By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Pam Johnston

Dan Lothian is the steady hand that GBH News needs right now

Dan Lothian

Less than a week after GBH canceled its three local news and public affairs television programs while laying off 31 employees, the public media behemoth is taking a big step in the right direction. Dan Lothian, executive producer of “The World,” has been promoted to the newly created position of editor-in-chief of both “The World,” a radio program that covers international news, and of GBH News, its local operation encompassing radio, digital and, until last week, television.

Dan is a professional friend. We were fellow panelists at GBH-TV’s former media program, “Beat the Press with Emily Rooney,” and we’re colleagues at Northeastern University. A former international and national reporter for CNN, he is, above all, a steady hand and a calming presence, which no doubt is exactly what the rattled newsroom needs right now.

Lothian also brings with him the sort of goodwill needed so that he and other GBH executives will be able to take the time to figure out what’s next. GBH’s chief executive, Susan Goldberg, has said that the three former TV shows, “Greater Boston,” “Basic Black” and “Talking Politics,” will be brought back as digital programs at some point. When? What will that look like? What is the future of GBH Radio’s rivalry with WBUR, the city’s highest-rated news-focused public radio station? No, they’re not going to merge, but are there ways that they might collaborate? What is the future of the general manager’s position at GBH News, vacated last week when Pam Johnston announced she was leaving?

Anyway, I’m thrilled for Dan and for my former GBH News colleagues. What follows is the GBH press release.

Boston public media producer GBH has named Dan Lothian to the newly created role of Editor in Chief, GBH News and “The World.” An award-winning journalist with deep roots in both domestic and international news, Lothian is currently the executive producer of “The World,” public radio’s longest-running daily global news program, produced in Boston by GBH and PRX, a leading public radio and podcast distributor.

“Dan has impeccable credentials and is respected by colleagues throughout GBH and by journalists across the globe,” said Susan Goldberg, president and CEO of GBH. “With his background in both breaking news and long-form features, and with deep experience in radio, television, and across digital platforms, he is ideally suited to lead coverage for today’s audiences.”

As part of today’s announcement, Tinku Ray, currently managing editor for “The World,” will be promoted to Executive Editor of the program. She’ll continue to report to Lothian. Lee Hill, Executive Editor for GBH News, will also report to Lothian.

Lothian joined “The World” as Executive Producer in 2021. Under his leadership, the show expanded its reach, airing on a record 377 public radio stations across the United States and in Canada, reaching about 2 million people weekly. In 2022, “The World” received a $205,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to expand and sustain its coverage of the war in Ukraine. With support from the Lumina Foundation, Lothian and the team at “The World” created The World’s Global Classroom, which focused on amplifying stories from young college students. In addition to his role as executive producer, Lothian hosted “The State of Race,” a multi-platform series on race and racial inequality produced in partnership with GBH WORLD, NAACP Boston, and The Boston Globe.

“We have the opportunity to bring our audience stories by connecting the global to the local, while simultaneously delivering the critical information they need to be informed and engaged citizens,” said Lothian. “In addition, today’s environment requires a focus on innovation. To reach a wider audience, we have to find new ways and platforms to share these stories. I’m looking forward to working with all of my colleagues and partners to support the excellent journalism they produce every day.”

Lothian spent more than a decade as a correspondent for CNN, covering the White House, presidential campaigns, and breaking news. He also spent time working in CNN’s Jerusalem bureau. He began his career in radio at the age of 16 and went on to work at several local TV stations across the country. He then served as a National Correspondent at NBC News for seven years with stories on Nightly News, the Today Show, and MSNBC as well as working in both the Tel Aviv and Cairo bureaus.

Lothian will begin his new role on June 1.

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GBH cuts claim three local TV shows, including its only Black-oriented program

Photo (cc) 2019 by Dan Kennedy

There are many things to say about the cuts announced Wednesday at GBH, so pardon the random nature of this post. As Aidan Ryan reports in The Boston Globe, 31 employees were laid off, comprising 4% of the staff. Now, 4% doesn’t sound like a lot, especially at a large operation that encompasses national and local programming across television, radio and digital. But management chose to decimate its local TV operation covering news and public affairs. “Greater Boston,” a Monday-to-Thursday program featuring interviews with newsmakers, was canceled; so were two weekly shows, “Basic Black” and “Talking Politics.” All told, a reported 10% of the cuts came at GBH News, as the local operation is known.

Shuttering “Basic Black” is inexplicable. Originally called “Say Brother,” it was GBH’s only local television show devoted to covering the region’s communities of color. There’s nothing in the regular radio lineup, either. This is an abdication of GBH’s responsibilities as a public media institution supported by grants, donations from “viewers like you” and taxpayer dollars. Yes, I know that chief executive Susan Goldberg says the three shows will come back as digital programs, but no one knows what that’s going to look like.

“Talking Politics” was a weekly program on local politics and public policy ably hosted by Adam Reilly, with whom I worked both at The Boston Phoenix and, later, at GBH News. It was launched after the August 2021 cancellation of “Beat the Press with Emily Rooney,” an award-winning program I was part of almost from its inception in 1998. There’s a lot I could say about the decision to end “Beat the Press,” but I’ll leave it at this: The program was pulling in strong viewership numbers right up to the end, and I still hear from people wherever I go who lament its passing.

Getting rid of “Greater Boston” strikes me as a rerun of past events. The show, with Emily Rooney at the helm, was created in 1997, six years after the cancellation of “The Ten O’Clock News,” which was anchored by Christopher Lydon and Carmen Fields. Emily presided over a compelling program characterized by her intelligence and quirky appeal. But let’s not forget that it was also cheaper to produce than “The Ten O’Clock News,” which was a full-fledged newscast. (I wrote about those early days in a long Phoenix feature.) “Beat the Press” was born a year later when the Friday slot became available and Emily was able to fulfill her ambitions of putting a media-criticism show on the air.

As Emily moved closer to retirement age, she gave up “Greater Boston” while keeping “Beat the Press.” Jim Braude, who also co-hosts GBH’s “Boston Public Radio” with Margery Eagan, took her place and proved to be popular and successful in that slot. But he gave it up in 2022 in order to concentrate on radio, and “Greater Boston” has been helmed by a rotating series of hosts ever since. One of those irregulars was Adam, and I was on with him May 15 to talk about “What Works in Community News,” the book I wrote with Ellen Clegg. We knew cuts were coming, but I certainly didn’t realize I’d be one of the last guests.

Another observation: From the moment that WBUR Radio and GBH reported financial problems earlier this year, some have questioned whether Boston could accommodate two news-focused public radio stations. In April, two dozen people took early-retirement buyouts at ’BUR while another seven were laid off. The Globe’s Ryan even raised the possibility that the two radio stations could merge.

So it’s striking that when GBH finally brought down the hammer, it was on the television rather than the radio side. Of course, television is much more expensive, and the entire institution reportedly had an operating deficit of $18.7 million last year. Still, it seems like an odd choice given that GBH has no direct public television competition while on radio it lags well behind ’BUR.

The day of reckoning at GBH also came just two days after GBH News general manager Pam Johnston announced she was leaving after four years of running all local programming — radio, television and digital. And her departure, in turn, followed a Globe story in February by Mark Shanahan in which he reported that Johnston ran a newsroom beset by turmoil and a toxic culture.

Sadly, all of this comes just as GBH News had won its first Peabody Award, for its excellent “The Big Dig” podcast. Ambitious, deeply reported podcasts are expensive, and even the best of them draw relatively small audiences — so it could be a while before we hear anything like it again.

Finally, being a part of GBH News for many years was one of the highlights of my career. My roles over the course of 24 years included being a panelist on “Beat the Press,” writing a column for the GBH News website and appearing occasionally on radio. Wednesday was a sad day. My best wishes to those who lost their jobs and to my friends and former colleagues who are still employed.

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GBH News general manager Pam Johnston is leaving at the end of the month

Pam Johnston. Photo © 2021 by Dominic Gagliardo Chavez/GBH.

GBH News general manager Pam Johnston is leaving the station at the end of the month. A friend was filling me in even as Aidan Ryan was reporting on her departure for The Boston Globe. GBH News comprises the public media behemoth’s local programming across television, radio and digital. On the radio, GBH (89.7 FM) lags well behind WBUR (90.9 FM). Both stations emphasize NPR programming and local news; ’BUR is in the midst of buyouts and layoffs, and GBH may not be far behind.

Johnston’s announcement comes nearly four months after the Globe’s Mark Shanahan reported that GBH was in turmoil. Based on my own conversations with current and former station employees, I know that Johnston had both supporters and detractors among the staff. “With new leadership at GBH, there are new opportunities and new strategies for our newsroom,” Johnston said in an email to the staff that was obtained by Ryan. “I’m excited about what comes next. I will continue watching, listening, and cheering you on every step of the way.”

Ellen Clegg and I interviewed Johnston on the “What Works” podcast in March 2022. My standard disclosure: I was a paid contributor to GBH News from 1998 to 2022, mostly as a panelist on “Beat the Press with Emily Rooney,” the award-winning media program that was canceled under Johnston’s watch in 2021.

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The Globe portrays GBH News as an operation beset by turmoil and toxicity

Photo (cc) 2019 by Dan Kennedy

Early this morning, The Boston Globe published an in-depth story documenting turmoil at GBH News, the local operation at the public media giant that encompasses television, radio and digital. The article, by Mark Shanahan, largely focuses on what some (but not all) employees describe as a toxic workplace culture and hostility toward “old white men.”

The leaders who come under criticism in Shanahan’s reporting are general manager Pam Johnston and executive editor Lee Hill, both of whom apologized to the staff after an internal investigation found, as Shanahan writes, that “senior managers made inappropriate comments about employees’ race, age, and gender by referring to ‘old white men’ when discussing newsroom diversity.” (Johnston turned down Shanahan’s request for an interview, but Ellen Clegg and I hosted her on our “What Works” podcast back in March 2022.)

The two most outspoken voices in the story belong to Jim Braude, co-host of GBH Radio’s “Boston Public Radio,” and Callie Crossley, host of “Under the Radar with Callie Crossley” and cohost of “The Culture Show,” both of which are radio programs.

“People fear for their jobs,” Braude, who’s white, told the Globe, adding: “People testified about mistreatment. Much of it was confirmed. No one was held responsible. Now people have to report to the same person they testified against and pray their supervisor doesn’t know they did.”

Crossley, who’s Black, has a very different view. “Bias, bullying, and intimidation cannot be tolerated, that’s absolutely correct,” she’s quoted as saying. “But I want to be clear: That. Did. Not. Happen. Here.” She also offers some context, saying, “People assume there’s a higher level of civility at public media stations, but I want to correct that. People may assume that based on ‘Masterpiece Theater,’ but newsrooms in public radio are exactly the same as they are anyplace else.”

There’s much more to the story, including angst over falling ratings, some good news on the digital side, and quotes from GBH’s newish chief executive, Susan Goldberg, that everyone is “moving on.” If you care about GBH and public media in general, I urge you to read it.

Beyond that, I really can’t say much. If you’re reading this, you probably know that I was part of GBH News for many years, mainly as a panelist on “Beat the Press with Emily Rooney” throughout its entire run, from 1998 to 2021, but also as a weekly columnist for the website (a stint I ended in 2022) and an occasional guest on radio. I’m also friends with a number of current and former GBH folks.

Shanahan appears to have done an excellent job of bringing GBH’s internal problems into the open, where they belong (remember, this is public media), and I wish the station well in moving beyond this.

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GBH News will launch a daily arts and culture program on radio and YouTube

A lot of observers were surprised earlier this year when GBH News canceled its weekly arts and culture television show, “Open Studio,” hosted by Jared Bowen. Even more surprising was a statement from GBH president and CEO Susan Goldberg: “We’ve had the privilege of showcasing the depth and breadth of Boston’s incredible arts and culture scene through Jared’s eyes. We will be building on that strength as well as on GBH’s long legacy as a leader in culture content. GBH continues to be deeply committed to covering the local scene.”

It turns out that Goldberg knew whereof she spoke. Because GBH News is getting ready to launch a daily one-hour radio program devoted to arts and culture, also hosted by Bowen, that will have a video component as well. The program will have rotating co-hosts, including my former “Beat the Press” co-panelist Callie Crossley. Here’s the full press release:

In a major expansion of GBH’s local arts and culture programming, GBH News is launching The Culture Show, a one-hour daily local radio program on 89.7 offering listeners a wide-ranging look at society through art, culture and entertainment. Beginning November 3, The Culture Show will air on Fridays from 2–3 p.m., following Boston Public Radio with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.

On December 4, The Culture Show will expand to a daily broadcast, Monday through Friday, at the same time slot, adding five hours per week of local arts and culture content to the Greater Boston media market. The show will also air on CAI, the Cape, Coast and Islands NPR station, starting on December 4. Beginning in the new year, the show will also stream on the GBH News YouTube channel, and video clips will be integrated into the daily GBH News program Greater Boston.

The Culture Show builds on GBH’s deep legacy in the arts and culture space. We are proud of our seven-decade commitment to bringing local audiences vibrant and inspirational culture programming,” said Pam Johnston, general manager of news at GBH. “Culture is the lens through which our audiences experience the world. We’re proud to be expanding our arts and culture team, offering people daily engaging conversations about what we see, watch, taste, hear, feel and talk about.”

GBH Executive Arts Editor Jared Bowen will host The Culture Show. He will be joined by rotating co-hosts Callie Crossley, the host of Under the Radar with Callie Crossley; Edgar B. Herwick III, host of The Curiosity Desk; and James Bennett II, a GBH News arts and culture reporter and CRB Classical 99.5 contributor  and a panel of cultural correspondents.

“The arts are vital to articulating and understanding our place in the world. The Culture Show offers an unprecedented opportunity to put the local arts scene front and center for listeners,” said Jared Bowen. “I can’t wait to join Callie, Edgar, James, and our listeners and guests in a shared exploration of our region’s extraordinarily vibrant cultural landscape.”

The Culture Show will drive conversations about how listeners experience culture across music, movies, fashion, TV, art, books, theater, dance, food and more, and help audiences make the most of their leisure time by guiding listeners to the best cultural experiences within a day’s drive from Boston. The show will amplify local creatives, profile the homegrown arts and culture landscape, check in with touring productions and tap into conversations about topics in the national cultural spotlight. The show will introduce a newsletter to expand its offerings in the new year.

The Culture Show will be the first permanent new daily radio show launched by GBH News since the debut of Boston Public Radio in 2013. The Executive Producer of The Culture Show is Chelsea Merz, who has a decade of experience as the executive producer of the market’s most popular midday show, Boston Public Radio. Accomplished radio professional Brian Bell will be the show’s producer and engineer.

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GBH News GM Pam Johnston on how public media can help fill the local news gap

GBH News general manager Pam Johnston. Photo © 2021 by Dominic Gagliardo Chavez/GBH.

Pam Johnston, general manager for news with GBH, has a deep background in local television in Boston at WLVI (Channel 56), and earlier at local stations in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Portland, Maine. At GBH, which is a public media company, she has a broad portfolio. She is responsible for local and regional news operations across all platforms, including radio, television and digital. She also supervises GBH’s contributions to two NPR programs, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”

Johnston joined GBH in 2012 as director of audience development for “Frontline,” the national investigative series, where she is credited with diversifying the audience and connecting them with long-form documentaries, virtual reality experiences and podcasts.

I have a Quick Take on a multimillion-dollar glitch in ad tech by Gannett, and Ellen Clegg reports on a union survey of workers at Tribune Publishing (now owned by Alden Global Capital) that reveals big gaps in pay equity.

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

GBH News’ just-announced political show conjures up ties with The Boston Phoenix

As an alumnus of “Beat the Press,” which was canceled over the summer, I’ve been curious about what GBH-TV (Channel 2) would do about filling the Friday 7 p.m. time slot.

The station ran a local politics show during the fall that was supposed to end on Election Day but was instead extended through the rest of the year. Now it looks like that show is being made permanent, with a new name — “Talking Politics.” The show will be focused on the suddenly hot Massachusetts gubernatorial race.

Although I don’t know whether it’s deliberate (I suspect it was), the name conjures up the connections between GBH News and the late, great Boston Phoenix. The host, Adam Reilly, used to be the Phoenix’s “Talking Politics” columnist. GBH News senior editor Peter Kadzis, who’ll be part of the new show, was the editor of the Phoenix for many years.

Other Phoenix alums associated with GBH News include former “Talking Politics” columnists Jon Keller and David Bernstein as well as civil-liberties columnist Harvey Silverglate. And, of course, yours truly. Might we consider renaming my GBH media column “Don’t Quote Me”?

The full press release follows.

BOSTON (December 2, 2021) – GBH News today announced the launch of Talking Politics, a new weekly show that will take a deep dive into local politics, with a special focus on the 2022 Massachusetts gubernatorial race. Hosted by GBH News politics reporter Adam Reilly, the panel-based series will feature conversations with local political newsmakers, influencers, analysts and activists. GBH News City Hall reporter Saraya Wintersmith, Statehouse Bureau reporter Mike Deehan and politics editor Peter Kadzis will also be key contributors. Talking Politics debuts on Friday, December 3 at 7:00 p.m. on GBH 2 and streaming on the GBH News YouTube Channel.

“Audiences throughout Massachusetts know that the issues being debated on Beacon Hill have the potential to directly impact their lives. And it’s not just the issues, but the individuals who are shaping these discussions,” said Pam Johnston, general manager of news at GBH. “With this week’s announcement from Governor Baker that he will not seek reelection, the race to lead Massachusetts is wide open. Talking Politics will bring audiences compelling conversations and deeply reported local journalism about political issues across the Commonwealth with the 2022 gubernatorial race at center stage.”

Talking Politics builds on the foundation created by Boston’s Race Into History, the pop-up television show integral to GBH News’ multi-platform initiative focused on the 2021 Boston Mayoral Race. In each week’s half-hour episode, Talking Politics will take a broader look at state and local politics and their impact on the issues that matter. The series will investigate a wide range of political developments across the Commonwealth including the unfolding gubernatorial race, the new leadership in place in key Massachusetts cities, and the administration of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu.

The debut episode will look at Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision to not seek reelection in 2022 after leading the Commonwealth for two terms. Host Adam Reilly and guests will also provide an update into the campaigns of the race’s declared candidates, Republican Geoff Diehl, and Democrats Danielle Allen, Ben Downing, and Sonia Chang-Díaz.

Audiences can stay up-to-date with local political coverage by subscribing to the GBH News politics newsletter. GBH News has been expanding its political coverage over the past year including a multi-platform journalism initiative focused on Boston’s mayoral race and regular appearances by elected officials on Boston Public Radio.

 

Best wishes to Emily Rooney as ‘Beat the Press’ comes to an end after 22 years

Our 20th anniversary show, Dec. 7, 2018

Major local media news today as GBH News has announced that it’s canceling “Beat the Press” after a 22-year run. I am proud to have been part of the show since its first year, 1998, and to have been a regular for many of those years. And I’m grateful to Emily Rooney, the host and creator of the show. We’ve been on hiatus since June 11; as it turns out, that was our finale.

I’ll continue writing my weekly column on media and politics for GBH News.

It’s hard to put into words what I’m feeling right now. For so many years, heading over to GBH to record “Beat the Press” was simply what I did on Friday afternoons. I hugely enjoyed getting to know Emily, Callie Crossley and everyone else. (I’ll stop at Emily and Callie because if I start naming names, I’ll leave too many out.)

Emily began hosting “Greater Boston” in the mid-’90s. From the beginning it was a Monday-through-Thursday show, with the Friday slot originally taken up by something called “The Long and the Short of It,” with Robert Reich and Alan Simpson. After that show had run its course, Emily pitched “Beat the Press” to WGBH executives (yes, the station still had a “W” back then), and we were off and running.

I haven’t had a chance to talk with Emily yet, but I wish her all the best. She is a legendary figure in Boston media, as news director of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), at the national level and, for the past quarter century, at GBH News. It will be interesting to see what she does next.

Finally, best wishes to Kara Miller, whose program on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM), “Innovation Hub,” will be coming to an end later this year as well.

What follows is the press release from GBH News:

GBH continues to build a multiplatform news organization that provides our community with the most distinctive, relevant and interesting stories of the day. GBH News is deepening its focus on audience-centered local stories, and concentrating its editorial efforts on the critical issues of education, social justice, Covid/public health and politics. As a result, GBH will discontinue production of two weekly programs, Beat the Press with Emily Rooney, which examines the local and national media, and the national radio series Innovation Hub with Kara Miller.

“This was a difficult decision. Beat the Press has been one of GBH’s longest running news shows and has provided viewers with informative and thought-provoking insight, commentary and perspective on the workings of the media. We are grateful to Emily Rooney for her award-winning work, her dedication to her craft, and her many contributions to GBH over 24 years.”

Innovation Hub has given us a deeper understanding of the inventive spirit of human ideas and technology over the course of a decade. We thank Kara Miller and the Innovation Hub production team for their exceptional work, creativity and contributions to public media.”

– Pam Johnston, General Manager GBH News

Beat the Press is currently on summer hiatus and will not return in September; Innovation Hub will continue to air through mid-November in national distribution with PRX.

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