One of the last great newspaper rivalries got a boost on Monday with the debut of Margaret Sullivan’s media column in the Washington Post. Sullivan’s first piece was more a preview of coming attractions than an attempt to dig deep. But with Jim Rutenberg having replaced the late, great David Carr at the New York Times earlier this year, our two leading general-interest newspapers now have dueling media critics for the first time in ages.
Two newspapers have dramatically improved their digital offerings. The Boston Globe has unveiled four radically redesigned web pages for the Boston’s professional teams—the Red Sox, the Celtics, the Patriots, and the Bruins. The emphasis is on huge photos and on gathering together in one place everything you want to know about your favorite team. Sports editor Joe Sullivan offers a rundown.
The Washington Post, meanwhile, is testing a new mobile website that it is calling its Progressive Web App, which you can access by clicking here. The PWA uses new technology to load instantly—as fast as Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News, or news stories coded for Google’s new Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) standard.
These are both a couple of leaps forward. Even though the Globe‘s online presence is better than that of many newspapers, it needs to communicate to its readers that digital is a superior experience to print. The sports pages could be a prelude of things to come in other parts of the paper. The Post is well-known for its cutting-edge technology, but the speed of PWA is—as chief information officer Shailesh Prakash is quoted as saying in this press release—”a game-changing experience.”
A couple of quibbles. First of all, the Globe needs to focus on speed. Its responsive website is loads quickly enough on my Mac, but it’s slower on my phone and slower still on my aging iPad. That’s as true of the new sports pages as it is of the rest of the site. Second, it would be nice if the Post‘s PWA site loaded on a tablet and not just on a phone.
Finally, I found the type size a bit on the small side in both products with no way to make it bigger.
More than 40 years after he resigned as president, Richard Nixon remains the lodestar for political skullduggery. And so it was when Donald Trump threatened to retaliate against Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos in response to news that the Post is siccing 20 reporters on Trump to look into every aspect of his life and career.
Hard to believe, but my time as a Joan Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School will be ending soon. Recently I recorded an HKS PolicyCast podcast under the expert guidance of host Matt Cadwallader. We talked about my research regarding wealthy newspaper owners and whether the innovations they’ve introduced may show the way for others. I hope you’ll give it a listen.
As I’ve written before, I’m working on a book that will largely be about three such owners—Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who bought the Washington Post in 2013; Red Sox principal owner John Henry, who announced he would purchase the Boston Globe just three days before Bezos made his move; and greeting-card executive Aaron Kushner, whose time as publisher of the Orange County Register ended in 2015, but whose print-centric approach made him perhaps the most closely watched newspaper owner of 2012-’13.
Bezos and the Post will be the subject of the paper I’m writing for Shorenstein, so—in case any of you folks at the Globe were wondering—I’ve suspended my reporting on the Globe for the time being. I’ll be back.
On Tuesday the Joan Shorenstein Fellows at Harvard’s Kennedy School spoke about our research projects; the audio is now online and here’s what you’ll find. More specifically, I talked about Jeff Bezos’s ownership of the Washington Post and what (if any) lessons that holds for the newspaper business.
Congratulations to my former Beat the Press colleague Farah Stockman and to Jessica Rinaldi, both of whom won Pulitzer Prizes earlier today for their work for the Boston Globe.
Rinaldi won the Feature Photography award for her photo series of Strider Wolf, a boy in rural Maine trying to overcome a harrowingly dysfunctional upbringing. Amazingly, Rinaldi was also one of two runners-up in the same category for her photos of a Massachusetts drug addict caught up in the opioid epidemic.
Stockman, who is now a reporter with the New York Times, won in Commentary for a series on the legacy of Boston’s school-desegregation turmoil in the 1970s and ’80s. Stockman’s award is the
third fourth Pulitzer recognition in a row for the Globe‘s editorial pages: last year Katie Kingsbury won for editorials that shed light on the harsh world of restaurant work; in 2014 Dante Ramos was a runner-up for writing about how to revive Boston’s less-than-vibrant nightlife; and in 2013 Juliette Kayyem was a finalist in Commentary.
The Globe covers its Pulitzer wins here.
Among the other Pulitzer winners, I was especially pleased to see the Washington Post win the National Reporting award for its deep investigation of fatal shootings of civilians by police. Not only is it an important topic, but it was based on a meticulously detailed database that the Post built in-house.
Last October, FBI director James Comey lamented that the Post and the Guardian, which assembled a similar database, had better data on police-involved shootings than law-enforcement agencies. “It is unacceptable that the Washington Post and the Guardian newspaper from the UK are becoming the lead source of information about violent encounters between police and civilians,” Comey said. “That is not good for anybody.”
The Post‘s coverage of its Pulitzer victory is here.
No doubt Bernie Sanders spoke for many last October when he said he was sick of hearing about Hillary Clinton’s “damn emails.” But if Clinton wins the Democratic presidential nomination, you can be sure we’re going to hear more—much more. Indeed, the ongoing saga of why Clinton used a private email server for official government business when she was secretary of state is likely to emerge as her biggest obstacle in the general election campaign this fall.
With an eye toward settling in my own mind whether or not the email story—I hesitate to call it a scandal—could derail her candidacy (or worse), I spent some time on Monday reading two in-depth accounts of exactly what occurred and whether it could lead to legal trouble. The whodunit, a 5,000-word piece that was published in The Washington Post on Sunday, was reported and written by Robert O’Harrow Jr., an investigative journalist. The only-slightly-shorter legal analysis was written by former Department of Homeland Security lawyer Richard O. Lempert and appears in The American Prospect.
I wish I could tell you that I now understand what happened. In fact, I don’t, although I know more than I did before. According to the Post, it all began when Clinton, as the new secretary of state, made it clear that she wanted to keep using her BlackBerry. The State Department was against it because of security concerns, but technology officials helped her do it anyway—apparently without realizing she was routing all her email through a private server in the basement of her home in Chappaqua, New York.
Clinton’s goal appears to have been convenience rather than anything nefarious. At the same time, though, she ignored warnings that what she was doing could prove dangerous even after “a note went out over Clinton’s name urging department employees to ‘avoid conducting official Department business from your personal email accounts.’” And no, her Republican predecessors, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, did not engage in similar practices despite many reports to the contrary. O’Harrow writes:
From the earliest days, Clinton aides and senior officials focused intently on accommodating the secretary’s desire to use her private email account, documents and interviews show.
Throughout, they paid insufficient attention to laws and regulations governing the handling of classified material and the preservation of government records, interviews and documents show. They also neglected repeated warnings about the security of the BlackBerry while Clinton and her closest aides took obvious security risks in using the basement server.
By contrast, Lempert focuses on the narrower, simpler issue of whether Clinton broke the law. On that matter, we are able to come to something approaching a definitive answer: No. (Well, OK. Probably not.) The reason Clinton is almost certainly in the clear is that, under most circumstances, mishandling classified information is not a crime unless it’s done “knowingly and willfully.” Lempert explains:
To violate this statute, Secretary Clinton would have had to know that she was dealing with classified information, and either that she was disclosing it to people who could not be trusted to protect the interests of the United States or that she was handling it in a way (e.g. by not keeping it adequately secure) that was at least arguably prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States.
In other words, her apparent ignorance of technology should serve as an adequate—if not impressive—defense.
Lempert also goes deep on what kind of information is classified, what should be classified, and how information becomes classified. A lot of it is eye-glazing, but here’s a fact that made me sit up and take notice: as secretary of state, Clinton had the ultimate power to classify and declassify information produced by her agency. That wouldn’t be the case with information originating with the president, of course, or with other agencies. That’s why her handling of CIA documents has come under scrutiny. But the question of whether classified State Department documents passed through the basement of her home may prove to be the ultimate non-issue.
In addition, Lempert raises the possibility that Clinton’s private server may actually have been more secure than the government’s, since hackers presumably would not have known about her unusual arrangement.
Into the midst of this uncertainty comes Jill Abramson, former executive editor of The New York Times, who, in a commentary for The Guardian, writes that she considers Clinton to be “fundamentally honest and trustworthy”—two qualities not normally associated with her, or at least not with the caricature of her that now stands in as a substitute for whoever the real Hillary Clinton might be.
So where does that leave us regarding the emails? The story, broken by the Times, has been with us for more than a year now, and we don’t seem to be any closer to the whole truth now than we were then. It’s like Benghazi—casting shadows on Clinton’s judgment, but no more than that.
Finally, a caution for the media. Merely passing along the pronouncements of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump that Clinton “shouldn’t be allowed to run” because of the way she handled her email is a disservice to the public. (Then again, taking anything Trump says at face value is a disservice to the public.)
The Washington Post and The American Prospect articles demonstrate that the truth is elusive, nuanced, and not all that exciting. Unfortunately, the chances that this story won’t be boiled down to a soundbite—simple, understandable, and wrong—are virtually nil.