Yes, it’s true: Brian McGrory is leaving the Globe and heading to Boston University

Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory has finally made official what half the city has known for months: he’s leaving the Globe at the end of 2022 after nearly 10 years in charge in order to chair the journalism department at Boston University. He sent a memo to the staff a little while ago.

McGrory, who’d been a popular metro columnist before ascending to the top of the masthead, was named editor in the waning days of New York Times Co. ownership after Marty Baron left for The Washington Post. But McGrory helped pave the way for John Henry to buy the Globe in 2013, a process I described in my 2018 book, “The Return of the Moguls.” 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.

Obviously there’s much more to be said, and much more will be said. I’ll just point out that he’s now a rival. The director of our School of Journalism at Northeastern is Jonathan Kaufman, a former Globe journalist. Moreover, McGrory and Kaufman both led news organizations that won Pulitzer Prizes — Bloomberg News in Kaufman’s case.

Here’s the Globe’s story on McGrory’s departure.

Congratulations to Brian. BU’s gain will be the Globe’s loss. The complete text of McGrory’s message, obtained from a trusted source, appear below.

Hey all,

I’ve written a lot of overly long memos to the room. I can’t promise this one will be any shorter, but I’ll do my best to be direct. I’m planning to step away from my role as editor by the end of this year.

When I took this job nearly a decade ago, I expected epic challenges and hoped for meaningful rewards. In retrospect, I had no idea on either front. Begin with the stories, so many once-in-a-generation stories, from the Boston Marathon bombings, to the Trump election, to a pandemic that changed everything, to the vital racial and social justice movement, to Trump’s failed reelection and its ugly aftermath, to this angst-ridden, not-quite-post-Covid netherworld that we’re in now. There were thousands of other stories in between, big consequential projects, deeply human narratives, breaking news, vital accountability work. You did it all with tenacity, urgency, and grace, and I’m honored to have been a part of that.

At the same time, the moment required us to confront the profoundly broken business model in American journalism, which calls to mind what a journalism elder said to me a number of years ago: You get to pick your career, but not when you do it. The industry was, as you know, a wreck. Big, proud newspapers were getting hollowed out. Answers were elusive. There were serious questions about our very viability. Facing all of that, what you’ve accomplished is nothing short of miraculous. You’ve embraced digital. You’ve shifted our mindset from being the paper of record to the paper of interest. You’ve found that sweet spot between what readers want and what our community needs. In doing so, you’ve built one of the most successful news sites in the world, http://bostonglobe.com, the foundation upon which this organization will grow for years. I hope you know how rare and important this is. And I’m honored to be part of that, too.

These kinds of notes inevitably turn formulaic and sappy, rarely a good combination, and I’m afraid I’m about to succumb to that form. There is so much that is great about this job, but there is a singularly meaningful reward that I wasn’t fully anticipating: my relationships with so many of you. From this seat, I had the privilege of thousands upon thousands of conversations. I saw your daily determination. I saw your commitment to the craft. I saw how you navigated the relentless demands of work in the most difficult times. I saw the toll it took, the resilience you had, the pride you felt. I saw how you care about your colleagues and the readers we serve.

I saw on a moment-by-moment basis how much the Globe means to you. What I also saw is how much you mean to the Globe. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re not always easy. You are, though, always worth it. This is the best newsroom in the country, and there’s no proper way to thank you for that.

Naming names is never a good thing, but I need to specifically thank Jen Peter and Jason Tuohey, the two best managing editors in America. You could throw at Jen a global pandemic that decimates every touchstone of everyday life, which we did, and she would hesitate only imperceptibly before continuing to bring order to the daily chaos that is journalism. She’s done it brilliantly. And put Jason among the most important digital thinkers in this industry today, the driving force behind so much of our growth.

Thanks, emphatically, to the Henrys, John and Linda. It’s just about incomprehensible that people with their options and resources would have the desire and commitment to plunge into the gritty and often thankless world of newspapers at a time when so many big thinkers were saying that the industry couldn’t be saved. They did, for all the right reasons, and the results have been profound – a thriving, innovative Globe with more subscribers than we’ve had in nearly 15 years and a role in this community that is as central as it’s ever been. Linda, especially, is at it every day – believe me, I know – often dismantling industry convention in pursuit of the next creative idea. She’s also built what is certainly the strongest leadership team the Globe has ever had, leaving no doubt that the next editor will be someone to celebrate.

In terms of what’s next for me, I’ve got two roles ahead. First, I’m heading to Boston University, where I’ve been offered the chair of the journalism department, an extraordinary opportunity to have an impact on the profession at a gold-standard institution. Hopefully that finally puts an end to the rumors. Second, I’ll write a regular column for the Globe, likely from the opinion section, ideally not too different from what I used to do in prior chapters of my professional life. I’m beyond excited about regaining a voice, and elated to remain a part of this place.

Our plan is for me to remain in this role until the end of the year or until a new editor starts, whichever comes first. Linda will be in touch very soon about the search.

Being the editor of the Globe would be the greatest honor of anyone’s professional life, and it certainly has been mine. For me, though, there’s something more. I was born here, raised here, watched my father read the Globe page-by-page every night, delivered the paper as a kid on a fifty-house route in Weymouth. All I ever wanted to be was a writer for the Globe. Being the editor was a dream I never dared to have.

Thank you for it all.

Correction. I really can subtract. Honestly, I know that 2022 minus 2012 is 10. Now fixed.

 

Student debt relief was a good first step. Now we need systemic reform.

Tuition was surprisingly affordable during the Middle Ages

Much of the whining you hear about President Biden’s decision to cancel some student loan debt is coming from people who have no idea what has happened to the cost of a college education.

When I was attending Northeastern University in the 1970s (like many back then, I was the first in my family to graduate from college), the cost was trivial. Not only that, but editors at the student paper, The Northeastern News, received generous tuition stipends. Today, the paper, now known as The Huntington News, is independent, and the students get nothing for their hard work.

Not only did I graduate without debt, but I was also able to get my master’s in American history at Boston University by attending night school, paid for in full out of my crappy newspaper salary. It turned out to be the best investment I ever made: Years later, when I sought to return to Northeastern as a faculty member, the first question I was asked was if I had a master’s.

So I certainly don’t begrudge the relief more recent graduates are getting as a result of Biden’s action. If anything, many people will still find themselves deep in debt, though somewhat less than they are now. I do, however, think debt relief raises two questions that need to be answered.

• What about the role of colleges and universities, whose costs have risen far in excess of inflation during the past generation? Federal loan guarantees were part of that, as it gave them an incentive to compete on amenities rather than price. Shouldn’t we play some part in solving the problem? At the very least, maybe  institutions that fail to hold annual increases within a certain range should become ineligible for federal loans.

• What about future graduates? Their debt burden is going to be just as heavy, if not heavier. Are we setting ourselves up for round after round of debt forgiveness? Or might it be possible to construct a more equitable, sustainable system that doesn’t revolve around ever-rising costs, massive loans and calls for debt cancellation?

Those of us who work in higher education are well aware of the sacrifices our students and their families are making, and we often talk about what will happen after the bubble inevitably bursts. There are already some early signs, with young people seeing less value in college than was the case a few years ago. We need to change the way we do business.

Andrea Campbell, in visit to West Medford, says she’ll push for open government

Andrea Campbell. Photo (cc) 2022 by Dan Kennedy.

Andrea Campbell said Tuesday that she would work to strengthen the state’s notoriously weak open-meeting and public-records laws if she is elected attorney general this November.

“I’m on the record in supporting legislation that would expand it to include other bodies of government,” she told about two dozen supporters at a meet-and-greet in West Medford. “In order for folks to be meaningful participants in their government, to be civically engaged where it matters, you have to know what’s going on.”

Campbell, a former Boston City Council president and an unsuccessful candidate for mayor in 2021, is one of three Democrats seeking to succeed the incumbent, Maura Healey, who’s running for governor. The other Democrats are Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor attorney, and Quentin Palfrey, a former Obama administration official. The winner of the Sept. 6 primary will face Republican lawyer Jay McMahon in November.

Liss-Riordan and Palfrey also support reforming the open-meeting and public-records laws, according to their campaign websites.

Readers of Media Nation know that I’m not out there covering the state election campaigns. But the Campbell event was hosted by our neighbors Gary Klein and Betsy Schreuer, who live less than a minute’s walk from our house, so it seemed like a good opportunity to meet one of the candidates. Besides, we no longer have a news outlet in Medford.

Despite the state’s progressive reputation, Massachusetts ranks near the bottom nationally when it comes to government transparency. Back in 2020, Northeastern journalism students asked every candidate for the state Legislature whether they would support extending the open-records law to the Legislature, which is currently exempt — as is the governor’s office. Although most of those who responded said they favored reform, only 71 of the 257 candidates provided answers despite our students’ repeated attempts. Their findings were published in The Scope, a School of Journalism vertical that covers social-justice issues.

Although it’s not the attorney general’s role to propose legislation, that official can nevertheless serve as a visible leader for open government. The AG also has a crucial role in enforcing the laws, which cover the executive branch of state government as well as local and county offices. Campbell said Healey (who has endorsed her) has done “a decent job” of enforcing the current laws, but added she would emphasize greater enforcement. Campbell cited a lawsuit filed by the ACLU after the Plymouth County district attorney’s office demanded $1.2 million in fees to produce public records, as reported by Wheeler Cowperthwaite in The Patriot Ledger. “How does an AG, working with the secretary of state and others, work in partnership so that doesn’t happen?” she asked.

According to a recent poll by the MassINC Polling Group, the Democratic attorney general’s race is wide open. Campbell led with 24%, followed by Liss-Riordan at 16% and Palfrey at 4%. But 50% were undecided or refused to answer. Without naming her, Campbell and several others made several references Tuesday evening to the vast sums of personal money Liss-Riordan is dumping into her campaign — a total that could reach $12 million, according to Lisa Kashinsky of Politico.

Campbell was introduced by Klein, a lawyer and consultant who at one time worked for Attorney General Healey, and by former Attorney General Martha Coakley, who also lives in West Medford. Other Medford political figures on hand were state Rep. Paul Donato, school committee member Melanie McLaughlin and Neil Osborne, the city’s chief people officer.

Most of Campbell’s brief remarks were what you would expect at such an event — an upbeat speech along with calls to vote and make a campaign donation. She also got personal, telling those on hand about the death of her mother, who was killed in a car accident while on her way visit her father, who was incarcerated. Her twin brother died at the age of 29 while in pre-trial detention.

“And yet, every single day,” she said, “I make an intentional choice to turn that pain into purpose.”

The Emancipator makes its welcome, long-anticipated debut

The Emancipator, long in the making, has gotten past the soft-launch stage and made its formal debut this week. Aimed at covering the Black experience from an antiracist point of view, the site is vibrant and colorful. It looks great on mobile, and features videos (including one by Black activist and filmmaker Bree Newsome Bass, above) and comics alongside serious essays and reported pieces.

The Emancipator is a joint venture of The Boston Globe’s opinion operation and the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. Northeastern journalism students are involved as well. There’s no paywall.

The point of the project is to provide national coverage of the country’s reckoning with systemic racism. Starting with the police murder of George Floyd and the police killing of Breonna Taylor in 2020, race has moved to the center of the national conversation in a way that it had not since the 1960s. Tragically, the moment we’re in right now feels more like the backlash than it does forward progress. The introduction puts it this way:

Just as 19th-century antislavery publications reframed and amplified the quest for abolition, The Emancipator centers critical voices, debates, and evidence-based opinion to reframe the national conversation on racial equity and hasten a more racially just society.

We put journalists, scholars, and community members into conversation, showcasing missing and underamplified voices — past and present — and demonstrating how they reveal the way forward.

The founders are former Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataramin and BU’s Ibram X. Kendi, the author of “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” winner of the National Book Award. The co-editors are Deborah D. Douglas and Amber Payne. Among the more recognizable bylines is that of Globe columnist Kimberly Atkins Stohr, and the star-studded advisory board includes the ubiquitous Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the 1619 Project.

One interesting style note: News organizations have been reaching different conclusions during the past several years over whether they should uppercase “Black.” The Emancipator is going with uppercase “Black” and “White,” which, for what it’s worth, is what The Washington Post is doing as well. The Globe, The New York Times and The Associated Press have all opted for uppercase “Black” and lowercase “white.”

A year ago, when The Emancipator was announced, there were some hard feelings at The Bay State Banner, which has been covering the Black community in Greater Boston since 1965. (Northeastern students also contribute to the Banner through The Scope, our digital social-justice publication.) I don’t really see a conflict, though. The Banner continues to do a great job of covering local issues, while The Emancipator is national in scope and opinion-based. There’s room for both — and for more. Banner founder Melvin Miller, I should note, will receive a long-overdue Yankee Quill Award this Friday.

The Emancipator is an important project and a welcome new voice. I’ve signed up for “Unbound,” the site’s newsletter, and I’m interested to see how the project develops.

From Northeastern to the North Country: Em Cassel’s entrepreneurial journey

Em Cassel

Em Cassel is editor and co-owner of Racket, a reader-funded website covering politics, music, arts and culture in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. (She was also a student in my digital journalism course at Northeastern University.)

Em made a name for herself as food editor, managing editor and editor-in-chief of City Pages in the Twin Cities. She was the first woman editor in the 41-year history of that publication. City Pages, which was bought by the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2015, was shut down in late 2020. The company said it wasn’t economically viable, citing the pandemic. Em provides some inside scoop about that, and talks about the founding of Racket, which proudly claims on its website that it has “no bosses, some biases.”

I’ve got a Quick Take on the Montclair Local, a nonprofit weekly newspaper launched several years ago in New Jersey. The Local is well-funded and supported by a number of New York media types who live in Montclair. But what about less affluent areas?

My co-host, Ellen Clegg, reports on an effort to shut down an entire town that was uncovered by the Tennessee Lookout, part of the rapidly expanding nonprofit network called States Newsroom. The Lookout’s scoop was highlighted in the newsletter of The Emancipator, a re-imagined update on the nation’s first abolitionist newspaper for the digital age that is being launched soon.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

Dwarfism, disability and why universal design matters

Angela Van Etten

I was honored to be asked by the Disability Justice Project if I’d share this excerpt from “Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter’s Eyes.” It’s on the importance of universal design and focuses on the work of Angela Van Etten, a longtime activist with Little People of America and the author of several books — most recently “Always an Advocate: Champions of Change for People with Dwarfism and Disabilities.”

The Disability Justice Project is based at Northeastern University and headed by my School of Journalism colleague Jody Santos.

Lex Weaver of The Scope explains how to practice journalism as an act of service

Lex Weaver. Photo by Ruby Wallau via Northeastern University.

Lex Weaver is editor-in-chief of The Scope, published by Northeastern University’s School of Journalism. The Scope is a digital magazine focused on telling stories of justice, hope and resilience in Greater Boston, with an emphasis on communities of color. Their mission: practicing journalism as an act of service. They work to amplify the voices of those overlooked by traditional media.

The current version of The Scope launched in the fall of 2017 and was based on a brilliant prototype created by then graduate students Emily Hopkins (now a data reporter at ProPublica), Priyanka Ketkar (now a multimedia editor at Lakes District News in British Columbia) and Brilee Weaver (now a social media manager for Northeastern’s external affairs office.) As our Northeastern colleague Meg Heckman, The Scope’s first adviser, reminded us the other day, it was initially called The Docket, but we changed the name for a couple of reasons: 1) We wanted to cover more than criminal justice; 2) people outside of Northeastern thought we were a project of the law school.

Thanks to a Poynter-Koch Fellowship, The Scope has a full-time editor-in-chief. Catherine McGloin was The Scope’s first full-time editor and our inaugural Poynter fellow. She started in the summer of 2019 and did a tremendous amount of work to build both content and audience — a feature called Changemakers, editor coffee hours in Nubian Square and email newsletters were all her idea. She was followed by Ha Ta.

Lex has continued to help The Scope grow in terms of content, audience and partnerships.

In our weekly Quick Takes, I look at The Boston Globe as it turns 150, and Ellen Clegg reports on a California bill aimed at funding local public interest journalism.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

A Nigerian journalism student and disability-rights activist examines DeafBlindness

Last semester I had the honor of working as a mentor to a Nigerian journalism student, Oluwabukolami Omolara Badmus, as part of the Disability Justice Project.

Bukola, as she is known, is a 33-year-old disability-rights activist and feminist based in Lagos. She is the financial secretary and Lagos state coordinator for the Lionheart Ability Leaders International Foundation (LALIF). Badmus also teaches at a public high school.

For her final project, Badmus produced a short documentary about DeafBlindness. Please have a look.

The Disability Justice Project is run by my Northeastern colleague Jody Santos. Back in the day, we were colleagues at the Phoenix; Jody worked for the Providence edition and I was based in Boston.

Northeastern’s Myojung Chung and John Wihbey on attitudes about regulating social media

Myojung Chung

In the latest “What Works” podcast, Professors Myojung Chung and John Wihbey, colleagues from Northeastern University’s School of Journalism, share the findings from their new working paper, published by Northeastern’s Ethics Institute.

They and their colleagues examined attitudes about the regulation of social media in four countries: the U.K., Mexico, South Korea and the U.S. With Facebook (or Meta) under fire for its role in amplifying disinformation and hate speech, their research has implications for how the platforms might be regulated — and whether such regulations would be accepted by the public.

John Wihbey

In Quick Takes, Ellen Clegg and I kick around WBEZ Radio’s acquisition of the Chicago Sun-Times, which will result in the newspaper’s becoming a nonprofit organization. We also discuss an announcement that a new nonprofit news organization will be launched in Houston with $20 million in seed money. Plus a tiny Easter egg from country artist Roy Edwin Williams.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

In our latest ‘What Works’ podcast, Damon Kiesow talks about human-centered design

Damon Kiesow

Our latest “What Works” podcast features Damon Kiesow, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he holds the Knight Chair in Digital Editing and Producing. But Ellen Clegg and I first met him about 10 years ago when he was at The Boston Globe, developing mobile products for Boston.com and BostonGlobe.com.

At the time, the new Globe.com site had been launched with a paywall, and featured the Globe’s journalism. Although print revenue is still significant, the paywall strategy seems to be paying off now in terms of digital subscriptions. Kiesow and others were working on emerging technologies in mobile and social media. Kiesow focused on human-centered design: how readers interact with a print newspaper versus a digital side. Does some 150 years of experience reading print make a difference? Why is doom scrolling on digital platforms so exhausting? Tune in and find out.

Plus Ellen takes a quick look at a powerful newspaper collaboration in South Carolina that is rooting out scandal after scandal, and I offer an update on the vibrant digital archive of the late, great Boston Phoenix, housed at Northeastern University and now freely available online.

You can listen here or on your favorite podcast app.