Boston Globe omits name of reporter who left after harassment accusation

Saturday update: The Boston Business Journal’s Catherine Carlock posted a very good overview Friday night of the Globe’s decision not to identify the reporter who had been forced to resign over sexual-harassment accusations. She also quotes some of the online commentary, including very tough tweets from my former Boston Phoenix colleague Carly Carioli and former Globe journalist Hilary Sargent. She quotes me, too.

If you watch Friday’s “Beat the Press,” you’ll see that I believed the forthcoming Globe story would identify the former employee. I was basing that not just on thinking it was the right thing to do but on some information I’d received as well. So I was pretty surprised to see that the name had been excluded.

This was a tough call. I think Brian McGrory and other Globe executives had two choices, both of them bad. Six months ago, no one would have expected the paper to name a mid-level employee, not especially well known, who had been pushed out over sexual harassment that was apparently serious but involved no touching. But it’s not six months ago. We are all living in the post-Harvey Weinstein era now.

The very same story that omits the name identifies Tom Ashbrook of WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) as having been suspended for unspecified allegations. Especially given the Globe’s strong reporting on sexual harassment and assault in restaurants and at the Statehouse, it seems to me that the paper needs to be as transparent as possible about what’s going on in its own house. And if you want to argue that that’s somehow unfair to the former employee in question, I would respond: Yes, in some ways it is unfair. But it’s necessary.

Original Friday item: I just took a quick scan through Boston Globe reporter Mark Arsenault’s story on sexual harassment at the Globe and at other local media organizations, including unspecified charges involving Tom Ashbrook at WBUR Radio (90.9 FM). For the most part it appears to be a fine, thorough piece. But what stands out and will spark hundreds of conversations is the Globe’s decision not to identify a journalist who has been the subject of rumors this week, including on today’s “Kirk and Callahan” show on WEEI Radio (93.7 FM). Arsenault writes:

The Globe chose not to identify the employee in this story because his alleged conduct did not involve physical contact, threats, or persistent harassment, and editors determined it is highly unlikely the newspaper would have identified the accused, or written about his conduct, if this situation had arisen at another private company.

““Yes, we’re well aware that by withholding the identity of the reporter involved, we’ll be accused of a double-standard by people and organizations that are not privy to all the facts,” editor Brian McGrory said in a message to the newsroom from which Arsenault quotes. “I can live with that far more easily than I can live with the thought of sacrificing our values to slake the thirst of this moment.”

Although I can understand McGrory’s judgment given Arsenault’s description of the misconduct (especially the lack of physical contact), I wonder if it is tenable in the current environment. I suspect the name is going to come out anyway given how many people know it. Then again, if Globe executives are convinced that not naming him is the right thing to do, I suppose they’re prepared to live with someone else reporting it. But it leaves me feeling uncomfortable.

A source sent me the full text of McGrory’s memo a little while ago. Here it is.

About three weeks ago, I commissioned a story taking a look at how this and other local media organizations are covering the extraordinary #MeToo movement — at the same time that we’re assessing our own situations and confronting issues from within. It took a while, because all of these stories take a while. Sourcing is painstaking. Accusations are raw. Context is important and can take more time than we’d like.

We’ve done some extraordinary journalism on many fronts of this movement — Yvonne [Abraham], Kay [Lazar], Shirley [Leung], Shelley [Murphy], Devra [First], led by Jen [Peter, senior deputy managing editor]. The list could go on, and there’s more to come. Our standards have been high and meticulously upheld, in terms of what we’ll report and how. Vetting of the stories has been rigorous to the point of painstaking.

Now our story on local media, written by Mark Arsenault, is ready this afternoon, as there’s speculation on talk radio and in the social sphere about a recent situation involving the Globe. Mark addresses this situation in the story, having learned about it because he’s an excellent reporter. But even as Mark is aware of the identity of a journalist who has left the Globe, we’ve made the decision not to publish the name, and here I’ll attempt to explain why.

Quite simply, the transgressions would not meet our standards for a reportable event if they happened at another company. To all our knowledge, nobody was physically touched; no one was persistently harassed; there were no overt threats. We’re covering it because we’re applying an extra measure of transparency to ourselves.

This is not in any way to make light of what happened here. There was conduct highly unbecoming of a Globe journalist, people who justifiably felt victimized, and the potential for conflicts of interest. So the responsible party is no longer at the Globe.

Context, again, is vital in this moment, and it is ever more paramount for the Globe and other reputable news organizations to exercise good judgment in unwavering fashion. There are degrees of misconduct, a spectrum, and we must be careful to recognize it. We’ve been meticulous in bringing this kind of context to all of our reporting on these issues, the things we write and, as often, the things we don’t. This is not the time to lower our standard.

So to answer your inevitable question, yes, we’re well aware that by withholding the identity of the reporter involved, we’ll be accused of a double-standard by people and organizations that are not privy to all the facts. I can live with that far more easily than I can live with the thought of sacrificing our values to slake the thirst of this moment. I’m also well aware that wise people, including people in this room, will disagree. I respect that.

Beyond this, please know that our coverage will continue with all the rigor that we’ve already brought on all fronts. Also know that, even as we believe the culture of this room is in a good place, it can get better and we’re working to improve it.

As always, feel free to drop by or share in any other way your thoughts.

Talk about this post on Facebook.

Advertisements

Three tales of woe from GateHouseLand

Steve DeCosta (via Twitter)
Steve DeCosta (via Twitter)

The nice thing about missing out on bad news from GateHouse Media* is that you only have to wait a few days for fresh material. Thus we learn today that The Standard-Times of New Bedford is getting rid of three newsroom jobs. Here’s the internal email from editor Beth Perdue:

Colleagues,

Today we eliminated three editorial positions in an effort to align our staffing levels to expected revenues in 2015 and levels at similar sized media companies.

These are always tough decisions and my heart goes out to those who departed. Their loss will be felt by all of us.

Please know that these changes represent the full extent of planned reductions in the newsroom.  While changes like this are very difficult, we can now focus fully on pursuing a variety of opportunities that will help us move forward.

— Beth

I hear that among those departing is veteran reporter Steve DeCosta, a respected figure in the newsroom since  the late 1970s. I also understand that Simón Rios is leaving the paper for WBUR Radio (90.9 FM). The cuts, I’m told, will shrink the reporting staff to five, compared to nine just two years ago. (I’m asking for details on the third job that’s been eliminated and will update if I hear anything.)

You may recall that Perdue’s predecessor as editor, Bob Unger, resigned in December rather than implement GateHouse-ordered cuts. Boston Globe reporter (and GateHouse alumnus) Jon Chesto wrote at the time that Unger was “hoping his sacrifice will save two or three lower-paying jobs.” If you scroll to the bottom of Chesto’s story, you’ll see what I told him: Don’t count on it.

• T&G reporter quits over shrinking pay. In a departure that has gotten national buzz, Thomas Caywood, an investigative reporter for the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, quit after management refused to give him a 3 percent raise — which, he said, would have offset only a fraction of the reduction in income he’s been subjected to over the years. Here is part of what Caywood wrote to T&G publisher James Normandin:

For your background, I have been a reporter at the Telegram & Gazette since September 2007, during which time I have had one small pay raise. The cumulative impact of inflation over the last seven years of my employment has been to reduce the value of my annual earnings by nearly 14 percent. My vacation allotment was reduced from three weeks a year to two weeks by Halifax Media Group. Meanwhile, our benefits cost more and cover less than before the Halifax acquisition….

All I require is a 3 percent raise and restoration of my previous three-weeks-a-year vacation allotment. The meager raise would barely be noticeable to my finances, but it’s vital to me that I see some tangible evidence of this commitment to quality journalism of which you and GateHouse speak.

Caywood told Jim Romenesko: “I didn’t leave the Telegram & Gazette with any hard feelings and my departure was not intended as some kind of provocative ‘fuck you’ gesture…. But I just couldn’t avoid any longer the unwelcome truth that I valued the job more highly than the company valued me.”

If you’re having a hard time following the bouncing chains, Globe owner John Henry sold the T&G to Halifax Media Group of Florida in 2014. Halifax turned around a few months later and sold out in its entirety to GateHouse, which is based in suburban Rochester, New York. Here is the analysis I wrote for WGBHNews.org in November.

• Cape Cod Times to close printing plant. The Cape Cod Times and its affiliated weeklies will shut down their printing press in Hyannis and move production to the Providence Journal.

This move, at least, makes sense, and has been anticipated from the time that GateHouse acquired the Journal last summer. But “an undisclosed number of jobs” will be eliminated, writes Times reporter Bryan Lantz. And here’s more from Jon Chesto.

*For the sake of simplicity, I am referring to the corporate owner of all these papers as GateHouse Media. The chain’s acquisition branch is known as New Media Investment Group.

Update. I’m now hearing that DeCosta and two other newsroom people were let go at The Standard-Times — not counting Rios, who’ll begin his new job at WBUR soon.

 

Expanded Globe Business section makes its debut

Globe Business pageThe Boston Globe has all age groups covered in its expanded Business section, which debuts today.

For younger readers, there is this story, by Stefanie Friedhoff, on a start-up that sells highly reflective paint to make bicycles more visible in the dark.

And for old folks like me, tech columnist Hiawatha Bray has advice for what to do about the blizzard of passwords you want your loved ones to be able to access after you’ve departed this vale of tears. I’m going to bookmark that one.

When it comes to newspapers, more is better. The section offers a nice mix of stories and is attractively designed. (I took a rare peek at the replica edition so that I could see what it looks like in print.) And for those who still care about such things, Business is once again a standalone section.

To its credit, the Globe has also assigned reporter Katie Johnston to cover “workplace and income inequality.” I’d like to see her reporting supplemented with a strong, opinionated voice along the lines of the way columnist Shirley Leung chronicles the local power players.

Here’s the press release:

The Boston Globe Launches New and Expanded Standalone Business Section

Tuesday through Friday section, with new staff and features, debuts December 4; launch sponsored by University of Massachusetts

Boston (Dec. 4, 2014) — The Boston Globe today launches a new and expanded business section. Tuesday through Friday, and Sunday, the print version of Business will be a standalone section, giving it a more prominent position in the newspaper.

The new section — also on BostonGlobe.com — debuts at a time when Boston and the region is at the front-end of an unprecedented period of growth. The section will cover the power players and big-thinkers helping to make the area a national hub for innovation, as well as those struggling to raise their economic standing in a state with some of the nation’s highest housing and energy costs.

Readers can also expect more personalities, more strong-voiced writing, and more dramatic design. It’s a section that reflects the fact that people work in many different ways these days, and that jobs intersect with private lives in ways that weren’t imagined not so long ago. It’s not just about what people do for work, but how they do it, where they do it, and what they do after work. It’s about business as part of life.

“When we at the Globe think about business as a subject, it encompasses so much more than stock prices and mergers, profits and losses,” said Mark Pothier, Globe business editor. “There are bold ideas and life stories behind every business and business decision. There are people leading the way and those who are left behind. We want to make the section relevant to a much broader range of readers than a traditional business section.”

New features include:

  • Bold Types: A destination for anyone interested in who’s doing what. Think of this as the Business version of the popular Names column in the Metro section, with CEOs and startup geniuses instead of movie stars.
  • Talking Points: A fast-paced summary of what the time-starved business person needs to start the day — from local to national to global
  • Agenda: What’s on tap for tomorrow and what might you want to attend? This could feature events like the next Federal Reserve meeting, a product giveaway or charity event
  • Workspace: Highlights trends and unusual workspaces, from the back of a bus to ultra-hip high tech offices
  • Build: Covers real estate, new projects and architecture
  • Double Shot: Washington-based reporter Matt Viser’s column expands from politics to focus on the coffee-drinking habits of businesspeople.
  • The Download: A brisk digital dossier of someone in the business world – their social media habits, last photo taken, most-used apps and more
  • Business Lunch: Everything from the hot spots to get business done to the eating habits of the power brokers
  • There and Back: From commuting horror stories to favorite destinations for conferences to travel tips from airport veterans
  • Shop: New stores, new trends, new products, good deals, potential scams and more
  • Number of the Day: One number can say a lot

In advance of the new section, Cynthia Needham, formerly the Globe’s political editor, joined Business.

New hires include Jon Chesto, formerly managing editor of the Boston Business Journal, and Sacha Pfeiffer, formerly senior reporter and host of WBUR’s “All Things Considered.” Prior to joining WBUR six years ago, Pfeiffer spent a decade at the Globe, most notably as part of the Spotlight Team that won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the clergy abuse scandal. She will cover nonprofits, venture capital, philanthropy, and the people and motivations behind them.

The new section also includes coverage from BetaBoston.com, the source for innovation and tech news, from the latest start-ups to the newest biotechnology breakthrough. BetaBoston.com will also share and link to the expanded Globe business coverage.

The University of Massachusetts (UMass) is the section launch sponsor. “As the state’s largest university, we are always following changes and trends in the regional business landscape,” said Robert P. Connolly, UMass Vice President for Communications. “We value this expanded coverage as a member of the business community and value the opportunity to support its launch.”

The new Business section is the latest example of the Globe’s commitment to providing an unparalleled depth of information and perspective on a variety of coverage areas. Its Capital (politics) and Address (real estate) sections are the most recent examples.

The Globe’s new Business section debuts Dec. 4, 2014. All content will be available at BostonGlobe.com/business and readers can also follow Business on Twitter at @BostonGlobe and @GlobeBiz.

Big moves as Globe prepares to expand its business section

Some big media moves were announced a little while ago as The Boston Globe plans to ramp up its business section next month. First the email sent to the staff by editor Brian McGrory and business editor Mark Pothier. Then a bit of analysis.

Hey all,

We’d like to fill you in on some terrific developments in our Business department, all of them designed to build on the exceptional work that went into our Market Basket coverage and so many other news and enterprise stories over the past year.

First, we’re reconfiguring the paper to give Business its own section front on Tuesdays through Fridays, starting the first week of December. In fact, Business will get a free-standing eight-page section, somewhere between Metro and Sports. We’ve worked with Mark Morrow and Dan Zedek, as well as an entire team of creative editors and reporters, to conceive a bold new approach to business coverage, both in form and function. There’ll be a more contemporary look, a plethora of new features, and a renewed commitment to the most insightful and energetic business coverage in New England. We’ve got everything but a new name, which is currently, to my chagrin, “Business.” Please offer better ideas.

For this new section, we need additional talent, and that’s the best part of this note. We’ve locked in three major moves and we’re working on still others. To wit:

— Cynthia Needham, the Globe’s invaluable political editor for the past four years, the person who has taken us deftly from Brown v Warren to Baker v Coakley, and through so much in between, is heading to Business to help oversee a talented team of reporters and key parts of the new section. There’s not a better person in the industry to help the cause. Cynthia was a vital part of the conception and launch of Capital, our wonderfully popular Friday political section. She knows inherently that journalistic sweetspot where insight meets accessibility. And she is among the smartest, hardest-working, and best-connected editors in the building, all of which is why we asked her to undertake this crucial assignment. Cynthia will start at her new post, as one of Mark’s deputies, next week.

— Jon Chesto, the managing editor of the Boston Business Journal, is coming to the Globe November 24, as a reporter covering what we’ll describe as a “power beat.” It’s a great get for us. Jon’s among the absolute best connected reporters in the city, with a deep knowledge of how commerce works and the major figures who shape it. He’s also an energetic workhorse, an irrepressible reporter who will help breathe fresh energy into the department with smart stories. Before his stint at the BBJ, Jon spent a big chunk of time as the business editor at the Patriot Ledger, where he won a string of national awards for his weekly column, “Mass. Market.”

— Sacha Pfeiffer will arrive back home to the Globe the first week of December. There’s no way to overstate the significance of this. Sacha is legend here, which has nothing to do with Rachel McAdams, but everything to do with her exceptional reporting over a decade-long stint at the Globe, during which she shared in the Pulitzer Prize for the Spotlight series on clergy child abuse and a litany of national honors for other stories. She’s been a star at WBUR since 2008, recognizable for her expert reporting and authoritative on-air presence. The exact particulars of Sacha’s beat are still being worked out, but it will focus on wealth management and power, along with a weekly column tailored to the huge and vital nonprofit world in greater Boston. Sacha, like Jon, will report to Cynthia.

We’re aiming to make our business coverage a signature part of the Globe, both in print and online, which shouldn’t be hard, given that we’re starting from a very strong position. Our reporters have attacked their beats with gusto. Shirley [Leung] has proven to be a must-read columnist every time she taps on her keyboard. Our editors have poured creativity into the job, and it shows.

The reimagined section will launch December 4, give or take a day. We have mock-ups we’ll share with the whole staff early next week. In the meantime, please take a moment to congratulate Cynthia and to welcome Jon and Sacha to the Globe.

All best,
Brian and Mark

Now, then. This is great news for Globe readers, although I would express the hope that expanded labor coverage will be part of this as well. But for those of us who watch the comings and goings of local media people, the most surprising development is Sacha Pfeiffer’s return to the Globe.

When Pfeiffer joined WBUR (90.9 FM) several years ago, I thought it solidified ’BUR as the city’s most interesting and creative news organization. Of course, ’BUR remains one of the crown jewels of the public radio system. But Pfeiffer’s return underscores the extent to which the Globe is expanding these days under owner John Henry and editor McGrory. (Disclosure: I’m a paid contributor to WGBH, whose news-and-talk radio station, at 89.7 FM, is a direct competitor of WBUR’s.)

Chesto’s move is less surprising because it’s a step up. But the Boston Business Journal has been set back on its heels given that executive editor George Donnelly left at the end of last month.

Charlie Baker wins the Globe’s endorsement

Charlie Baker
Charlie Baker

As I and many other observers expected, The Boston Globe has endorsed Republican Charlie Baker for governor. Here’s the money graf:

Effective activist government isn’t built on good intentions. To provide consistently good results, especially for the state’s most vulnerable and troubled residents, agencies need to focus on outcomes, learn from their errors, and preserve and replicate approaches that succeed. Baker, a former health care executive, has made a career of doing just that. During this campaign, he has focused principally on making state government work better. The emphasis is warranted. And in that spirit, the Globe endorses Charlie Baker for governor.

The essential takeaway from the editorial seems to be that Gov. Deval Patrick’s competence has not matched his inspirational rhetoric, and that Martha Coakley offers a lot less inspiration with no promise of greater competence. Baker is no liberal, but he’s just liberal enough — especially on social issues — to get the nod.

How important is the Globe’s endorsement? It’s hard to say. I don’t think people look to newspaper endorsements to decide whom to support in high-profile races like governor or U.S. senator. Endorsements are more valuable when the candidates and offices are obscure, and voters are genuinely looking for guidance.

But the race has been moving Baker’s way during the past week or so. Even if you discount the Globe’s poll last Thursday showing Baker with a 9-point lead, the trend is clear, as this WBUR Radio graph shows.

Right after the primaries I predicted that Baker would win, and that it wouldn’t be particularly close. Let’s put it this way: The Globe’s endorsement of Baker may not be fatal to Coakley’s chances, but it certainly doesn’t help.

Photo (cc) by the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Ferguson and the importance of citizen media

2848609_300Two of my WGBH colleagues, Callie Crossley and Jim Braude, were welcomed to the honorary board of Cambridge Community Television recently. (Robin Young of WBUR and I were the picks last year.) Congratulations to both Callie and Jim. CCTV is a great example of how volunteer media can make a difference in providing local news and fostering civic engagement.

CCTV executive director Susan Fleischmann asked me to speak for a few minutes, and then published a tweaked-up version of my remarks in Open Studio, the organization’s newsletter. You can read what I had to say here or below:

On the evening of Aug. 13, while I was checking Twitter, I started to see reports coming in that the police in Ferguson, Missouri, were forcibly suppressing nonviolent protests. Five days earlier, on Aug. 9, a teenager named Michael Brown had been killed by a police officer under circumstances that are still unclear.

I turned on CNN, which was running a story on the death of Robin Williams. So I turned back to Twitter.

Several people I was following posted livestreams. I clicked on one called “I Am Michael Brown Live” from KARG Argus Radio, a community radio station. What I saw was incredible. It certainly wasn’t HDTV — the video was dark and green, likely shot with nothing but a smartphone, showing a column of police officers advancing and using flares and rubber bullets to disperse a peaceful crowd.

Later, the cable channels started covering Ferguson live — but they were mainly showing the KARG footage, as it was pretty much the only material they had.

Ferguson showed the power of citizen media. Reports from the scene on Twitter, Instagram and the like kept growing and building until finally the mainstream media were forced to take notice and cover the story.

At a time when the traditional media don’t have the resources to cover stories the way they did 20 years ago, ordinary people armed with smartphones can serve as an early warning signal. A story can begin with citizen media and work its way into the mainstream — and from there into the national consciousness, as was the case in Ferguson.

It was widely reported that two journalists were arrested the night of Aug. 13 — Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Post. In fact, there was a third — Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman who had been covering the protests on social media from the beginning.

Lowery — who video-recorded the officer who was arresting him — and Reilly were quickly released. It took longer for French. But how much longer still if he hadn’t been an elected official? At at time when everyone can engage in acts of journalism, we need protection not just for professional journalists but for people using the tools they have available to report what is happening around them.

What professional journalists do is incredibly important. The stories they tell, when done well, give us the information we need to govern ourselves in a democracy.

What you as citizen journalists involved in public media such as Cambridge Community TV are doing is every bit as important. Many times you are on the front lines of local stories that are too local for the mainstream to bother with. And you’re the early warning signal for the mainstream.

What happened in Ferguson underscores the value and importance of what you do every day. All of us in professional journalists admire what you’re doing, or at least we should. This evening is to salute you.

Globe executive announces digital moves

This email to Boston Globe and Boston.com employees was sent out a little while ago by Andrew Perlmutter, executive vice president of Boston Globe Media Partners. A source passed it along to Media Nation. The main news here seems to be that David Skok continues his rise on the Globe digital side and that the company is still in ramp-up mode with the new Boston.com. Interesting stuff if you geek out on these things, as I do.

Colleagues —

From launching Boston.com during the early days of the Internet to developing a responsively designed BostonGlobe.com in 2011, digital innovation and success have always been in our DNA here at Boston Globe Media. At the heart of this success lies the ability to evolve our products over time alongside new trends in digital consumption.

With the consumer web transforming faster than ever before, we must evolve again. In this phase in our evolution, we aim to become a world-class digital product operation. We must continue to produce great digital journalism. That is a given. But like the best web product companies today, we must also develop the ability to build and iterate products with great creativity, discipline, and efficiency. This requires a re-imagination of everything from the structure of the organization to our strategy for identifying and developing new content areas.

Luckily, we pursue this next phase with an incredibly strong foundation, anchored by our three core businesses: Boston.com, BostonGlobe.com, and our Digital Marketplaces. Because each business has the potential for independent growth, the initial step in our evolution is to build excellent, standalone digital product operations for all three properties. Great leadership and a top-notch talent base form the core of this strategy. With that as context, it is my pleasure to make some important personnel announcements.

First, I would like to formally announce that David Skok has, as part of his role as the Globe newsroom’s digital leader, taken the helm at BostonGlobe.com. David came to The Globe in early January and has been in the lead on BG.com since early April. An incredibly strong editorial and product leader, David comes to The Globe from Shaw Communications, where he ran the Global News’ website, Canada’s leading news organization. Additionally, Lauren Shea has joined the BG.com team as Product Director. Lauren comes to us from Arnold Worldwide and brings years of digital product expertise.

Second, I would like to announce that Corey Gottlieb and Angus Durocher will take over Boston.com and our Online Marketplace businesses as Executive Directors of Digital Strategy and Operations. Corey has spent five years building cutting edge digital media experiences at MLB Advanced Media. Meanwhile, Angus has over 15 years of consumer web experience, including leading and managing the front-end engineering team at YouTube for 5 years (both pre and post Google acquisition). With their remarkable combination of product, engineering, content, and marketing leadership skills, Boston.com and the Online Marketplace businesses are in great hands. In this updated structure, Corey will be responsible for Marketing, Content, and Business while Angus will oversee Technology and Design. And they will jointly guide our Product efforts.

Several other very talented individuals have also joined our digital operation recently. On the Boston.com editorial side, Adam Vacarro has joined us from Inc. Magazine while Sara Morrison and Eric Levenson have both come over from The Atlantic Wire. Please welcome them to the organization.

It is very exciting to bring these talented individuals to the organization. And this is just the beginning. Our leadership teams are building high-growth strategic roadmaps for their respective businesses, and we will continue to bring in top-tier talent to help us grow. In other words, the future looks very bright for us. We have a lot to accomplish and many challenges to overcome, but I know we are building the team to do it.

Here we go.

Andrew

Update. And now we learn that Laura Amico, the cofounder of Homicide Watch, will be joining BostonGlobe.com as news editor for multimedia and data projects. This is a huge move (disclosure: Laura and her husband and journalistic partner, Chris Amico, have worked with us at Northeastern) as well as a very smart one.

Still more. Here’s the announcement from David Skok:

I’m thrilled to announce that Laura Amico, the founder of Homicide Watch, will be joining the Globe newsroom to take on the new position of News Editor, Multimedia and Data Projects.

Without exaggeration, I can say that Laura is a bit of a rockstar and a trailblazer in the digital journalism community. She was both the first Nieman-Berkman Fellow in Journalism Innovation at Harvard and the first MJ Bear fellow through the Online News Association. She also teaches at Northeastern University and is the editor of WBUR’s Learning Lab.

Reporting to Jason Tuohey, Laura will oversee our talented data team along with our new metro producer, Andy Rosen.

Having someone of Laura’s pedigree to help push our creative efforts on story-centric journalism is a tremendous coup.  While Laura is most well-known for building the Homicide Watch platform, in our conversations, I’ve found that she possesses an intrinsic understanding of how to engage digital audiences in unique, purpose-driven, community journalism.

Laura understands that we’ve already had some great success with immersive multimedia reporting projects, most recently with Maria Sacchetti and Jessica Rinaldi’s ‘Unforgiven,’ the year-long Spotlight ‘Shadow Campus’ investigation, and the Filipov, Wen, Jacob’s triumvirate on the ‘Fall of the House of Tsarnaev.’ I’m confident that Laura’s diversity of thought will take us in new, extraordinary directions.

Laura (@LauraNorton) will join the Globe newsroom in late August.

— David

They Posted Clickbait So They’d All Get Rich. What Happened Next Made Them Cry.

WGBH forum
From left: Raney Aronson Rath, deputy executive producer of “Frontline,” who introduced the panel: moderator Joshua Benton, Tim O’Brien, Clay Shirky and Ethan Zuckerman. Photo by Lisa Palone via Twitter.

Cross-posted at WGBH News.

Have we reached the limits of clickbait media exemplified by The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed? According to three experts on Internet journalism, the answer is yes.

At a forum on the future of journalism held in WGBH’s Yawkey Theater on Wednesday, the consensus was that aggregating as many eyeballs as possible in order to show them advertising does not produce enough revenue to support quality journalism. Instead, news organizations like The New York Times are succeeding by persuading a small percentage of their audience to support them through subscription fees. (Click here for some tweets from the session.)

“One of the things that interests me is the end of the audience as a discrete category that can be treated as an aggregate,” said Clay Shirky of New York University. “Scale was the business model,” he said, describing the attitude among Web publishers as “‘At some point scale will play out.’ And it didn’t.”

As it turns out, Shirky continued, pushing people to “a hot new story” didn’t really matter that much. “What really matters,” he said, “is that there’s about 3 percent of that audience who really cares whether that newspaper lives or dies. We’re just at the beginning of that.”

Shirky and his fellow panelists — Tim O’Brien, publisher of Bloomberg View, and Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media, moderated by Nieman Journalism Lab editor Joshua Benton — noted that the revenue model being pursued by the Times and others is essentially the same as the system that funds public media outlets such as WGBH, WBUR, NPR and the like.

O’Brien and Zuckerman disagreed over the need for mass media. O’Brien argued that the audience for an entertainment program can come up with ways of paying for it that don’t depend on attracting a larger audience. “We’re talking about different ways to finance passion,” he said.

To which Zuckerman retorted: “We’re not just talking about ‘Downton Abbey.’ We’re talking about news.” The challenge, Zuckerman said, is to find ways not just of funding journalism but of building enough of an audience so that investigative reporting at the local level can have enough clout to influence events.

Zuckerman also raised the issue of how news organizations do and don’t foster civic engagement, offering the example of the sudden closing of North Adams Regional Hospital in western Massachusetts. The closing put about 500 people out of work and left residents about 45 minutes away from the nearest emergency room.

Zuckerman praised the Berkshire Eagle’s coverage, but said the paper offered little sense of what the public could do. That, he said, would require “advocacy journalism” of the sort that makes traditional journalists uncomfortable.

That led to an observation by Shirky that newspaper editors are actually well-versed in telling their readers how to get involved when it comes to something like a theater review. Not only do readers learn whether the critic liked the play or not, but they are also told when and where it is being performed, how much tickets cost and how to buy them. But when covering a political story, Shirky continued, readers never learn how to make a donation or get involved.

Zuckerman said the problem is that news organizations don’t like to promote what-you-can-do measures when it comes to partisan politics.

By contrast, he added, news organizations have no issues with telling their audience how they can help after a natural disaster, explaining: “There is not a huge pro-hurricane constituency.”

Flashback: Emily Rooney and public broadcasting in 1997

On Feb. 6, 1997, just after the debut of “Greater Boston” on WGBH-TV (Channel 2), I wrote an article for The Boston Phoenix on the state of the city’s two major public broadcasters, WGBH and WBUR. It was the first time I’d met the host, Emily Rooney. The original is online here, but, as you will see, it’s unreadable; thus, I have reproduced it in full below. In re-reading it, I was struck by what an interesting moment in time that was, with many of the same names and issues still with us 17 years later.

Making waves

With commercial stations going lowbrow, Boston’s public broadcasters are fine-tuning their strategies. The question: are WGBH & WBUR doing their duty?

Copyright © 1997 by the Phoenix Media/Communications Group. All rights reserved.

GB_largeplayerEmily Rooney is taping the intro to a segment of WGBH-TV’s new local public-affairs show, Greater Boston. Or trying to, anyway. It’s been a long day. Her feet are killing her. And her first few attempts at hyping an interview with Charles Murray, the controversial academic who’s currently promoting his new book on libertarianism, haven’t gone particularly well.

After several tries, though, she nails it. “That was warmer,” says a voice in the control room. “That was very nice.”

She sighs, visibly relieved at getting a break from the unblinking eye of the lens.

Rooney, the former news director of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), may be a respected newswoman, but the debut of Greater Boston last week showed that her transition to an on-camera role is going to take some time. And if Rooney and Greater Boston are struggling to find their voice, so, too, is WGBH.

This is, after all, the first significant foray into local public-affairs programming for WGBH (Channels 2 and 44, plus a radio station) since 1991, when it canceled The Ten O’Clock News. The new show is a huge improvement over the one it replaces, The Group, an unmoderated roundtable discussion that rose from the ashes of the News. (“A tawdry, pathetic little show,” huffs one industry observer of The Group, widely derided as “The Grope.”) Still, Greater Boston is going to need some work. Week One’s topics, which included the Super Bowl and cute animals, were too light and fluffy to qualify the show as a must-watch. And Rooney, who doubles as Greater Boston‘s executive editor, needs to overcome her on-the-set jitters.

It’s crucial that ’GBH get it right. With commercial broadcasters in full retreat from serious news and public affairs, public-broadcasting stations are the last redoubt. Boston’s two major public stations — WGBH-TV and WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) — are among the most admired in the country. It’s by no means clear, however, that the people who run those stations are willing or able to fill the gap created by the commercial stations’ retreat into sensationalism and frivolity. Continue reading “Flashback: Emily Rooney and public broadcasting in 1997”

Naming names: Did the Globe make the right call?

redactedPreviously published at WGBH News.

We’re going to be hearing a lot about The Boston Globe’s decision to publish the names of the FBI agent and State Police troopers who were involved in the Florida shooting death of Ibragim Todashev, the Tamerlan Tsarnaev associate suspected of taking part in a triple murder in Waltham.

The story, by Globe reporter Maria Sacchetti, reveals that FBI agent Aaron McFarlane is a former Oakland police officer with a troubling past. The article raises serious questions about how law enforcement handled the investigation of perhaps the single most important figure connected to the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. Here is some background to keep in mind as the discussion unfolds.

This past January, David Boeri of WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) reported on the FBI-State Police interrogation that ended in Todashev’s death. Here’s what Boeri had to say about the names of the agent and the two troopers:

In the course of our investigation, WBUR has learned the names of the law enforcement officers involved in the shooting. We are not releasing the names at the request of both the FBI and the Massachusetts State Police, which cited specific concerns for their safety.

In today’s Globe article, we learn that the FBI agent’s name is Aaron McFarlane, and that he “has previously been publicly identified in a blog about the Boston Marathon case.”

That prompted Boston magazine editor-in-chief Carly Carioli to tweet:

(And by the way, in March Boston published its own long investigation into the shooting. The article, by Susan Zalkind, was also the subject of a one-hour segment on public radio’s “This American Life.”)

Carioli’s tweet leads to a site called “The Boston Marathon Bombings: What Happened?”, which on May 3 revealed the names of McFarlane and the two Massachusetts troopers, Joel Gagne and Curtis Cinelli. (As best as I can tell, that’s the first time any of the three officers was named.) According to the site, the names and uncensored crime-scene photos were obtained from PDFs of public records using techniques that sound similar to what the Globe did. The Globe offers this description:

The Globe obtained their names by removing improperly created redactions from an electronic copy of Florida prosecutor Jeffrey L. Ashton’s report — which in March found the shooting of Todashev justified — and then verifying their identities through interviews and multiple government records. Those records include voting, birth, and pension documents.

On May 5, the same “What Happened?” website revealed some of the problems McFarlane had as a member of the Oakland Police Department that are at the heart of today’s Globe story.

I should note that though the “What Happened?” site appears to have broken some important stories, it also traffics in rather, uh, unusual rhetoric. For instance, here is a photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, bloody and injured as he surrendered in Watertown, beneath the headline “2013: THE YEAR AMERICA BEGAN HUNTING DOWN AND SHOOTINGS[sic] IT’S [sic] OWN TEENAGERS. WHY?”

By all indications the Globe has been careful to do its own reporting — which it would in any case, but which is especially important when dealing with material like this.

Which brings us to the question I imagine we’ll be debating in the days to come: Should the Globe have released the names of McFarlane, Gagne and Cinelli? I’d like to hear arguments on both sides. But keep these three things in mind:

  • The official investigation into Todashev’s death had not been completed when Boeri was doing his reporting for WBUR in January. Since then the three have been cleared by investigators, and the matter is no longer pending.
  • Police officers are doing the public’s business, and we have a right to know as much information as possible about serious matters such as the Todashev shooting. Consider a much more routine example, reported by the Salem News, in which the Essex County district attorney’s office named officers involved in a fatal shooting in the course of disclosing the results of their investigation.
  • Because of the “What Happened?” report, the three names were, in fact, already out there. Whatever calculation Globe editors might have made if this had occurred 20 years ago, it is simply a reality that a mainstream news organization can no longer act as a gatekeeper to prevent the public from learning information that it can find out elsewhere. This change doesn’t call for lower standards, but it does call for different standards.

I realize I’m putting my thumb on the disclosure side of the scale. But I think withholding the names would have been a respectable decision as well. As Sacchetti writes today, “Even Florida, which often identifies such officers, declined to do so in this case, citing concerns for the investigators’ safety.”

At this early stage, I can be persuaded either way, and I’m curious to see and hear what others have to say.