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Former Globe editor Matt Storin looks back 50 years after a horrific plane crash

Fifty years ago Monday, a Delta airliner crashed at Logan Airport, killing 88 of the 89 people on board; the only survivor died several months later. The Boston Globe reports on how the families of the victims are getting by those years later. Below is an email I received from former Globe editor Matt Storin on what it was like to cover those tragic events — and how the accident and its aftermath changed the rules of media access.

I was city editor at the time and when we learned of the crash, we of course scrambled everyone available. Some reporters were dispatched to hospitals (to no avail, since there was only one survivor that day), and others were sent to Logan. We even looked into chartering a boat to have [photographer] Bill Brett arrive by crossing the bay. But this wasn’t necessary. Unlike any other airline tragedy I’ve seen covered, there was no attempt by Logan officials to secure the crash site from the press. Our photographers got ON THE RUNWAY even as first responders were working. You wouldn’t believe some of the photos, bodies shown still in their seats (as I recall there were no signs of injuries from fire). Of course we didn’t publish those, but the ones we did publish were shot from short distances. I noted that today’s Globe story did not include a photo of the Aug. 1 morning paper. I wondered if there was a feeling that the photos would be too painful even at this late date.

I thought we did a good job of coverage. John Burke came in from the North Shore and assembled his team of suburban correspondents. They worked diligently through the late afternoon and early evening to get the list of victims with, where possible, bio information. To this day I’ve never forgotten what they accomplished on deadline. But to give you an example of how close our reporters got, I received a call on the city desk that evening from someone at the Pentagon. One of the deceased had been a Navy intelligence officer traveling with classified documents. They somehow knew that one of these documents had been picked up by Frank Mahoney, one of our reporters on the scene. Frank had not mentioned anything to us about this. When I called him at home, he confirmed that he had the document. I believe we got it into the right hands the next morning. I never inquired about what was on it. Under the circumstances, especially since we should have reported the find to the authorities, I decided not to draw any further attention to what happened.

As memory serves from half a century ago, I believe that within weeks Logan Airport advised news media of new guidelines for covering any incidents at the airport. Reporters and photographers were advised they should report to a media center in one of the terminals.

This is probably of little interest today, but today’s story brought back memories…. I’m not sure what happened to those shocking photos but I have a vague recollection of ordering that they be destroyed. In light of the lawsuit in the Kobe Bryant case, that would have been prudent.

Al Giordano, 1959-2023

Al Giordano (via Facebook)

On Monday evening I received some sad news: Al Giordano, who was the political columnist at The Boston Phoenix in the mid-1990s, had died in Mexico, where he’d made his home for many years. The cause was lung cancer, according to retired Boston Globe editor Matt Storin, who was Al’s uncle.

For a time, I was Al’s editor at the Phoenix, so I had the honor of working with him directly. He was difficult and brilliant, a unique voice that we needed then and need even more now. Later I followed his journalism at, which covered the misguided U.S. war on drugs from the Mexican point of view. He kept up his political punditry as well, and trust me when I tell you that it was good stuff. He and I stayed in touch sporadically, and he had a standing invitation to speak to my students on one of his periodic forays to the States; sadly, we were never able to make that happen. Al was 64 at the time of his death.

Al wrote a vibrant 4,000-word essay about the importance of the Phoenix shortly after it folded in 2013. You can (and should) read it here. Below is a tribute to Al written by his friends at the Fund for Authentic Journalism, another one of Al’s projects. I don’t believe it’s still in existence, but if I find out otherwise, I’ll let  you know. The tribute, by the way, was published in a friends-only post on Facebook, but his board has given people permission to share it publicly.


Al Giordano, 1959-2023
(En español abajo)

Al Giordano passed away Monday evening, July 10, in Mexico. He was at home, in his own bed, with friends at his side, as a hard rain came down on the land.

Al was a gifted journalist and organizer with a keen mind and the courage of his convictions. Those talents, and a lot of hard work and lived experience, allowed Al to seemingly see around the corners of history to place himself at the headwaters of seismic world change.

Al did this repeatedly over the decades, in the U.S., Latin America and beyond, often at great personal risk, but never without a sharp sense of strategy aimed at the goal. He was the John Reed of our era. He was there when the world shook to tell us why it was shaking.

Al was an active participant in some of the most consequential moments of political and social change of the last 50 years as an organizer, a journalist or an advisor. As a young organizer in the 1970s, he helped freeze the expansion of the nuclear power industry as part of the “Clamshell Alliance,” which staged successful anti-nuclear demonstrations at the then-proposed Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire. The campaign overcame great odds and ignited a “No Nukes” movement that inspired similar alliances and actions against proposed and existing nuclear power plants nationwide.

Al went on to work on John Kerry’s first Senate campaign, before becoming legendary organizer Abbie Hoffman’s apprentice in the trenches — working on organizing campaigns in Pennsylvania, Nicaragua and elsewhere. He was among the first U.S.-born journalists to document the Zapatista Army for National Liberation’s 1994 indigenous uprising.

To support that effort and to document the failed U.S. War on Drugs in Mexico and throughout Latin America, Al created the online newspaper Narco News. The trailblazing news service scored a historic victory for online press freedom in the United States when Citibank unsuccessfully sued Al in a New York court over his drug war coverage. In its ruling, the court established precedent extending the same freedom of speech protections to online journalists as enjoyed by traditional print media.

For over 14 years, and with the support and participation of dozens of collaborators, Al also ran a workshop for journalists and organizers to share strategies for the effective and strategic coverage of social movements, an effort that created effective networks with global reach among its participants, which remain active to this day. Al also garnered substantial attention for his prescient coverage of the “Obama paradigm shift” in the runup to the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, and he created an online manual for nonviolent revolution after his in-country coverage of the uprising against Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Al’s death is a shock in the sense that he left us far too soon. But Al had been dealing with ongoing health issues for some time, even after beating back cancer several years ago. Death is never comforting, but it is relief for those enduring serious, chronic health problems. The journey, which includes both emotional and physical pain, is the hard part.

Al lived life hard and fast. That’s how it came at him. But every moment of it mattered to Al, as did winning the good fight. He literally changed the world with his organizing and journalism work. The list of his great accomplishments is long, and his impressive legacy only now launched on a journey of its own.

Even Al couldn’t outrun the reaper. None of us can. But damn, he gave life one hell of a good ride.

Al died on his own terms, still speaking his truth to power and working to organize other people to do the same, so that an even bigger truth rises. His work will live on far past his critics’ last gasps.

All we can do now is use our grief as inspiration for doing what Al would surely want us to continue doing — living authentically and in pursuit of a better world for all. We should also definitely find some time now to honor Al’s life in a manner that works for each of us, to celebrate what Al has left behind for us to build upon.

We all have to keep pushing forward for as long as time permits. Al once said as much, “Authenticity is not the easiest path in life, but it’s the only path that leads forward.”

Al Giordano ¡Presente!

Friends of Al
And the board of directors of the Fund for Authentic Journalism
Doug Wilson, President
Bill Conroy, Treasurer
Wendy Foxmyn, Fund Administrator


Al Giordano, 1960-2023

Al Giordano falleció la pasada noche del lunes 10 de julio en México. Estaba en su casa, en su propia cama, con amigos a su lado, mientras una fuerte lluvia caía sobre la tierra.

Al fue un periodista y organizador talentoso, con una mente acuciosa y el coraje de sus convicciones. Esas habilidades, junto con mucho trabajo arduo y experiencia vivida, permitieron que Al aparentemente vislumbrase los giros de la historia para situarse en la cabecera de transformaciones mundiales de gran impacto.

Al hizo esto en repetidas ocasiones a lo largo de las décadas, en los Estados Unidos, América Latina y más allá, a menudo enfrentando grandes riesgos personales, pero nunca sin un agudo sentido de la estrategia dirigido al objetivo. Fue el John Reed de nuestra era. Estuvo presente cuando el mundo tembló para contarnos por qué temblaba.

Al participó activamente en algunos de los momentos más trascendentales de cambio político y social de los últimos 50 años, ya sea como organizador, periodista o asesor. Como joven organizador en la década de 1970, ayudó a frenar la expansión de la industria de la energía nuclear como parte de la “Alianza Clamshell”, que llevó a cabo exitosas manifestaciones antinucleares en la entonces propuesta planta de energía nuclear de Seabrook en Nuevo Hampshire. La campaña superó grandes obstáculos e impulsó un movimiento “No Nukes” que inspiró alianzas y acciones similares contra plantas de energía nuclear propuestas y existentes en todo el país.

Posteriormente, Al trabajó en la primera campaña al Senado de John Kerry, antes de convertirse en el aprendiz del legendario organizador Abbie Hoffman en las trincheras, trabajando en campañas de organización en Pensilvania, Nicaragua y otros lugares. Fue uno de los primeros periodistas nacidos en Estados Unidos en documentar el levantamiento indígena del Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) en 1994.

Para apoyar ese esfuerzo y documentar la fallida “Guerra Contra las Drogas” de Estados Unidos en México y toda Latinoamérica, Al creó el periódico en línea Narco News. Este innovador servicio de noticias obtuvo una histórica victoria para la libertad de prensa en línea en Estados Unidos cuando Citibank demandó infructuosamente a Al en un tribunal de Nueva York por su cobertura de la guerra contra las drogas. En su fallo, el tribunal sentó un precedente que otorga a los periodistas en línea las mismas protecciones de libertad de expresión que disfruta la prensa impresa tradicional.

Durante más de 14 años, y con el apoyo y la participación de docenas de colaboradores, Al también dirigió un taller para periodistas y organizadores con el fin de compartir estrategias para la cobertura efectiva y estratégica de los movimientos sociales; un esfuerzo que creó redes efectivas con alcance global entre sus participantes, que siguen activas hasta el día de hoy. Al también obtuvo una atención considerable por su presciente cobertura del “cambio de paradigma de Obama” en la antesala de las elecciones presidenciales de Estados Unidos de 2008, y creó un manual en línea para la revolución no violenta después de su cobertura presencial del levantamiento contra el dictador egipcio Hosni Mubarak en 2011.

La muerte de Al es impactante en el sentido de que nos dejó demasiado pronto. Sin embargo, Al llevaba un tiempo lidiando con problemas de salud persistentes, incluso después de haber vencido el cáncer hace varios años atrás. La muerte nunca es reconfortante, pero sí es un alivio para aquellos que sufren problemas de salud graves y crónicos. El viaje, que incluye tanto dolor emocional como físico, es la parte difícil.

Al vivió la vida intensa y rápidamente. Así fue como se le presentó. Pero cada momento fue importante para Al, al igual que ganar la buena batalla. Literalmente cambió el mundo con su trabajo de organización y periodismo. La lista de sus grandes logros es extensa, y su impresionante legado apenas comienza a emprender su propio viaje.

Ni siquiera Al pudo burlar a la parca. Nadie puede. Pero vaya que le dio a la vida un paseo impresionante.

Al murió en sus propios términos, aún diciendo su verdad al poder y trabajando para organizar a otras personas para que hagan lo mismo, para que surja una verdad aún más grande. Su obra vivirá mucho más allá de los últimos suspiros de sus detractores.

Lo único que podemos hacer ahora es tomar parte de nuestra tristeza y canalizarla en lo que Al seguramente querría que continuáramos haciendo: vivir auténticamente y buscar un mundo mejor para todos. Definitivamente también deberíamos encontrar algo de tiempo ahora para honrar la vida de Al, de la manera que funcione para cada uno, para celebrar lo que Al nos ha dejado para construir.

Tenemos que seguir empujando hacia adelante mientras el tiempo lo permita. Al alguna vez dijo: “La autenticidad no es el camino más fácil en la vida, pero es el único camino que conduce hacia adelante”.

Al Giordano ¡Presente!

Amigos de Al
Y la junta directiva
del Fondo para el Periodismo Auténtico
Doug Wilson, Presidente
Bill Conroy, Tesorero
Wendy Foxmyn, Administradora del Fondo

How the Globe and Beacon Press helped Daniel Ellsberg publish the Pentagon Papers

Daniel Ellsberg. Photo (cc) 2020 by Christopher Michel.

There are a couple of Boston angles to the Pentagon Papers, the government’s own secret history of the Vietnam War. The documents were leaked to the press in 1971 by Daniel Ellsberg, who died Friday at the age of 92.

Most people know that the papers were published first by The New York Times and then by The Washington Post. The story of the Post’s race to catch up with the Times is depicted in “The Post,” a 2017 film starring Tom Hanks. What is less well known is that The Boston Globe was the third paper to publish the documents. Former Globe editor Matt Storin wrote about the Globe’s role in a 2008 reminiscence (free link):

It was a significant milestone in the effort of the Globe’s editor, Tom Winship, to lift a formerly modest local paper to national prominence. Before that day in 1971, the Globe had won a single Pulitzer Prize. Since then, it has won 19 more. [And seven more since then.]

It was no accident that the Globe was one of the first three papers, either. “I definitely chose the Globe … because it had been great on the war,” Ellsberg told Storin. The tale Storin relates is pretty wild. Ellsberg, who had access to the documents as an analyst with the RAND Corp., had made a copy of them. The news of the documents’ existence was broken by Globe reporter Tom Oliphant after he interviewed Ellsberg, which in turn led Ellsberg to make still more copies and start disseminating them to the press before the FBI could come calling.

The whole story, including phone-booth document drops and the decision to hide the papers in the trunk of a car parked at the Globe, is well told by Storin.

The other Boston angle is that Beacon Press, a small independent book publisher that is part of the Unitarian Universalist Association, published the Pentagon Publishers after a number of other houses passed on the opportunity because of the legal risks involved. The Beacon Blog quotes Gayatni Patnaik, Beacon’s current director:

Daniel Ellsberg’s incredible fortitude stands as an example for all who believe in fighting for democracy and government accountability and who oppose war and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. We are incredibly proud to have taken the stand we did in releasing the Pentagon Papers. Today, over 50 years later, we are still guided by the principles that led to that brave decision.

Thanks to Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub for flagging that item. And by the way, Beacon is also the publisher of “What Works in Community News,” co-authored by Ellen Clegg and me, which is scheduled to be released in early 2024.

Baron was right to stop Woodward from exposing Kavanaugh’s duplicity

Bob Woodward. Photo (cc) 2010 by Miguel Ariel Contreras Drake-McLaughlin.

There is a lot to chew over in Ben Smith’s deep dive into The Washington Post, which — like news (and non-news) organizations everywhere — is struggling with issues of diversity. But let me keep the focus narrow here, because Smith leads with a blockbuster anecdote about something that unfolded during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 2018. Smith writes in The New York Times:

Bob Woodward, the Post legend who protected the identity of his Watergate source, Deep Throat, for 30 years, was going to unmask one of his own confidential sources. He was, in particular, going to disclose that Judge Kavanaugh had been an anonymous source in his 1999 book “Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate.”

Mr. Woodward was planning to expose Mr. Kavanaugh because the judge had publicly denied — in a huffy letter in 1999 to The Post — an account about Kenneth Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton that he had himself, confidentially, provided to Mr. Woodward for his book. (Mr. Kavanaugh served as a lawyer on Mr. Starr’s team.)

What Kavanaugh allegedly did pretty much defines one of the circumstances under which a reporter might consider exposing an anonymous source: he told the truth (apparently) to Woodward and then lied about it in public. And the stakes were high, as Woodward’s story, if published, could have presented yet another obstacle to Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

But executive editor Marty Baron intervened, according to Smith: “Mr. Baron and other editors persuaded Mr. Woodward that it would be bad for The Post and ‘bad for Bob’ to disclose a source, one of the journalists told me. The piece never ran.”

Among those siding with Baron is Matt Storin, his predecessor as editor of The Boston Globe, where Baron served for nearly more than a decade before moving to the Post. “I’m not in a position to render judgment on a lot of this piece, but @PostBaron absolutely did the right thing on the Woodward issue, supporting any reporter in the future who needs an anonymous source,” Storin tweeted.

I agree with Storin — and, thus, with Baron. Unless Woodward promised Kavanaugh he’d keep his identity confidential only if he subsequently told the truth in public about their exchange, then Woodward had no business breaking their agreement. It’s a tough call, and the fact that someone of Woodward’s stature wanted to go the other way shows that good people can differ on this. But Woodward, pressured by Baron, ultimately did the right thing.

It’s not like Kavanaugh is the first source to tell a reporter one thing in confidence and then say something else publicly. It’s happened to me, and I’m sure most reporters would tell you the same thing. But that’s one of the risks you take when grant anonymity to someone.

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Overcoming digital distraction. Plus, The New York Times’ $1.1b folly, and saving community access TV.

Previously published at

Do you find it more difficult to read a book these days? Or even a long article? Do you catch yourself pausing every so often (OK, make that every few minutes) to see what’s new on Facebook, scroll through Twitter, check email, or possibly all of the above? Has concentration given way to distraction?

You’re not alone. For years, writers like Nicholas Carr (“The Shallows”) and Virginia Heffernan (“Magic and Loss”) have worried that the internet is rewiring our brains and transforming us from deep readers into jittery skimmers. In “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” Jaron Lanier writes that — well, you know.

The latest entry in what has grown into a burgeoning list of digital jeremiads is an essay that appeared in The New York Times over the weekend. The piece, by Kevin Roose, is headlined “Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain.” Over the course of nearly 2,500 words, Roose describes in anguished detail how his smartphone had left him “incapable of reading books, watching full-length movies or having long uninterrupted conversations.” Social media, he adds, had made him “angry and anxious.”

Roose’s solution: A detox program overseen by Catherine Price, the author of “How to Break Up with Your Phone.” Without going into detail (after all, you can read about it yourself), by the end of the program our hero is happier, healthier, and less addicted to his phone.

Digital dependency is a real problem, and it’s hard to know what to do about it. I know that as well as anyone. Over the years, my writing has become symbiotically enmeshed with the internet — I look things up and fact-check as I go, and I can’t imagine returning to the days of writing first, checking later, even though the result would probably be more coherent. Social media and email are ever-present impediments to the task at hand.

But it’s a lot easier to describe what we ought to do than to actually do it. I recommend mindful reading either in print or on one of the more primitive Kindles. In reality, I read the news on an iPad while admonishing myself not to tweet any of it — usually without much success. I need to be on social media for professional purposes, which makes it all the harder to stay away from energy-draining non-professional uses.

We are not doing ourselves any favors. “You know the adage that you should choose a partner on the basis of who you become when you’re around the person?” writes Lanier. “That’s a good way to choose technologies, too.”

The problem is that we didn’t choose our technologies. They chose us, backed by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, whose billions grow every time his engineers figure out a way to keep us more addicted and less able to break ourselves of the habit. We need solutions. I’ll get back to you on that. Right after I check Facebook. Again.

Looking back at a deal gone bad

More than a quarter-century after the New York Times Co. bought The Boston Globe for the unheard-of price of $1.1 billion, the transaction remains a sore point in some circles. As I’m sure you know, Red Sox principal owner John Henry bought the paper for just $70 million in 2013, which turned out to be less than the value of the real estate.

In her new book, “Merchants of Truth,” former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson is blisteringly critical of the 1993 acquisition. Describing the Times Co.’s strategy of that era, she writes: “Some recent business blunders had made the structural damage inflicted by the internet even more painful. The worst was the purchase of The Boston Globe at precisely the moment the glory days of newspaper franchises were ending.” (My “Beat the Press” colleague Emily Rooney interviewed Abramson for our most recent broadcast, and she did not shy away from asking some tough questions about errors in Abramson’s book as well as credible accusations of plagiarism.)

In a recent interview with the newspaper analyst Ken Doctor, Times Co. CEO Mark Thompson described what he and his fellow executives were up against in late 2012: “The thinking at the top of the company when I arrived was that the Times should sell The Boston Globe, and that it was going to be fantastically difficult to manage the Globe in a way where it wasn’t going to become over time a net depleter of the total business, rather than something that was going to add to the success of the company.”

So was the Times Co.’s decision to pay all that money for the Globe really such a boneheaded move? When I was interviewing people for my book “The Return of the Moguls,” I got some pretty strong pushback to that proposition from former Globe editor Matt Storin and current editor Brian McGrory.

Storin told me that the Globe turned a profit of some $90 million in one of its first years under Times Co. ownership. “Imagine today if you made a $90 million profit,” he said. “I mean, those classified ads were just a gold mine. The Times knew that, and I think that’s one of the reasons why they bought us. They didn’t foresee that that was going to disappear, obviously.”

McGrory sounded a similar theme. “For 15 to 18 years there were Brinks trucks driving down I-95 with tens of millions of dollars every year, amounting to hundreds millions over that time, taking money from Boston to New York,” he said. “They made their investment just fine.”

The reality is most likely somewhere in the middle. From 1993 until about 2005, the Globe earned plenty of money for the Times Co. But then things went seriously south, with the Globe losing $85 million by 2009, a situation so dire that the Times threatened to shut down the paper unless the unions agreed to $20 million worth of givebacks. (They did.)

For the Times Co., the real mistake wasn’t in buying the Globe — it was in keeping it for too long.

Last stand for community access TV

This past November I wrote about an industry-supported effort by the FCC to allow the cable companies to save money by cutting what they spend to support local public-access operations.

Naturally, the FCC is pushing ahead with this anti-consumer proposal. So now advocates of local do-it-yourself media are asking supporters to sign an online petition to Congress asking that lawmakers stop the new rule from taking effect.

“PEG [public, educational, and governmental] access channels provide local content in communities that are not served by the broadcast industry and are increasingly under-served by newspapers,” says the petition. “They help prevent ‘media deserts’ in towns and cities across the U.S. and ensure diversity of opinion at the local level.”

Will it matter? I suspect that elected members of Congress from both parties will prove more amenable to public pressure than FCC chair Ajit Pai, who led the campaign to kill net neutrality. But we won’t know unless we try. So let’s try.

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If you build it, will they come? A demand-side theory of what ails local journalism

Previously published at

Former Boston Globe editor Matt Storin once said there was nothing wrong with newspaper circulation that a depression and the return of the military draft couldn’t cure.

Storin was right about scary news driving circulation. The crisis (or the excitement, if you prefer) created by Donald Trump’s presidency has led to a substantial increase in the audience for journalism. Paid circulation has reached 4 million at the “failing” New York Times. The Washington Post last year reported it had signed up more than a million digital subscribers, a number that is presumably much higher today. Audience and contributions have risen at places like NPR and ProPublica.

But hold the applause. The flip side of Storin’s observation is that the improved fortunes for purveyors of high-quality journalism are fundamentally the consequence of national interest in national news. At the local level it’s a different story. Storin’s old paper, the Globe, reached 100,000 paid digital subscribers recently. That’s a significant milestone, but publisher John Henry continues to cut in order to minimize his losses. And a steady stream of Globe journalists has departed in recent months for the Times and the Post.

The situation is considerably worse elsewhere. The journalism business analyst Ken Doctor wrote at the Nieman Journalism Lab last week that the economics of local newspaperscontinues to deteriorate:

The year has already been marked by an unforeseen acceleration of decline in the core local daily newspaper business, both in advertising and in circulation. At the same time, the hushed whispers of a local news emergency have grown louder. There’s talk — both public and private — of the need to raise huge amounts of money in order to address a crisis a decade in the making.

In casting about for solutions, Doctor looks mainly at the supply side, such as initiatives from the likes of Report for America (co-founded by Charles Sennott’s GroundTruth Project, a WGBH affiliate), which is placing young journalists in underserved areas along much the same lines as Teach for America. And there’s no question that such ideas are needed, along with new forms of nonprofit and for-profit funding.

But what about the demand side? Storin’s sardonic observation as well as the success of high-profile news organizations suggest that interest in news has been nationalized in a way that is similar to other aspects of American culture. These days, voters are more likely to choose congressional candidates based on whether they support or oppose President Trump than on local issues. We shop at Amazon, eat at chain restaurants, and write columns just like this one at Starbucks rather than, say, the local library or independent coffee shop. Given the nationalization of just about everything, how many people still care about what is taking place in their neighborhood or their community?

This is not a new phenomenon. Years ago, before the internet became the primary way by which we engage with news, an academic study found that consumption of local journalism decreased among the educated elite whenever the national edition of The New York Times expanded into a new region. After all, it’s hard for the latest wrangling among city council members to compete with the outrage of the day from Washington.

Yet we live in neighborhoods and communities, not Washington, and what happens at the local level matters a great deal. Like other media observers, I have written about the need to bolster local journalism and save newspapers from the clutches of corporate chains controlled by hedge funds. But getting ordinary people to care about what’s happening in their backyard may prove to be just as much of a challenge.

“It’s not that educated people have ceased thinking it’s important to get news,” the journalist Mark Oppenheimer once told me. “It’s that now they feel that NPR fills that vision.”

So what is to be done? These days you hear a lot about encouraging media literacy. And certainly it’s important to help people understand what’s quality and what’s crap, what’s real and what’s fake. But civic literacy matters even more. After all, you can’t get people interested in news about what’s taking place at city hall and at local neighborhood councils unless they understand why they matter.

The Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam wrote in his landmark 2000 book on the decline of civic engagement, “Bowling Alone,” that people who are engaged in civic life — voting in local elections, taking part in volunteer activities, attending religious services, or engaging in any number of other activities — are also more likely to read newspapers. “Newspaper readers,” he wrote, “are machers and schmoozers.”

What we need today is to turn those machers and schmoozers back into readers of their local newspapers.

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Brian McGrory is named the Boston Globe’s new editor

Brian McGrory

Brian McGrory has been named editor of the Boston Globe, succeeding Marty Baron, who left recently to become executive editor of the Washington Post. McGrory was widely seen as a popular candidate inside the Globe newsroom, so no doubt they’re celebrating at 135 Morrissey Blvd. this afternoon.

McGrory drew praise inside and outside the Globe for his performance as metro editor several years ago. Although he returned to his slot as a metro columnist following three years on the job, that may have been the last ticket he needed punched given his previous experience as a local reporter, White House correspondent and roving national reporter.

He is also the author of several books, including, most recently, “Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man.”

McGrory is just the sixth Globe editor of the modern era, dating back to the 1960s. He follows, in chronological order, Tom Winship, Michael Janeway, Jack Driscoll, Matt Storin and Baron.

McGrory takes over the newsroom at a time when the future of the Globe is unclear. Although the Baron era was a journalistic success highlighted by six Pulitzer Prizes, the Globe, like all newspapers, is unsteady financially. The Globe’s owner, the New York Times Co., is thought to be almost certain to sell the paper at some point, though it is not believed to be actively shopping it at the moment.

Here is the press release the Globe sent out a little while ago:

Brian McGrory, a 23-year veteran of The Boston Globe who led groundbreaking coverage of corruption as an editor, and writes with depth and texture about the region as a columnist, has been named the next editor of The Boston Globe, effective immediately.

Mr. McGrory, 51, will report to Christopher M. Mayer, Globe Publisher. A Boston native, he will be charged with running the newsroom for The Boston Globe and and the newsroom’s contribution to

“Brian has distinguished himself throughout his career at the Globe as a reporter, editor and columnist and as a native of Boston, he is the ideal candidate to lead the Globe’s newsroom,” said Mr. Mayer. “Brian will continue to emphasize the accountability reporting that has been the Globe’s trademark, combined with narrative storytelling that gives readers a strong sense of our unique community.”

“This is a great honor to guide the Boston Globe news operations, since I grew up delivering the Globe, then reading the Globe, and later writing for the Globe,” said Mr. McGrory.  “It is also a great honor to work with my colleagues and build on what I believe is the best metro newspaper in America.”

Mr. McGrory joined the Globe in 1989 as one of the first reporters hired into the South Weekly section. Since then, he has covered the city of Boston as a general assignment reporter, served as White House correspondent, and as a roving national correspondent. In 1998, he became a metro columnist, and quickly made his mark as a must read. He was named associate editor in 2004.

In 2007, he was named deputy managing editor for local news. He led the metro staff in a comprehensive investigation of corruption and cronyism on Beacon Hill that eventually led to resignations and indictments.

Governor Deval Patrick and the State Legislature passed a pension reform bill after an investigation by the Globe revealed public pension abuses, coverage that brought Sean Murphy recognition as a finalist for the Goldsmith Investigative Reporting Prize by the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University. Under McGrory, the newsroom also reported extensively on a city system that bestowed benefits on favored developers.

He directed wide-ranging, sensitive coverage of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s struggle with brain cancer, his death, and his funeral.

McGrory steered the metro staff to new levels of narrative journalism, stressing the value of vivid and detailed storytelling in an era when consumers have many media choices. An 8,000-word narrative about a pair of sisters who died in an arson fire in South Boston after years of neglect won the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism and led to widespread reforms in government services for children.

After nearly three years as metro editor, he resumed his twice-a-week metro front column, where he has regularly enlightened readers about the quirks and character of the community and held public officials and business leaders accountable. He is the author of a memoir and four novels.

“During his tenure as metro editor, Brian built a strong team of reporters and editors and imbued the newsroom with a competitive spirit. Day after day, Brian and his team delivered award-winning journalism, in print and online,” Mayer added.

McGrory was raised in Roslindale and Weymouth. He received a B.A. from Bates College in Maine, and worked early in his career at the New Haven Register and The Patriot Ledger in Quincy.

Marty Baron leaves Globe for Washington Post

Marty Baron

Weeks of rumors and speculation came to an end a little while ago with the announcement that Boston Globe editor Marty Baron will replace Marcus Brauchli as executive editor of the Washington Post. The Huffington Post has memos from Baron, Brauchli and Post publisher Katharine Weymouth.

This is a very smart move for the Post and for Baron, who’ll have the opportunity to rebuild a faded brand. Not that long ago, the New York Times and the Post were invariably mentioned in the same breath. There’s still a lot of great journalism in the Post, but the paper these days lags well behind the Times.

Brauchli, a former editor of the Wall Street Journal, got off to a rocky start at the Post. In 2009 he and then-new publisher Weymouth got embroiled in very bad idea: to put together paid “salons” featuring Post journalists, corporate executives and White House officials. As I wrote in the Guardian, there was evidence that Brauchli knew more about the salons than he was letting on.

I take Weymouth’s decision to replace Brauchli with Baron — and Baron’s decision to accept the offer — as a sign that she’s grown in the job and was able to assure Baron of it.

Baron arrived at the Globe in July 2001 to replace the retiring Matt Storin. (Here’s what I wrote about the transition for the Boston Phoenix.) Baron was executive editor of the Miami Herald before coming to the Globe, but he also had extensive experience at the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. Many observers believed his stint in Boston would be relatively short, and indeed he was considered for a top job at the Times less than two years later.

Instead, Baron ended up staying in Boston for more than 11 years, winning six Pulitzers, including the public service award in 2003 for the Globe’s coverage of the Catholic pedophile-priest scandal. He has been a solid, steady presence — a journalist with high standards who made his mark at a time when the newspaper business, including the Globe, was steadily shrinking. He also gets digital.

Last February, at an event honoring him as the recipient of the Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award, Baron told journalists they should stand up against the fear and intimidation to which they have been subjected. You’ll find the full text of his speech here, but here’s an excerpt:

In this environment, too many news organizations are holding back, out of fear — fear that we will be saddled with an uncomfortable political label, fear that we will be accused of bias, fear that we will be portrayed as negative, fear that we will lose customers, fear that advertisers will run from us, fear that we will be assailed as anti-this or anti-that, fear that we will offend someone, anyone. Fear, in short, that our weakened financial condition will be made weaker because we did something strong and right, because we simply told the truth and told it straight.

What’s good news for the Post is less than good news for the Globe. A new editor after 11 years of Baron would not necessarily be a bad thing, as every institution can benefit from change. But at this point it’s unclear who the candidates might be, and whether the next editor will come from inside or outside the Globe. And whoever gets picked will have a tough act to follow.

Baron will be a successor to the legendary Ben Bradlee and all that represents — the Pentagon Papers, Watergate and a boatload of Pulitzers. I think he was an inspired choice, and I wish him the best.

More: Peter Kadzis of The Phoenix has a must-read blog post on Baron’s departure. Great quote from an unnamed source: “On an existential level, I wonder if Marty gives a shit. He’s like a character out of Camus.”

The Boston Globe may be on the block — again

[View the story “Janet Robinson and the Boston Globe” on Storify]

Jill Abramson named to lead the New York Times

Jill Abramson

I have no particular insight into the announcement that New York Times executive editor Bill Keller has decided to step aside. But it’s big news in the media world, and it will be worth keeping an eye out to see whether there’s a story behind the story. Jim Romenesko is gathering links. It is, of course, significant that the Times’ next top editor, Jill Abramson, will be the first woman to run what is arguably our leading news organization.

Keller will write a column for the Sunday opinion section, which is being redesigned. His column for the Sunday magazine hasn’t exactly been well-received, so it’s hard to believe Keller is what we Frank Rich fans have been waiting for. But Keller is obviously a fine journalist, and he may rise to the occasion when he’s not dashing something off in addition to his other duties.

The last time the executive editor’s job changed hands was in 2003, when Howell Raines and his deputy, Gerald Boyd, stepped down following the Jayson Blair scandal. At that time Boston Globe editor Marty Baron, whose résumé included a stint as a Times editor, was considered for a top job at the Mother Ship. (Little-known fact: Keller turned down the chance to replace the retiring Matt Storin as the Globe’s editor in 2001, recommending Baron instead.)

That seems unlikely to happen this time, as Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet has already been announced as Abramson’s managing editor for news. Baquet is a former editor of the Los Angeles Times, where Baron also spent a good part of his career.

New York Times photo.

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