Scott Van Voorhis offers some important context about Andrea Estes’ departure from The Boston Globe. In his Contrarian Boston newsletter, Van Voorhis calls her work “compelling and consequential,” and observes that her reporting uncovered a kickback scheme that resulted in a federal prison term for former House Speaker Sal DiMasi and exposed the $300,000-plus salary of Methuen’s now-former police chief.
The current controversy involves two lengthy corrections the Globe published after an Estes-bylined story reported that nine top MBTA managers were working remotely. According to the corrections, the actual number was six, and there were other problems as well. Van Voorhis writes that “to pin the alleged mistakes in the story solely on Estes seems grossly unfair. Where was her editor? And with the prominent play the Globe gave to the story, there surely were other editors involved in at least reviewing the piece.”
Globe editor Nancy Barnes has told her staff that she’s “working to unravel all of this,” adding: “We will hold ourselves accountable for our mistakes because trust is so essential to us as journalists.”
Boston Globe editor Nancy Barnes has told her staff that the paper plans to offer an explanation about what went wrong with former reporter Andrea Estes’ story about MBTA managers who work remotely. Her email was passed along to me by a trusted source and closes with this:
Finally, I want to acknowledge the concerns individuals have raised about the multiple corrections in the recent MBTA story about executives living remotely. I am still working to unravel all of this and so there is not a lot I can say publicly for now except this: We will hold ourselves accountable for our mistakes because trust is so essential to us as journalists
This is good news and sends exactly the right message. Barnes took over for Brian McGrory just a few months ago, and this is her first public crisis. I look forward to reading the Globe’s account of what happened.
Update: Globe spokeswoman Heidi Flood confirmed this morning that Andrea Estes “no longer works at the Globe.” I have edited the headline to reflect that.
Update 2: Globe editor Nancy Barnes has told her staff that she’s working to unravel what went wrong.
Boston Globe reporter Andrea Estes, an investigative journalist whose recent error-riddled story about absentee managers at the MBTA led to a lengthy correction, has disappeared from the Globe’s online staff directory. You can still find her official Globe listing, though. She’s described as a “former reporter,” and her bio begins: “Estes was an investigative reporter specializing in government accountability.”
On Wednesday evening I sent an email to Globe spokeswoman Heidi Flood asking, “Has Andrea Estes left the Globe?” Flood’s response: “Thanks for reaching out. The company does not comment on personnel matters.” I also emailed Globe editor Nancy Barnes, who did not respond. I tried emailing Estes at her Globe address earlier this morning, and it bounced back.
It seems pretty clear that Estes is gone. And though no reason has been given, her most recent story, which led the Sunday paper on April 23, has proved to be an embarrassment for the Globe. The idea that some of the T’s leading executives were working virtually from distant places while bus drivers, subway operators and maintenance workers were putting themselves on the line every day was enraging. Here’s the heart of her story, which comes from a PDF of the print edition:
The MBTA is facing an unprecedented crisis of confidence in its service, punctuated by slow trains, endless delays, and gruesome accidents. Yet, many top T managers live far from the troubled system they’re trying to rescue and some are rarely seen in person by their employees. A Globe review has found that nine senior managers (including one who has left the agency) have a primary residence more than 100 miles from the nearest T station — and some much farther.
The story was later revised to cut that number from nine to six, and was appended with a lengthy correction:
Earlier versions of this story incorrectly reported that three MBTA managers live primarily in homes far from the T’s service area. Dennis Lytton, the deputy safety chief, has an apartment in Brighton and says he has not worked remotely since starting the job in February. Michele Stiehler, the T’s chief of paratransit, lives in Boston and walks to work. Jennifer Tabakin, who oversees the T’s South Coast Rail project, also has a home in Boston within walking distance of T headquarters. In addition, the story incorrectly reported that Ronald Ester’s “primary residence” is in Chicago; Ester said he considers his home in Massachusetts as his primary residence.
Estes’ story led to an editorial that has now also been appended with a correction. That correction includes a wrinkle that doesn’t appear in the one attached to Estes’ article: “The original editorial also incorrectly stated where Dennis Lytton, an MBTA safety official, was when reached by reporters. He was in Boston.” Estes’ original story said, “When contacted by the Globe recently, Lytton, who makes $175,000 a year, said he was home in Los Angeles at the time.” That sentence was deleted from the revised version.
Reporters make mistakes. We’ve all had corrections appended to our work. But to level such a serious accusation against three MBTA managers by name and then have to retract it is unusual.
As for Flood’s comment that the Globe doesn’t comment on personnel matters, I would note that there have been a number of prominent situations in the past when people have been fired, pushed into leaving or suspended, and the paper has gone into considerable detail in telling its audience what happened. We all know who they are, and I’m not going to drag their names into this.
I wrote last week that the Globe should have an ombudsman — an in-house reader advocate paid to look into fiascoes like this and write about them. At one time, many news outlets, including the Globe, had such a person on their staffs, but that’s pretty rare these days.
Even in the absence of an ombudsman, though, the Globe still owes us an explanation of what went wrong, and it should be published in a prominent spot.
And there it is. Nancy Barnes, The Boston Globe’s first female editor, makes her masthead debut. Barnes succeeds Brian McGrory, who after a 10-year run is off to Boston University, where he’ll chair the journalism department.
It was a little more than nine years ago that John and Linda Henry completed their purchase of The Boston Globe from the New York Times Co. But it wasn’t until today that they hired their first top news editor.
Late this afternoon the Globe announced that Nancy Barnes, currently the chief news executive at NPR, would replace longtime editor Brian McGrory on Feb. 1. McGrory said in September that he would retire at the end of the year in order to become chair of the journalism department at Boston University.
Barnes, 61, has local ties, having grown up in the Boston area and worked as an intern at the Globe and as a reporter at The Sun of Lowell earlier in her career. Before coming to NPR as senior vice president for news and editorial director in 2018, she had held the top editing jobs at the Houston Chronicle and the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.
Barnes’ tenure at NPR was not entirely a happy one. In September, after a new executive position was created above her, she said she would leave by the end of the year, saying, “Now is the right time for me to pursue some other opportunities.” NPR media reporter David Folkenflik wrote that Barnes could seem “aloof” at times, although he noted that she had come in under stressful circumstances: her predecessor, Michael Oreskes, had departed amid multiple accusations of sexual harassment. Folkenflik described her legacy in glowing terms:
Barnes helped NPR News achieve substantive accomplishments in a period buffeted by external crises that the network had to both endure and cover. She accelerated NPR’s investigative and enterprise reporting efforts; helped map out reporting on the pandemic and the war in Ukraine; and broadened the network’s coverage of issues of race, identity and social justice.
In addition, she oversaw a more aggressive stance in reporting on the growing threat to democracy from supporters of former President Donald Trump. Barnes also established a more muscular presence for the network in covering climate change. The newsroom continued to garner major accolades, winning its first Pulitzer, in collaboration with two member stations, and becoming a Pulitzer finalist several times.
Like Marty Baron, who preceded McGrory as the Globe’s editor, Barnes is an outsider. Throughout the Globe’s history, though, most of the paper’s editors, including McGrory, have been insiders. And here’s a qualification that Linda Henry cited in her memo to the staff, which appears below: Barnes has served as the top news executive at an organization other than a newspaper. As the Globe moves more into podcasts and other forms of media, Barnes will be in a good position to help lead the way.
McGrory — who did as much as anyone to recruit the Henrys as buyers for the Globe, as I described in my 2018 book “The Return of the Moguls” — leaves quite a legacy of his own. On McGrory’s watch, the Globe has thrived journalistically and has emerged as among a handful of large regional newspapers that have achieved financial sustainability. He was a popular metro columnist before becoming the editor, and he will write a column for the opinion section once he leaves the paper.
This is the second major hire at the Globe this year. In May, James Dao was recruited from The New York Times to edit the paper’s opinion section. Barnes and Dao will both report directly to Linda Henry, the chief executive of Boston Globe Media, and John Henry, the publisher of the Globe. Linda Henry’s full memo to the troops was fowarded to me a few hours ago by several trusted sources. Here it is in full with the exception of the search committee members, since those names would be meaningful only to Globe insiders:
A few months ago, I shared that we began a search for the next leader of the Globe’s newsroom as Brian McGrory begins his next chapter at BU and resumes a familiar, but new(ish) role as columnist for the Globe on the Opinion side. In the time since, we have met with a field of incredibly talented leaders — both inside and outside our organization — and I am thrilled to share with you today that Nancy Barnes will become the 13th editor of The Boston Globe.
Nancy, as many of you know, is an accomplished journalist and transformational leader who has held the top job at some of the largest newsrooms in the country. She currently serves as NPR’s senior vice president for news and editorial director, leading a team of more than 500 journalists and newsroom executives, with oversight of NPR’s journalism around the world and across platforms. She’s also deeply engaged in the industry, serving on the prestigious Pulitzer Prize Board, the Peabody Awards, and as a past president of the News Leaders Association.
This is somewhat of a homecoming for Nancy, who was born in Cambridge and grew up in Wilmington before moving to Virginia. She holds something in common with many of the country’s top journalists, having started her lifelong career in journalism as an intern at The Boston Globe. After college, she returned to the area to work at the Lowell Sun, and then spent a decade at the News & Observer [of Raleigh, North Carolina]. She earned an MBA before joining the Minneapolis Star Tribune as executive editor, where she modernized their digital journalism and led the newsroom to win multiple national awards, including a Pulitzer Prize in local reporting. When Nancy moved to Texas to take on the role of SVP and Executive Editor for Hearst Texas newspapers, The Houston Chronicle won its first Pulitzer Prize and was named a Pulitzer Finalist three other times during her tenure.
I’ve been delighted and inspired by my conversations with Nancy. She has shared that her priorities in this role are to tap into the tremendous innovation that our company has embraced over the last several years and to ensure that our mentorship and development for journalists at all levels of their careers remains vibrant and transformative. Nancy knows the importance of serving an engaged local audience and has a proven track record of elevating metro news outlets to their highest potential.
On top of her proven track record with metros, I was particularly inspired by all that she has learned in her time away from newspapers over the past few years, immersed in an innovative, digital-forward, and global environment at NPR. She is thrilled to return to Boston with our regional expertise, and I know that her time at NPR has given her best practices, insights, and strategies that will inform her next chapter at the Globe. I am excited for her to guide our continued digital evolution, working with the incredible team of journalists here to better serve our growing reader base.
I once again would like to share my gratitude to Brian McGrory for his bold leadership as editor over the past ten years. Under Brian’s leadership, the Globe has continuously produced ambitious journalism, inspiring the talented journalists here to be searingly relevant and relentlessly interesting. He expanded coverage, led a newsroom reinvention which engaged the entire staff, and has helped the Globe adapt during one of the most challenging times in the newspaper industry. Our work has been recognized locally and nationally with many awards, including multiple Pulitzer Prizes and most recently, the award of General Excellence in Online Journalism by the Online News Association. Today, the Globe is arguably the most successful regional news organization in the country.
Inclusive of Stat News, Boston Globe Media now has the highest number of total subscribers that this institution has had since 2008, and we continue to lead in subscription numbers among our industry peers. We are extremely proud of all the ways that this growth has fueled continuous investment in our journalism, and we look forward to building on that momentum with Nancy’s extensive industry perspective and deep journalistic experience.
Please join us tomorrow, November 15th at 2pm in the newsroom, where Brian and I will be welcoming Nancy in person and she will introduce herself in the news hub. We will send an audio link for those who are not able to join us in person. She will officially join our team on February 1, 2023 and we will plan a time for her to meet many more of you in the new year.
A special thank you to the internal team that helped with this comprehensive and inspiring search process….