Steel-cage death match of the #mapoli political emails

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 9.16.36 AMPolitico this morning debuts its Massachusetts Playbook, compiled by Lauren Dezenski, most recently of the Dorchester Reporter. It’s a newsy round-up of the state political scene that aggregates from a variety of sources, including The Boston Globe and, of course, Politico.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 9.16.50 AMMassachusetts Playbook competes directly with the Globe’s Political Happy Hour, Joshua Miller’s late-afternoon update. Miller is leaving the field to Dezenski this week, as he’s going on vacation. As David Bernstein notes, the timing is odd, though I suppose no one’s around this week except me (and you, of course).

If I may offer a flash judgment on the basis of exactly one Dezenskigram, I’d say she aims to be a little more comprehensive, as befits a morning briefing. Miller is more selective and takes a lighter tone. Massachusetts Playbook seems aimed at #mapoli types trying to catch up quickly before beginning their day, whereas Happy Hour feels more like something you read on your evening commute (which I often do).

Is there room for both? This may well be the most politically aware state in the country. So sure, why not?

More: Two lower profile but valuable #mapoli political emails I should not have omitted: The Download, from CommonWealth Magazine, and MASSterList.

Also published at WGBHNews.org.

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Legislature makes it harder to use tax funds for Olympics

The Massachusetts Legislature did something Tuesday night to make it more difficult for tax money to be used to help pay for the Boston 2024 Olympics bid. But it’s not entirely clear exactly what — or how important it is.

Matt Stout in the Boston Herald quotes unnamed “lawmakers” as saying that the final budget deal produced by House and Senate negotiators “includes language preventing the use of state funds or tax expenditures for the 2024 Olympics.” His lede describes it as a “ban.”

But Andy Metzger of State House News Service offers a somewhat different spin, writing, “The budget … requires passage of a special act of the Legislature before any public funds can be spent to benefit the proposed 2024 Boston Olympics.” Maybe that amounts to the same thing, though it’s not clear.

Bruce Mohl’s analysis in CommonWealth Magazine offers this:

The budget contains a provision requiring that any expenditure of tax dollars for hosting the Olympics in 2024 must first be approved by the Legislature after public hearings. The budget, of course, remains in effect for  one year, through the end of June 2016.

Of course, one legislature’s actions are not binding on the next, and it seems pretty unlikely that the Boston 2024 folks are going to ask for public funds anytime in the next year. Which may explain why The Boston Globe’s budget story, by David Scharfenberg and Joshua Miller, makes no mention of it at all.

Or maybe not.

It strikes me that the measure was worth a mention, even if it’s largely symbolic. The implications of budget deals often become clearer in the days after they are reached. I hope we find out more about what actually happened Tuesday night.

The Boston Globe doubles down on political coverage

Capital section front

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

The message last night was straightforward: The Boston Globe was launching a new weekly political section, Capital, in print and online.

It was the messaging, though, that really mattered. About a hundred invited guests mingled in the lobby of the historic Paramount Theatre, elegantly restored by Emerson College, helping themselves to free food and an open bar. Owner/publisher John Henry joined the minglers, working the room like one of the politicians his reporters might write about.

And if you didn’t quite get the messaging, chief executive officer Michael Sheehan and editor Brian McGrory were there helpfully to explain.

“You can’t cut your way to success. You can only grow you way to success,” Sheehan said while introducing a panel discussion. Added McGrory in his closing remarks: “We are investing in our political coverage at a time when virtually every other paper is retreating.”

If you’re a news junkie, a political junkie or both, enjoy it. The newspaper implosion that has defined the past decade may have slowed, but it hasn’t stopped.

Some 16,200 full-time newspaper jobs disappeared between 2003 and 2012, according to the American Society of News Editors. Just this week, about 20 employees — one-fourth of editorial staff members — were let go by the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, recently sold by Henry to Halifax Media Group of Daytona Beach, Florida. Aaron Kushner, whose print-centric approach was hailed as the salvation of the newspaper business just a year ago, is now dismantling the Orange County Register and its affiliated Southern California properties as quickly as he built them up.

The only major papers bucking this trend are Henry’s Globe and Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post, both of which are adding staff and expanding their portfolios. (The New York Times remains relatively healthy, but in recent years the ruling Sulzberger family has tended to define success by keeping cuts to a minimum.)

So what is Capital? Simply put, it’s a Friday-only section comprising features, think pieces, polling, commentary and lots of graphics. The debut consists of 12 pages, including three full-page ads — two of them advocacy messages of the sort that might not have made their way into the paper otherwise — and a smaller bank ad on the front of the section.

The lead story, by Jim O’Sullivan and Matt Viser, looks at the implications of a presidential race that is not likely to have a Massachusetts candidate for the first time since 2000. A poll (and Capital is slated to have lots of polls) suggests that Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker is making some headway, trailing Democratic contender Martha Coakley by a few points and leading Coakley’s rival Steve Grossman by a similar margin.

Among the more intriguing pieces of content is a “social networks dashboard,” put together by SocialSphere of Cambridge, which tracks conversations and the “biggest influencers” on Twitter. The print version has the highlights; online, it goes into more depth. It could use some tweaking, though. For instance, it’s fine to know that Gov. Deval Patrick is +463, but I’d like to see an explanation of what that means.

And if the Globe is looking for suggestions, I’d like to see a more outward-looking orientation, at least in the online version. There are no few links to outside content. How about a curated reading list of the best political coverage appearing elsewhere? (Online, Capital does offer some outside links in an automated feature based on Twitter called “The Talk,” which combines mostly Globe content with a little bit of offsite stuff. I’m also told that a daily newsletter to be written by political reporter Joshua Miller will include non-Globe links.)

One challenge the Globe faces is to come up with compelling content that isn’t tied to the daily news cycle. Today, for instance, the paper’s two most important political stories appear not in Capital but, rather, on the front page: more questions about Scott Brown’s dubious dealings with a Florida firearms company and insider shenanigans involving Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration and the city’s largest construction company. Of necessity, Capital will have to focus on analysis and smart step-back pieces.

During the panel discussion, political editor Cynthia Needham said that a frequent topic of conversation in the newsroom is whether the Globe’s political coverage should appeal to “insiders” or to readers “who dip in every once in a while.” For Capital to work week after week, the answer needs to be both — and then some.

But seriously — how refreshing is it to be able to write about the Globe’s latest expansion instead of the cuts and layoffs that pervade the rest of the newspaper business? We’ll remember these times. Let’s hope they last.

The hazards of granting anonymity, Part Infinity

fnc-20130311-scottbrownI’ll leave it to my friend John Carroll to analyze the dust-up between the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald over whether former senator Scott Brown is or isn’t still working for Fox News. (Short answer: he is.) No doubt that’s coming later today.

So just a quick observation. On Wednesday the Globe’s Joshua Miller quoted an unnamed source at Fox who told him that Brown was “out of contract,” thus fueling speculation that Brown was about to jump into New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate race. It turns out, according to the Herald’s Hillary Chabot and Miller’s follow-up report, that Brown was merely between contracts, and that he’s now re-upped.

If I were Miller or an editor at the Globe, I would love to be able to point to a named source at Fox for passing along information that may have been technically accurate but was not actually true. But they can’t, and that’s one of the hazards of granting anonymity.

It’s especially dangerous with Fox. According to NPR media reporter David Folkenflik’s book “Murdoch’s World,” the fair-and-balanced folks once went so far as to leak a false story to a journalist — anonymously, of course — and then denounce him in public after he reported it.

Of course, this all leads to the political question of the moment: Does this mean Brown isn’t running for senator? Or president? Or whatever office he is thought to be flirting with this week?

Update: And here comes John Carroll.

Screen image via Media Matters for America.