What’s next for The Boston Globe and the burgeoning #MeToo sexual-harassment story now dominating virtually every facet of society? The Globe is the only local news organization with the size and the clout to hold institutions accountable — and it has been doing so, with tough stories on the Statehouse, the restaurant business and, just last week, an ugly situation at Fenway Community Health Center. But recent missteps in applying the same standard to itself have made its watchdog role more difficult to carry out.
Editor Brian McGrory sought to rectify that with a message to readers that was posted Thursday evening and that appeared on page one of the Friday print edition. He didn’t answer every question or clear up every inconsistency about the full range of former political reporter Jim O’Sullivan’s misbehavior — especially his reported harassment of women on Beacon Hill. But McGrory acknowledged that the Globe should have identified O’Sullivan in its original story, and he said a few things that needed to be said:
While our discussions on the O’Sullivan matter were mostly focused on proof, fairness, and spectrums of misconduct, there’s now a fairly obvious realization that I didn’t focus enough on another very important factor: the Globe’s institutional credibility….
This has been an important time in our country, but by no means an easy time for many organizations. I unintentionally made it more difficult for the Globe. Please know that we’ve learned vital lessons about holding ourselves to a higher standard, lessons that I pledge will be vigorously applied to our coverage of these and many other issues going forward.
Shortly after McGrory’s message was posted, O’Sullivan tweeted an apology.
Looking ahead, here are three additional steps I’d like to see the Globe take.
1. Do more reporting on incidents involving Globe journalists. The Globe’s Dec. 8 story by Mark Arsenault needs to be revisited. As many observers, including me, have argued from the beginning, it was simply untenable to report on what has happened at the Globe without using any names. McGrory has now acknowledged that. But before the paper can move on, its readers deserve a fuller accounting of what O’Sullivan did, what his editors were aware of in real time, and what accusations have been made about other employees, some of whom are alluded to in Arsenault’s story. And if there is a genuinely defensible reason not to name names, the Globe needs to provide enough details so that we will all understand why, whether we agree or not.
2. Do more reporting on the newsroom culture. Arsenault’s story offered some information about managing director Linda Pizzuti Henry’s efforts to reform the culture in the advertising department. What about the newsroom? Again, this is a matter of accountability rather than singling out the Globe. Officials at every institution right now should be thinking about whether they have encouraged or tolerated sexual harassment and how that can be stopped. What is the Globe doing to respond to the opportunity presented by #MeToo to fix what was broken? Arsenault’s story included a few details, but more would be better.
3. Keep promoting women to positions of responsibility. As recently as seven months ago, the Globe had two women in top-ranking newsroom management positions. But last summer, Katie Kingsbury, the managing editor for digital, left to take a post at The New York Times. And last week, Christine Chinlund, the managing editor for news, retired. Linda Henry is a highly visible presence; Ellen Clegg, the editorial-page editor, is McGrory’s hierarchical equal on the masthead; and women run the news (Jennifer Peter) and arts (Janice Page) operations. But according to Arsensault’s story, only about 37 percent of the Globe’s full-time news and opinion employees are women. I don’t know whether the ever-shrinking Globe will have two managing editors again, but surely it needs one. McGrory should hire a high-profile woman whose portfolio specifically includes encouraging the career paths of female journalists.