Thanks to my old Boston Phoenix pal Sue O’Connell for having me on her NECN show, “The Take,” on Wednesday to talk about “The Return of the Moguls.” You can watch our conversation by clicking here or on the image above.
Public radio station WBUR (90.9 FM) has chosen veteran television journalist Charles Kravetz as its new general manager, replacing Paul La Camera, who recently announced his retirement. La Camera will be sticking around for two years in the newly created position of administrator of public radio.
In turning to Charlie Kravetz, 58, the station has embraced yet another old Channel 5 hand. La Camera had retired as president and general manager of WCVB-TV (Channel 5) several years before coming to WBUR. Kravetz also worked at WCVB, helping to create the newsmagazine “Chronicle,” before embarking on a long stint at New England Cable News, which he helped launch and from which he was ousted as president and general manager when Comcast took it over in 2009.
Kravetz has been deeply involved in efforts to create a shield law that would offer some protection to people doing journalism — including independent bloggers who meet certain criteria — from having to disclose their confidential sources.
Kravetz, like La Camera, is a smart guy and a class act, and ‘BUR is lucky to be getting him. The station’s license is held by Boston University, and Rich Barlow has much more at BU Today.
Old friend Mark Leccese has an interesting blog post at Boston.com about the first televised gubernatorial debate, hosted Tuesday evening by another old friend, WBZ-TV (Channel 4) political analyst Jon Keller.
Leccese — God bless him — took in all of the local television coverage to determine how much attention the debate got. And he concludes that the debate was all but ignored, with the exception of NECN and, of course, WBZ.
The city’s two dailies, Leccese adds, gave it plenty of coverage.
Leccese wonders whether the lack of coverage was due to television executives’ wanting “to play down the story of the debate because it was on a rival station” — or if, instead, “local TV newscasts don’t find debates among the four people from whom the voters will choose the most powerful person in state government particularly newsworthy.”
My suspicion is that it’s a little bit of both.
I caught about two-thirds of it in my car, and then watched the last 20 minutes. With the exception of a weird question about President Obama’s aunt, dropped in toward the end, I thought Keller turned in his usual fine job. He got out of the way and let Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charlie Baker really mix it up, while still giving Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein and independent Tim Cahill a chance to make their case.
The debate was a ratings hit, too, writes the Herald’s Jessica Heslam — it came in third during the 7 p.m. time slot, not far behind the Red Sox and “Chronicle.”
Who won? I thought Patrick came off as by far the most personable of the four, and Baker scored some points on substance. As Michael Levenson reported in the Globe on Thursday, Patrick was wrong in claiming that Harvard Pilgrim Health Care was bailed out with “state aid” when Baker was its chief executive, an overreach that could come back to haunt the governor.
Perhaps the key was that Cahill, the state treasurer, proved to be a more effective debater than the substantive but sound-bite-challenged Stein. Since the conventional wisdom is that Cahill takes away votes from Baker and Stein from Patrick, perhaps Patrick (who really overdid it in sucking up to Cahill) was the winner by default.
Photo from wbztv.com.
I’ll be on “This Week in Business” on NECN this Sunday at 12:30 p.m. to talk about some recent trends in media and advertising. Among the topics: Patch.com, the AOL-owned network of hyperlocal sites that has attracted quite a bit of buzz lately. (The latest to weigh in is Chris Faraone of the Boston Phoenix.)
The other guest (no doubt he thinks of me as the other guest) is Steve Safran, editor of the blog Lost Remote, which covers trends in local news. The hosts are NECN anchor Mike Nikitas and Paul Guzzi, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
Can’t get enough water? New England Cable News started its all-flooding-all-the-time coverage at 3 p.m., and will continue until 11 p.m. It’s also streaming live online. When looking out your window just isn’t enough.
I watched President Obama’s speech at Northeastern University online Sunday, so I didn’t realize until later that New England Cable News hadn’t carried it. I e-mailed NECN spokesman Skip Perham, and here is his response:
Over the life of the Obama administration we have consistently carried his policy speeches live.
We made the decision not to cover Martha Coakley’s rally featuring President Obama because it was a pure political event. We made the same decision about candidate Scott Brown’s event in Worcester.
If you take a look at NECN’s Sunday-afternoon schedule, you’ll see that it says “Paid Programming.”
Now, there’s an old cliché that elections have consequences. One of those consequences is that a speech by the president of the United States in your own back yard is by definition more newsworthy than a speech by Curt Schilling.
Was Obama’s speech purely political? Yes. But if NECN wants to amend its guidelines so that it will be able to carry all live speeches by the president within 10 miles of its headquarters, I don’t think station executives will have to inconvenience themselves more than once or twice a decade.
Newspapers executives have the right to charge whatever they want for their products, be it the print edition, Web-site access or speciality channels such as Kindle and mobile editions. The public, in turn, has the right to decide whether to buy or seek its news elsewhere.
What news organizations do not have a right to do is raise the price of what they produce by creating artificial scarcity through an illegal cartel.
Thus it was that Los Angeles Times media columnist Timothy Rutten’s latest commentary became the talk of the Twitterverse over the weekend. Jay Rosen, Dan Gillmor, Vin Crosbie and I were among those kicking Rutten’s column around.
Rutten, in calling for an exemption from federal law so that newspaper companies can collude on a plan to charge for online access, made some important points about government’s role in fostering a free and independent press. In particular, he singled out the favorable postal rates going back to the earliest days of the republic as a key factor in the rise of a vigorous Fourth Estate. (Paul Starr, in his 2006 book “The Creation of the Media,” traces those postal policies to Colonial times, and identifies them as an important reason that newspapers and magazines became a mass medium in the United States in a way that they never did in Europe.)
But Rutten undermines his argument with unwarranted arrogance, including flashes of anger, at what has happened to his business. Here is a particularly choice passage:
[I]f Congress acts as it should, it will do so not on behalf of newspapers but for their readers. The press, after all, does not assert 1st Amendment protections on its own behalf but as the custodian of such protections on behalf of the American people.
Stating that the press is the “custodian” of the First Amendment is breathtaking not only for its insular cluelessness, but also because it goes against basic constitutional principles. Rutten should re-read the Supreme Court’s landmark Branzburg v. Hayes decision of 1972, in which Justice Byron White explained in ringing language why it would be wrong to grant journalists a constitutional privilege to protect their anonymous sources:
[L]iberty of the press is the right of the lonely pamphleteer who uses carbon paper or a mimeograph just as much as of the large metropolitan publisher who utilizes the latest photocomposition methods.
I don’t think White got it entirely right — surely certain types of journalism could be protected, as opposed to a professional class of journalists. But he’s inspiring in his assertion that the First Amendment belongs to all of us, and that we the people, not the press alone, are its custodians. Today, of course, the pamphleteers are armed with computers; they are legion, and they are not lonely.
Like Rutten, I want to see the newspaper business find a way out of the mess it’s in. Outside of newspaper Web sites, sources of news that consumers do not have to pay for — principally television and radio stations and their Web sites — do a fine job with the basics of local coverage.
But let’s take the Boston Globe as an example of two entirely different dilemmas. Yesterday’s edition included two stories that required a considerable amount of journalistic enterprise — a deep analysis of Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s development record and an investigative feature into the death of 7-year-old Nathaniel Turner, whose father has been charged with his murder. Those are the types of stories that are too expensive to do in the world of fast, cheap Web journalism.
On the other hand, have you seen the new WBUR.org? Combining news from its local staff with reports from NPR, the station’s Web site has the makings of a high-quality online newspaper. If the Globe started charging for access to Boston.com, maybe the Boston Herald would follow suit. But WBUR (90.9 FM), as a public station with hundreds of thousands of listeners, is going to keep its Web access free — as will New England Cable News and the city’s broadcast television and radio stations. Given that there is a considerable amount of overlap in the Globe’s and WBUR’s audiences (affluent, well-educated, liberal), the Globe would charge for Web access at its peril.
Absolutely no one knows the way forward for the troubled newspaper business. My own hope is that, once the recession ends, newspapers can thrive through a combination of smaller-circulation but more-expensive print editions, subscription fees for non-Web speciality products for the Kindle, cell phones and the like, and a more imaginative approach to Web advertising.
What makes no sense whatsover is the Rutten plan: a backroom deal to charge for something that readers have made clear they are not willing to pay for.
Comcast has finally completed its long-in-the-making takeover of New England Cable News — and the first thing it’s done is part ways with president and general manager Charlie Kravetz. According to the Boston Herald’s Jessica Heslam, Kravetz will be replaced by Bill Bridgen, executive vice president and general manager of Comcast SportsNet New England.
I know nothing about Bridgen. I do know Kravetz, and he’s a first-rate newsman with a lifetime of experience. I don’t see how this can be good news, although it’s certainly possible that it was voluntary.
New England Cable News reporter Greg Wayland interviewed me earlier today about the imminent return of Jay Severin.
Jim Braude and I discussed the crisis at the Boston Globe on “BroadSide” last night.