at all. Only one of the first eight is pseudonymous. And if they’re not all exactly civil, they are less toxic than I’m accustomed to seeing at BostonHerald.com.

Can a real-names policy at BostonGlobe.com be far behind?

Massachusetts’ best political reporters. Chris Cillizza, who runs a political blog for The Washington Post called The Fix, has named nine Massachusetts political reporters as among the best in the country. (Disclosure: The list was based in part on a reader poll, and I voted for friend of Media Nation Jon Keller, who’s among the winners — but every one of these is worthy.)

It’s especially nice to see a couple of reporters outside the Greater Boston orbit win recognition — Jim Hand of Attleboro’s Sun Chronicle and Shira Schoenberg of The Republican in Springfield. Congratulations to all.

Kimberly Atkins to cover Washington for the Herald

Kimberly Atkins
Kimberly Atkins

A very smart move by the Boston Herald: Kimberly Atkins, who covered state politics for the paper before moving to Washington in 2006, will become the tabloid’s full-time Washington reporter. Atkins has been writing a political column part-time for the Herald in recent years in addition to covering legal issues for the Lawyers Weekly newspapers. She tells me by email:

I’m really excited! Covering the law was fun, but I really missed covering politics regularly. And with all the big Supreme Court cases coming up (Facebook threats, state same-sex marriage ban challenges, the trio of Obamacare challenges) I’ll still be able to flex my legal brain pretty frequently as well.

Atkins, who’s also a lawyer, will be the Herald’s first full-time Washington reporter since Andrew Miga, who’s been working for the Associated Press since 2005. Herald editor-in-chief Joe Sciacca says in the Herald announcement, “Kimberly is very smart and politically savvy and our readers will benefit by her knowledge of the inner workings of the nation’s capital.”

Herald exclusive: Democrat says Republican could lose

In today’s episode of “Let’s Play Editor,” you receive an entirely predictable op-ed from a prominent Democratic political consultant who writes that Republican Sen. Scott Brown could lose in 2012. What do you do?

  1. Write a polite rejection letter to the consultant and hope it won’t affect his willingness to return your calls.
  2. Curry favor with the consultant by publishing his piece on the op-ed page, secure in the knowledge that no one will read it.
  3. Blast the piece all over the front page, label it an “exclusive” and slap a headline on it pronouncing Brown to be “THE NEXT COAKLEY.”

If you’re Herald editor Joe Sciacca, then the answer is #3. Although Rubin’s affiliation is disclosed, today’s front page will make me pause the next time I criticize the tabloid for allowing Republican operative Howie Carr to rip Democrats.

Joe Sciacca speaks

Gabrielle Gurley of CommonWealth Magazine interviews Boston Herald editor Joe Sciacca, my former “Beat the Press” colleague. Sciacca moved up to the Herald’s top job in August, after Kevin Convey left for the Daily News of New York.

It’s a good read, beginning with Sciacca’s take on his paper’s feud with U.S. Rep. Barney Frank. “It’s not unusual for a politician who has been a subject of tough reporting to lash out at the messenger and I think that’s what happened in this case,” Sciacca tells Gurley. “But I think we’ve been fair in our coverage of Congressman Frank and I think we will continue to be so.”

Sciacca also says that “anybody is hipper than me,” which is a relief, as it makes me no worse than number two in the local least-hip sweepstakes.

Herald promotes from within

The Boston Herald’s new editor, Joe Sciacca, has announced seven internal promotions. The big news, though it’s not surprising, is that John Strahinich is the new executive editor, serving as Sciacca’s number two. A veteran of Boston magazine, Strahinich was already the Herald’s top editor after Sciacca.

Herald media reporter Jessica Heslam has the rest of the team here.

Who will be the new panelist on “Beat the Press”?

Over at the “Beat the Press” blog, Ralph Ranalli makes it official: longtime panelist Joe Sciacca is out now that he’s been promoted to editor of the Boston Herald. So who will replace Joe on the WGBH-TV (Channel 2) program? Follow the link, and you can make your own suggestions.

Sciacca to succeed Convey as Herald editor

Boston Herald media reporter Jessica Heslam has the story: managing editor Joe Sciacca will succeed departing editor-in-chief Kevin Convey, thus ending any speculation that publisher Pat Purcell might make an outside pick. Sciacca speaks:

I can’t think of a more exciting time for the Herald as we launch new initiatives for print and online. We will continue to deliver the ambitious reporting and unique perspective that Herald readers have come to rely on.

Congratulations to Joe, a longtime colleague on “Beat the Press.” And since I can’t leave this without at least a little bit of dangling speculation, will Sciacca have time to keep his television gig now that he’s at the top of the Herald’s masthead?