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Norfolk DA, OpenCourt battle over video archives

John Davidow

A suspect’s lawyer blurts out the name of a 15-year-old girl whom prosecutors say was forced into prostitution. Several newspaper reporters hear the name. Even though they have the right to use it under the First Amendment, it’s understood that they won’t — it would be unethical journalistically, it would compromise the criminal case and it would traumatize the alleged victim.

Despite all that, the district attorney’s office goes to court to prevent a news organization’s video from being posted online, even though the folks who run that organization say they have no intention of uploading it until the identifying information has been removed.

In essence, that’s how OpenCourt characterizes a lawsuit brought by Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey, which will be heard before Supreme Judicial Court Justice Margaret Botsford later today. The Boston Globe reports on the suit here; WBUR Radio (90.9 FM), with which OpenCourt is affiliated, reports on it here; and Open Court has its own take, with lots of background material, here.

Headed by WBUR’s executive editor for new media, John Davidow, OpenCourt received a $250,000 Knight News Challenge grant to livestream court proceedings and to make it easier for journalists, both professional and citizen, to provide coverage via Twitter and live-blogging. OpenCourt began livestreaming from Quincy District Court in May.

The issue of archiving those videos has proved to be contentious, with Morrissey’s office arguing that the archives — including the one involving the 15-year-old — could compromise “the privacy and safety of victims and witnesses.” Davidow responds that OpenCourt would be guided by the same ethical guidelines as any news organization, and that a legally imposed ban would be an unconstitutional abridgement of free speech. Davidow tells the Globe’s John Ellement:

This is really taking reporting that is done every day and then trying to take the editorial aspects away from journalists and put them in the hands of the state to decide what is published and what is not…. [O]nce we lawfully covered a story that was published, then it is up to the news organization to decide what to do with that material.

What Morrissey’s office is trying to do is to take long-established customs recognized by journalists and law-enforcement authorities alike and codify those customs into law, even though there is no reason to believe OpenCourt would act less responsibly than, say, the Quincy Patriot Ledger. It would set a dangerous precedent, and I hope the SJC does what is clearly the right thing.

Norfolk DA seeks to close a window at OpenCourt

OpenCourt, an ambitious project affiliated with WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) that’s designed to shine some sunlight on court proceedings, has been dealt a setback at the hands of Norfolk County District Attorney Michael Morrissey.

Last week OpenCourt began webcasting a livestream from Quincy District Court. But several days into the experiment, Morrissey asked that archives of the video stream be closed to the public. A motion (pdf) filed by his office claims that “the privacy and safety of victims and witnesses could be seriously compromised,” especially in cases involving gang violence. The motion cites the possibility that the jury pool could be tainted as well.

The OpenCourt blog responds:

The letter and the motions came as a great surprise to us, since we have for the past four months met with all stakeholders of the court, including the District Attorney, to ensure we implement this groundbreaking pilot project responsibly and respectfully.

While we will continue to record sessions, we have voluntarily decided to suspend posting the archives until sometime after May 18, 2011, as we try to work out a practical solution to the concerns raised by the District Attorney.

Headed by WBUR’s executive editor for new media, John Davidow, OpenCourt received a $250,000 Knight News Challenge grant to livestream court proceedings and to make it easier for journalists, both professional and citizen, to provide coverage via Twitter and live-blogging.

“It’s a pilot,” Davidow recently told Justin Ellis of the Nieman Journalism Lab. “It’s now a reality and off the white board. More and more issues will come forward.”

What makes this sticky is that OpenCourt has no First Amendment right to archive its video, or even to livestream. The project is entirely dependent on the goodwill of court officials. Yet the traditional closed-door mentality of our justice system helps foster suspicion and cynicism — exactly the negative attitudes that Davidow and company are trying to break down by making it easy for us to see exactly what takes place.

Let’s hope Morrissey thinks better of his knee-jerk reaction to openness and gives OpenCourt the room it needs to keep moving forward.

Note: OpenCourt’s struggle with Morrissey is also being tracked by the New England First Amendment Center at Northeastern University, to whose blog I occasionally contribute.

Boston public radio rivalry heats up

As WGBH is one of my employers, I offer without comment a story by the Boston Globe’s Johnny Diaz on the radio rivalry between public stations WBUR (90.9 FM) and WGBH (89.7 FM).

Veteran journalist Charles Kravetz to run WBUR

Charles Kravetz

Public radio station WBUR (90.9 FM) has chosen veteran television journalist Charles Kravetz as its new general manager, replacing Paul La Camera, who recently announced his retirement. La Camera will be sticking around for two years in the newly created position of administrator of public radio.

In turning to Charlie Kravetz, 58, the station has embraced yet another old Channel 5 hand. La Camera had retired as president and general manager of WCVB-TV (Channel 5) several years before coming to WBUR. Kravetz also worked at WCVB, helping to create the newsmagazine “Chronicle,” before embarking on a long stint at New England Cable News, which he helped launch and from which he was ousted as president and general manager when Comcast took it over in 2009.

Kravetz has been deeply involved in efforts to create a shield law that would offer some protection to people doing journalism — including independent bloggers who meet certain criteria — from having to disclose their confidential sources.

Kravetz, like La Camera, is a smart guy and a class act, and ‘BUR is lucky to be getting him. The station’s license is held by Boston University, and Rich Barlow has much more at BU Today.

The importance of being Paul La Camera

Paul La Camera

Congratulations to Paul La Camera, who last week announced that he’ll retire as general manager of WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) at the end of the year.

“I’m going to be 68 next month, and I think that’s an appropriate expiration date for someone to be running a dynamic contemporary media entity that increasingly has to surge into the digital world,” La Camera was quoted as saying in a story by WBUR’s Steve Brown. La Camera added that he plans to continue in an “ambassadorial role” for the station.

La Camera, the longtime head of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), took the helm of WBUR in 2005, as the Boston University-licensed public radio station was just beginning to recover from the financial problems that had ended the reign of his predecessor, Jane Christo.

The imperious Christo was a much-admired, much-detested executive who transformed ‘BUR into one of the best public radio stations in the country. But what La Camera did was at least as important: he calmed the waters, restored financial stability and expanded the station’s local presence.

“He was really the guy who brought stability back to the place,” Scott Fybush, editor of Northeast Radio Watch, told the Boston Globe’s Johnny Diaz.

In 2006 I profiled La Camera for CommonWealth Magazine. Noting that he had already retired once (from WCVB), he told me: “You can probably count on the fact that I won’t be here for 33 1/2 years. I haven’t given much thought to when I’m next going to retire. But whenever that time comes, I hope I’m going to be more successful at it than I was the last time.”

(Note: I’m a paid contributor to WGBH-TV/Channel 2 and an occasional unpaid contributor to WGBH Radio/89.7 FM, which earlier this year was retooled into a news and public-affairs outlet that competes with WBUR.)

La Camera is a great broadcasting executive as well as a good guy, and though he’s not going away, his day-to-day presence will be missed.

Publisher Chris Mayer on the Globe’s new pay model

Christopher Mayer

(Note: If the top of Media Nation looks mangled, please hit reload.)

I’m skeptical, but I’m impressed. Yesterday’s announcement that the Boston Globe will move most of its content to a subscription-based website sometime in the second half of 2011 shows that Globe executives know where their strengths are and that they’re prepared to think innovatively to protect those strengths.

The Globe’s dilemma is that it has an enormously successful free website,, that is quite different from the paper itself. Start charging for access to, and many of those 5 million unique visitors a month would vanish.

The solution: keep free, but split off the Globe’s content into a separate, paid site called, currently a free subsite. The decision raises lots of questions. Perhaps the biggest is how much free Globe content will be posted on, and whether will remain as popular once it has to stand on its own.

Still, it’s a far more interesting idea than the metered model embraced by the Globe’s parent company, the New York Times Co., which rolled it out at the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester recently and which will give it a go at the flagship paper sometime next year. Under the metered model, readers can access so many articles for free each month, after which they have to pay. It might work for the T&G and the Times, but it would have been deadly for

Yesterday I conducted an e-mail interview with Globe publisher Christopher Mayer, which he graciously agreed to do because I still can’t take notes. (Although it’s getting better. I’ve got a pillow propped up and am typing two-handed now for the first time since my accident.) Our unedited conversation follows. I’ve got a few closing thoughts after the jump.

Q: The metered model seemed to be the way the New York Times Co. was going. Why did you choose something different?

A: We’ve said all along that each organization would need to come up with a custom-made approach that takes into account unique market factors. We felt this was the best course for us, given the fact that we have two strong brands and essentially two different types of users of our site. We have the opportunity to build a free site and a subscription-based site, and based upon extensive research, that emerged as the best option for us.

Q: The advantage of the metered model is that you’re not entirely cut off from the great conversation that’s taking place on blogs and in social media. Are you concerned about breaking a big story and not having as much impact as you should because people can’t link to you? Please address what Clay Shirky said about the importance of online sharing with respect to the Globe’s reporting on the pedophile-priest story.

A: We don’t intend to be cut off from the conversation. We haven’t announced, or even worked out, all the details of what will be on which site. But we can envision that some full-text Globe stories will be available on the free site. I suspect we would have put many of the initial priest sex-abuse stories on the free site because that Spotlight Team investigation was viewed as clear public service reporting. In the future, we’ll make those judgments as appropriate.

WBUR wins $250,000 Knight News Challenge grant

John Davidow

Congratulations to WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) and John Davidow, the executive editor of, who won a $250,000 Knight News Challenge grant to experiment with how digital tools should be used to cover trials and other court proceedings.

Davidow tells Laura McGann of the Nieman Journalism Lab that Quincy District Court will be used as a model to come up with a consistent set of guidelines that will foster greater openness.

Issues to be dealt with include whether and under what circumstances citizen journalists can live-blog a trial, and if one of the parties may post to Twitter in real time — as former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who faces federal corruption charges, wanted to do. Davidow tells McGann:

The courts have sort of gone further and further way from the public and public access. In the old days, they were built in the center of town. The community was able to walk into the courts and see what was going on. Modern life has done away with that. The bridge that was going in between the courts and the public was the media. The media has just less resources.

Davidow’s was one of 12 projects that will receive $2.74 million in the coming year. The others range from ideas to crowdsource the funding of public radio stories to various efforts aimed at melding mapping and gaming features with news presentations. Here is the complete list.

The Boston Globe, too. The Knight folks have announced that the Globe will receive a contract for more than $130,000 to develop and test a widget based on EveryBlock, an automated, hyperlocal aggregation platform, as part of a $450,000 program called OpenBlock.

The Globe’s opinion pages beef up

Joshua Green

A year ago, the biggest question at the Boston Globe was whether the New York Times Co. was serious about shutting it down if it couldn’t squeeze out $20 million in union concessions.

These days, the story is considerably more pleasant. Though no one thinks the Globe is entirely out of the woods (there is, after all, a revolution under way), the paper keeps expanding in modest but useful ways.

The latest initiative is coming tomorrow: a weekly column on the op-ed page by the Atlantic’s fine political writer, Joshua Green, who, according to Globe editorial-page editor Peter Canellos, will offer a Washington perspective from a non-ideological perspective.

“He’s a pure reporter and analyst,” Canellos says. “And I think that for somebody looking at the changing landscape of Washington these days, this is a happy meeting of a writer and subject, because it’s a fascinating time.”

This coming Sunday will mark a significant expansion of the opinion pages. For years, the Globe has published a third opinion page, reserved for letters, every other week. Now the paper will publish three and four pages on an alternating schedule.

Newish op-ed columnists Joanna Weiss and Lawrence Harmon will join standbys Joan Vennochi and Jeff Jacoby. Harmon, the Globe’s chief editorial writer on city issues, will continue to write his column once a week. Weiss will now write twice weekly, picking up Harmon’s Tuesday slot.

On weeks when there are four opinion pages, Canellos says, the extra space will be used for features such as “visual op-eds” by cartoonist Dan Wasserman and longer essays by columnist James Carroll and other writers.

Finally, Canellos says that a somewhat nebulous new online feature called “The Angle” will be beefed up with some definition and some original content as the result of a new partnership with “Radio Boston,” which WBUR (90.9 FM) is expanding from a weekly to a daily program next week.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

WBUR advances “Radio Boston” plans

Meghna Chakrabarti

Some news today about the debut of the daily “Radio Boston,” now set for Monday, May 3, on WBUR (90.9 FM). The “lead host” will be rising star Meghna Chakrabarti, although expect to hear other voices in the anchor chair as well. The executive producer will be Iris Adler, who’s returning to ‘BUR after many years at New England Cable News. And the hour-long program will air at either 1 or 3 p.m. — stay tuned for a final decision.

What follows is an internal e-mail from WBUR general manager Paul La Camera that Media Nation obtained a little while ago:

Title: “Radio Boston,” the sense being that we already have a great deal invested in this title and it says it all.

Premiere Date: Monday, May 3

Time Period: Either 1-2PM or 3-4PM. If its is the former, “Fresh Air” would shift to 2-3PM, Monday-Thursday. The first hour of “Talk of the Nation” would then be pre- empted those four days. However, on Friday, we would carry the full two hours of “Science Friday.” If we choose the latter scenario, we would pre-empt the second hour of “TON” all five days. If you have thoughts on this choice, please let us know.

Lead Host: Meghna Chakrabarti. Meghna, since her beginnings in 2002 as a producer on “On Point,” has grown quickly and formidably as a radio force and a radio voice, in just these recent days performing with skill and comfort the substitute hosting of the very challenging “Here and Now.”

Meghna will be the appropriately titled “lead host,” leaving room for many additional WBUR voices, including those of our unrivaled corps of reporters and young emerging voices lke those of Adam Ragusea and Andrew Phelps.

Leadership: We are pleased that Mark Navin will continue in his current role of senior producer and director of the new daily iteration. Mark deserves our full recognition and appreciation for how far his leadership has taken “Radio Boston” and positioned it for this major transition to a daily.

At the same time, we have created a new executive producer position for the daily “Radio Boston” and that will be filled by an individual familiar to many of us, Iris Adler. Iris is one of the most experienced and accomplished broadcast news and public affairs executives in our city. For the past 18 years, she has served New England Cable News, the nation’s pre-eminent regional cable news service, as both managing editor and executive editor. For the dozen years before that, some of you will remember Iris as a WBUR reporter, managing editor, and, from 1988-1992, the station’s news director. Iris will be joining us on Monday, March 22.

Other Staff: Weekly “Radio Boston” major players and key contributors Adam Ragusea and Jessica Alpert will be fill the respective roles of reporter/associate producer and assistant producer. And Tim Skoog will continue to apply his technical genius to the now daily production. Iris and Mark will soon be interviewing for a remaining unfilled associate producer position.

Geography: The expanded “Radio Boston” team will be housed in the current membership area next to the news department for all the obvious reasons. In turn, the membership group will move to a redesigned office area currently occupied by the weekly “RB.” This shift will take place the first week of April.

Let me also take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank Jane Clayson who has been a critically important force in preparing, professionalizing and positioning “Radio Boston” for this exciting step forward. As Jane stated in her gracious and moving farewell at the conclusion of Friday’s program, her family life is simply not compatible with the demands of a daily program. However, I am thrilled to share with you that not only will Jane remain the host of “On Point” when Tom is not there but now will also be the voice who will complement Robin Young on “Here and Now.” So, even with her departure from “Radio Boston,” we and our fortunate listeners will hear Jane virtually to the same degree as we have these past few years. Simply stated, Jane will remain a very active and important member of the WBUR family.

I hope you join me in the excitement of these developments. I have been eager for WBUR to have a daily local program since I arrived at this wondrous place four and half years ago today. And now I just have to wait until May 3 for that dream to be realized.


Public radio’s new local focus

Good news for fans of quality local radio: WBUR (90.9 FM) is expanding its “Radio Boston” program from one day a week to five. Along with Emily Rooney‘s and Callie Crossley‘s new shows on WGBH (89.7 FM), that’s three hours a day of local programming on the city’s two largest public radio stations. Adam Gaffin has the news, and Adam Reilly has more.

WBUR’s other news and public-affairs programs, “On Point” and “Here and Now,” are excellent but lack a local focus, as they are both nationally syndicated. By going daily, “Radio Boston” plugs a hole at WBUR that was left in the 1990s, when Christopher Lydon‘s legendary program “The Connection” went national.

My disclaimer: I am a paid weekly panelist on “Beat the Press,” a WGBH-TV (Channel 2) program of which Rooney is the host and Crossley is a regular.

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