WBUR lays off 29, freezes salaries and says goodbye to four senior leaders

This is heartbreaking. WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) is laying off 29 people “because of the economic fallout of the past several months,” according to a memo sent to the staff by the station’s chief executive officer, Margaret Low. A salary freeze has been imposed. In addition, senior executives Tom Melville, John Davidow and Peter Lydotes are leaving, and Sam Fleming will retire later this year.

Overall, Low says, the current budget of $46 million will be reduced to $40 million in the next fiscal year.

The memo also contains some ideas and observations about increasing the diversity of the staff and about the station’s ongoing commitment to local news.

This is bad news for the Boston area. Along with WGBH News, where I’m a contributor, WBUR is an incredibly important part of the regional news ecosystem system. It’s also terrible news for the folks who’ll be losing their jobs. Best wishes to everyone during this challenging time.

I got the memo from a trusted source. The full text follows:

Dear All,

I have important news to share this morning about a significant reorganization and some of the difficult choices I’ve had to make because of the economic fallout of the past several months.

To begin, we are laying off 29 people. Many of them are part time staff. This means valued colleagues are losing their jobs at a very challenging time and will be leaving WBUR over the next days, weeks and months. We’ve already reached out to everyone who is immediately affected by the changes.

While I’m confident that WBUR has a bright future, this is a hard moment — because longtime coworkers and friends will be departing.

There will also be some shared sacrifice. There will be no wage increases for FY21, except for negotiated union salary adjustments, and there will be no contributions to retirement funds. And we’ve developed a much reduced budget for the next fiscal year. The WBUR Board approved a FY20 budget of just under $46 million. For FY21, the Board will be presented with a budget of just over $40 million.

Beyond the layoffs, we will reduce expenses across the board. Most notably — we are eliminating seven unfilled positions, cutting travel and marketing costs and canceling various contracted services. I’m taking a 10% salary cut.

A number of senior leaders, who collectively have dedicated the better part of a century to WBUR, will be leaving us. They include: Tom Melville, John Davidow and Peter LydotesSam Fleming plans to retire this year. He will be with us three days a week for the next few months.

In addition, we will stop production of Only A Game at the end of September. The New York Times will take over the wildly successful Modern Love podcast at the end of the month, and Kind World, which blossomed from a digital experiment back in 2012 into an award winning Morning Edition feature and podcast, will end its run in July.

At the same time as we are losing cherished colleagues, this restructuring means that we will be hiring for a number of new positions that will make WBUR stronger.

There is a lot more to share, and I apologize in advance for the length of this note. I want to reflect the decisions we’ve made with precision, care and respect for all our colleagues. I will be meeting with some individual teams today and tomorrow and I will hold an AMA later this afternoon, so I can answer any questions you have.

The changes I’m making are necessary to streamline the organization and to reflect the budget realities of the moment. But beyond this restructuring, there is much more work to be done to forge our long term strategic future. Over the summer, we will begin to fully articulate what will define our journalism and our programming going forward and what it will take to become even more essential in people’s lives.

My decisions rest on four pillars — three that I’m addressing immediately with this reorganization and a fourth that I will enlist all of you in tackling in the days and months ahead:

    • Editorial Excellence — we must strive to be the most trusted and beloved source of local news in Boston and beyond, distinguished in a competitive media landscape by the quality and ambition of our journalism and our programming.
    • Organizational Efficiency and Effectiveness — we must ensure that WBUR is a disciplined and well-run operation that supports and empowers people, holds them accountable and reflects our values at every turn.
    • Economic Sustainability — we must rightsize the organization so we aren’t spending more money than we are bringing in. At the same time we must double down on generating revenue and finding new ways to fuel WBUR.
    • The Road Ahead — there are two issues of great consequence to our future that require our concerted attention.

The first is racial equity. In the weeks following the police killing of George Floyd, we have witnessed a global outpouring of people calling for racial justice — and an end to the profound inequities that have defined the American experience. These days are filled with anguish, but endowed with the possibility of achieving lasting change.

This reckoning demands that we confront elements of systemic racism that have  persisted in our country and our institutions, even as we’ve expressed a commitment to diversity. WBUR is not exempt from this examination — we have a lot of work to do. And it can’t be addressed by simply restating our values of inclusion. This effort must be different in kind and substance than anything we’ve done before. It requires change in every aspect of our culture, our coverage, our hiring and our leadership development. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m committed to leading the way and not letting up. Our future depends on it.

Second, our future also depends on identifying how we continue to grow our audience and cultivate the loyalty and financial support that is essential to sustaining our journalism. This is a time of profound technological change and the clock is ticking. WBUR has been a credible digital innovator. But as listening habits and media consumption patterns continue to shift, we have to confront how we reach new audiences and become even more relevant in people’s lives. So that they can’t imagine a day without WBUR. And they believe we’re worthy of their support.

Both of these efforts will require the investment of every single person at WBUR.

Given all this, it was clear that a restructuring of WBUR was imperative, but everything was accelerated by an unexpected financial crisis that compelled deeper cuts. In laying out the details, I can’t possibly give proper due to all the people who have devoted themselves to WBUR for so many years. Finding ways to celebrate our departing colleagues is made more difficult in the age of social distancing. But we will make sure that happens.

In the meantime, I’ve tried to capture the most important aspects of the restructuring below.

Local News

Local journalism has always been core to our mission. Increasingly it is paramount. We have the biggest local newsroom in public radio and in order to produce agenda-setting coverage, we are reorganizing the team, strengthening our leadership ranks and deepening our bench of editors.

To begin, Dan Mauzy will become Executive Editor for News. In my five months at WBUR, I’ve seen Dan demonstrate editorial depth, impressive leadership, and an unmatched command of every aspect of the newsroom operation. Dan will work closely with Tom Melville to ensure a smooth transition.

For nearly nine years, Tom has led the newsroom with grace, generosity and a deep love and knowledge of the region. This has never been more evident than in these last few months, as first COVID and then the death of George Floyd transformed the nation and the globe. That WBUR’s local journalism has soared, amid the disruption to our operations and the pain we feel in our personal and professional lives, is a testament to Tom. I’m enormously grateful for his intelligence, integrity and extraordinary kindness.

I am also moving the team responsible for the editorial dimension of our digital efforts into the news division, so that our journalism on all platforms is more closely aligned.

Tiffany Campbell, our Executive Editor for Digital, will continue to oversee her editorial staff and newsroom digital strategy, and will now report to Dan. In addition, Cognoscenti, led by Frannie Carr Toth, will move into the newsroom under Tiffany. More on the rest of the digital team in a moment.

John Davidow will be leaving us after a remarkable 17 year run at WBUR. He joined the station after a distinguished career as a producer in commercial television (when it was in its prime). John was hired to lead the local news team, and radio became his new medium. More than 10 years ago, John made another leap, when he took over our fledgling digital operation. His work propelled WBUR to become one of the most prominent local digital operations in the system. At the same time, John gained national recognition in public media for his expertise on emerging technologies. He spotted great talent like Tiffany along the way and built a first class digital team that will remain a vital part of WBUR’s future.

Managing Editor Elisabeth Harrison, who has so skillfully overseen our coverage of COVID-19, will take on additional newsroom responsibilities and also report to Dan. Beyond  health and business, she will oversee our general assignment reporters and those covering politics, immigration and other beats.

Dan Guzman and Jon Cain will become Executive Producers of Morning Edition and All Things Considered, respectively. They will now supervise show hosts, writers and producers. This will add organizational structure and cohesion to our flagship local NPR shows.

Weekend Managing Editor Paul Connearney, will also take on new responsibilities and supervise the newscast anchors.

In addition to what I’ve laid out above, we will be posting three new newsroom positions. They are:

    • A second managing editor to work side by side with Elisabeth and Tiffany and a new managing producer (see below). This new managing editor will report to Dan and oversee our investigations team as well as our coverage of arts and culture, education and the environment.
    • deputy managing editor, reporting to Elisabeth, who will deepen the editing bench for health, business, politics, and other beats.
    • We are also posting a managing producer This person will oversee all local news programs: Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Radio Boston and local newscasts.

A New Product Team

As I said in my 100 day note, WBUR has a powerful history. We have been broadcasters for 70 years and, over those years, we have fostered deep and lasting relationships with our radio audience. Our next job is to develop that connection, to build those relationships, for digital audiences in ways that ensure we’re here for another 70 years. We must be laser-focused on that, because with time — and likely sooner than we think —  digital revenue will need to replace much of the traditional broadcast revenue that supports our journalism. And it won’t happen unless we build the kind of loyalty and devotion that we’ve historically had with our radio audience.

To that end, I’m creating a product team, led by Joan DiMicco. Her job will be to make sure that every experience with WBUR, on any platform, is exceptional. She will be responsible for the strategy, design, and implementation of all our products and will help ensure their demonstrable success. This includes our owned platforms such as wbur.org, our newsletters, and our mobile app; and third-party platforms including NPR One and smart speakers. She will also stay abreast of tech developments across the media landscape as we craft what comes next.

The programmers, developers and digital audio editors, who were part of the larger digital team, will now report to Joan. This new team will work hand in hand with all our editorial teams, marketing and membership.

Operations

As I mentioned above, Peter Lydotes, who has overseen WBUR operations for 16 years, will be departing in the fall. Peter joined WBUR in 1992 as a board operator and over the years has gained an impressive understanding of how just about every system at WBUR works. Peter has absorbed many production responsibilities, keeping our people and our increasingly complicated operation and production efforts humming.

With Peter’s planned departure, Glenn Alexander, who oversees all the BRTs, will now report to Karl Voelker and Glenn’s whole team will be part of engineering and operations. This will help align our technical staff and ensure greater consistency across the organization. And, as I mentioned earlier in this note, the newscasters, who were part of Peter’s team, will join the news division.

In addition to this shift, the station will be automated overnight, as it has been throughout most of the COVID crisis. That means, aside from special circumstances, the last local newscast will be at 10 p.m. weekdays and 7 p.m. on weekends.

Only a Game

After 27 years, Only a Game will end its run this fall. Executive Producer Karen Given along with founding members Gary Waleik and former host Bill Littlefield — had an amazing  journey producing public radio’s only sports program, featuring highly-produced narrative storytelling and reaching more than 360,000 listeners each week on 260 stations. This is the end of an era for WBUR and I look forward to recognizing those who made this show such a meaningful part of public radio weekends for so many years.

More Staffing News

After nearly 30 years at WBUR, Sam Fleming is ready to pass the baton. He wants to spend more time with his wife who lives on Martha’s Vineyard. Sam let me know his plans long before I stepped into my role in January. Thankfully, he promised to stick around as long as he is needed and I’ve asked him to help me with this transition and importantly to work on WBUR’s ethical guidelines. Sam will begin working part time next month and, whether virtually or in person, we will give him a fitting farewell.

Organizational Structure

Right now I have more than a dozen people reporting to me. In the long run that’s not tenable. But given budget constraints, I will hold off on additional senior hires. It is more important to shore up other parts of the organization. This will be a good opportunity to see the newly structured team in action. If there are significant gaps, we will add positions when we have the resources to do so. But I’m going to be conservative on that front for now.

Some Final Thoughts

Organizational changes of this magnitude are hard. But they are also necessary to ensure that we are financially sound and in fighting shape to deliver on big ambitions. This is a two step process. First, we had to deal with the current financial reality and make the necessary organizational changes. Next, we will begin to lay out our strategy and chart our path forward.

To those who are leaving, I’m sorry that you are departing at this difficult moment in the country and the world. I’m enormously grateful for the years that you have devoted to making WBUR such an exceptional place. You will exit with my profound gratitude and a promise to build on the legacy you leave behind.

To those who are staying — thank you for all you’re doing to keep WBUR strong. Your work has never been more consequential. That is what gives us the stamina and resolve to press on — even during the hardest hours. We play a vital role in Boston and beyond. Serving the public. Reporting the truth. Enriching lives. It is a galvanizing cause —  one that is impossible to equal.

Margaret Low
Chief Executive Officer, WBUR

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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.

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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”