Tag Archives: Washington Post

Millionaires, billionaires, and the future of newspapers

tumblr_static_policycast_logoHard 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.

Talking about Jeff Bezos’s ownership of the Washington Post

Joan Shorenstein Fellows (from left): Joanna Jolly of the BBC; me; Johanna Dunaway of Texas A&M University; and Marilyn Thompson of Politico.

Joan Shorenstein Fellows (from left): Joanna Jolly of the BBC; me; Johanna Dunaway of Texas A&M University; and Marilyn Thompson of Politico.

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.

A few thoughts on the 2016 Pulitzers

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.

The truth about Clinton’s emails is that the truth is elusive

Hillary Clinton in Manchester, New Hampshire, earlier this year. Photo (cc) by Gage Skidmore.

Hillary Clinton in Manchester, New Hampshire, earlier this year. Photo (cc) by Gage Skidmore.

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

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.

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Sanders called a liar over a difference of opinion

Glenn Kessler. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Glenn Kessler. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post‘s fact-checker, gives Bernie Sanders a rating of “Three Pinocchios” for claiming that partial repeal of the Glass-Steagall law helped cause the 2008 financial collapse. It’s complicated, as you’ll see. But my conclusion is that Kessler wrote a pretty good analysis and then undermined it by calling Sanders a liar when we’re really only talking about a difference of opinion.

Several years ago I wrote a commentary for The Huffington Post on the limits of fact-checking. As I said at the time:

The problem is that there are only a finite number of statements that can be subjected to thumbs-up/thumbs-down fact-checking…. The fact-checkers are shifting from judging facts to indulging in opinion, but they’re not necessarily doing it because they want to. They’re doing it because politicians don’t flat-out lie as frequently as we might suppose.

Sanders believes the erosion of Glass-Steagall protections helped create an environment that made the 2008 financial collapse more likely. Kessler disagrees, and he’s found several experts to support his viewpoint. That doesn’t make Sanders a liar. I suspect Kessler knows better, but he’s got Pinocchios to bestow, and today Bernie’s number came up.

Your Saturday media round-up

No, not the debut of a new feature. But there’s a lot going on today. So let’s get to it.

• Jason Rezaian is coming home. Rezaian, who’s a Washington Post reporter, is being released by Iran along with three other prisoners as part of a swap. Meanwhile, Iran is moving closer to compliance with the nuclear deal, and, as we know, it returned without incident a group of American sailors who had drifted into its territorial waters even as the Republican presidential candidates were calling for war or something.

What President Obama’s critics refuse to acknowledge is that Iran is complicated, factionalized, and slowly lurching toward better (not good) behavior. Obama has invested a considerable amount of his moral authority into trying to nudge along a less dangerous Iran, and his efforts are paying off.

And kudos to Post executive editor Marty Baron, who has kept the spotlight on Rezaian’s unjust imprisonment for the past year and a half.

• The routes are at the root. Boston Globe reporter Mark Arsenault today has the most thorough examination yet of what went wrong with the Globe‘s home-delivery system when it switched vendors at the end of December. Arsenault takes a tough look at the decisions made by the paper’s business executives, who clearly did not do enough vetting of the plans put together by the new vendor, ACI Media Group. And he opens with Globe publisher John Henry amid thousands of undelivered papers at the Newton distribution center, sending a message that, yes, the owner is engaged.

As has been reported previously, but not in as much detail as Arsenault offers, ACI’s routes just didn’t make sense. And what looked like a mere glitch at the end of day one turned into a catastrophe as drivers walked off the job once they realized there was no way they could make their appointed rounds.

It’s the Globe itself that has to take primary responsibility, of course. But based on Arsenault’s report, ACI officials—who did not speak to him—clearly sold the Globe a bill of goods. If ACI has a different perspective on what happened, we’d like to hear it soon.

• Digital First workers revolt. Employees at Digital First Media are fighting for their first raise in seven to 10 years, according to an announcement by workers represented by the Newspaper Guild. These folks have been abused for years by bad ownership as hedge funds have sought to cash in.

The effort covers some 1,000 Guild members. It’s unclear whether employees at non-Guild papers—including the Lowell Sun and the New Haven Register—would be helped.

Boston Globe identifies a downtown spot for its new HQ

Not long after John Henry bought The Boston Globe in 2013, he announced that he planned to move the paper to a downtown location and sell the more than half-century-old plant at 135 Morrissey Blvd. News is now breaking that the Globe will move to 53 State St., a building known as Exchange Place. The memo from Globe Media chief executive Mike Sheehan follows.

Over Memorial Day Weekend in 1958, The Boston Globe left our home on Washington Street’s Newspaper Row and moved to Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester. The move was a catalyst for the most dramatic transformation in our history, both in the depth and quality of our journalism and in the scope of our media operations. Under the leadership of seven world-class editors, 23 Pulitzer Prizes were earned here, and we’ve grown from a single media offering to over a dozen print, digital, and broadcast properties.

Today, we signed a Letter of Intent with UBS to move our editorial and business operations to 53 State Street, Exchange Place. Assuming this leads to a signed lease, and we have every expectation that it will, the move will mark a bit of a homecoming, bringing BGMP back to the same neighborhood we vacated 58 years before. We plan on occupying the second and third floors, which are the largest floor plates in the building, integrating the former Boston Stock Exchange space with the glass tower that was built in 1985.

I have a particular fondness for the building, having moved another company there eight years ago. The reasons for choosing Exchange Place extend far beyond the inarguable fact that I am a creature of habit. First and foremost are location and accessibility. For a journalistic enterprise, there is just no substitute for being able to walk to City Hall, the State House, and virtually every corporate headquarters in the city. If you had to drop a pushpin on the single location that’s most accessible by public transportation, this would be it. The MBTA’s Blue Line and Orange Line have a stop under the building, the Green Line is a block away at Government Center, and the Red Line is just down the street at Downtown Crossing. The building is equidistant and walkable from the North Station and South Station commuter rail terminals as well as the commuter boat.

This move would materially change the answer to “where do you want to meet for lunch?” Cosi and Au Bon Pain are in the building, and there must be a few hundred other dining options within walking distance.

What excites me most about the move is the ability to design our space around the vision of where we want to go. We have retained Gensler (gensler.com) to help us create our new work environment, and they have begun the process of space planning and design.

I honestly believe there is no greater opportunity to redefine and transform the culture of The Boston Globe than to move to and work in the ideal location, right in the heart of the city, in an environment designed for the future of journalism. It worked for us when we moved to Morrissey Boulevard in 1958. And it’ll be equally powerful when we move to Exchange Place which, if all goes according to plan, will be on January 1, 2017.

I should note that Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub beat me by a few minutes.

No word in Sheehan’s memo regarding the fate of the Morrissey Boulevard plant.

Also: By coincidence, Sheehan’s announcement comes at the same time that The Washington Post is moving into a new building.