By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

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Boston Globe Media president Vinay Mehra weighs in on sexual harassment

At a moment when large swaths of the entertainment business and news media are melting down as long-suppressed tales of sexual harassment are coming out into the open, Boston Globe Media president and chief financial officer Vinay Mehra has sent a memo to the staff on how the Globe would handle such issues. Among other things, Mehra said that employees will undergo mandatory training, and that anyone who has been subjected to harassment “should not hesitate to speak confidentially and without fear of retaliation with whomever you feel comfortable.”

The Globe recently published a couple of important articles on sexual harassment at the Statehouse (by columnist Yvonne Abraham) and in the restaurant business (by food critic Devra First). No institution is immune, of course, and it would be interesting to see how the Globe — or any news organization — would report on itself if such accusations were leveled. NPR has certainly had to dive deeply into this with the exposure and subsequent firing of top news executive Michael Oreskes. NPR chief executive Jarl Mohn, who has come under criticism for his handling of the Oreskes matter, said Tuesday that he will take a health-related leave of absence.

A source sent a copy of Mehra’s memo to me a short time ago. Here is the full text.

Dear Staff,

I’m reaching out to address the many conversations that are happening in and outside of Boston Globe Media about sexual harassment and overall conduct in the workplace, particularly in the media industry.

We are a company that deeply values equality, diversity, and individuality. We know that we thrive individually and collectively when everyone feels safe and respected. We do not tolerate harassment of any kind, and we have a set of policies and processes for reporting and responding to misconduct, which I’d like to lay out here.

We will look into all allegations of harassment and related conduct, and will act on them accordingly. Please find attached, the company’s sexual harassment policy that has been in effect since ownership under the New York Times. We have made updates to make our policy more comprehensive and have identified specific individuals within HR to address issues.

You should not hesitate to speak confidentially and without fear of retaliation with whomever you feel comfortable — your manager, HR, Legal, or with any team leader or executive in this company.  If you experience misconduct of any kind, we want to give you every opportunity to be heard through a vehicle of your choice so that we can attempt to address your concerns promptly and confidentially.

We also hope you’ll take seriously the workplace conduct trainings we will be conducting online and in person over the next few months. Employees will receive an invitation from HR within the next month to a mandatory online training.

We are a stronger and more inclusive company when these issues are raised and acted on. Thank you as always for your hard work and your commitment to our organization.


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Where Boston’s papers stand on death for Tsarnaev

The Boston Globe today offers some powerful arguments against executing convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Metro columnists Kevin Cullen and Yvonne Abraham weigh in, as do the paper’s editorial page, civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate and retired federal judge Nancy Gertner. (Columnist Jeff Jacoby has previously written in favor of death for Tsarnaev.)

Over at the Boston Herald, the message is mixed. In favor of the death penalty are columnist Adriana Cohen and editorial-page editor Rachelle Cohen. The lead editorial calls for the death penalty as well. Columnist Joe Fitzgerald is against capital punishment for Tsarnaev. Former mayor Ray Flynn offers a maybe, writing that he’s against the death penalty but would respect the wishes of the victims’ families.

A Thanksgiving tale

Old friend Yvonne Abraham (OK, she’s not old, but I am) has a lovely story in today’s Boston Globe about a group of blind, mentally disabled friends who were rescued from the hell of the Fernald School by a caring, progressive staff member. It’s accompanied by a really nice video by Scott LaPierre. It’s a reminder that we all have much to be thankful for.

Hopelessness and hope in urban America

Regular readers know I’m closely following the New Haven Independent, among the most journalistically substantial of the non-profit community news sites.

This morning I want to share with you an astonishing story from the Independent on the state of urban America — a feature by Melissa Bailey on community volunteers who cleaned up the dried blood left behind in a three-family home after a recent murder.

Not to indulge in clichés, but it’s a story that quite literally combines hopelessness and hope. And the comments actually cohere into a worthwhile conversation.

Closer to home, if you missed Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham’s Sunday piece on Maria Dickerson, a Springfield woman raising the four children left behind by her murdered friend, it’s not too late.

Good call running it on page one and giving Abraham the space she needed to tell the story properly.

Linking and journalistic credibility

One of the great journalistic advances enabled by the Internet is that reporters can now link to the background information that underlies their work. All too often, though, news organizations don’t take advantage of it. They should, because it would enhance their credibility.

Case in point this morning is Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham’s call for an increased gasoline tax. (She’s right on the merits, by the way.) She bolsters her call, in part, with several statistical assertions, including this: “that whole ‘Taxachusetts’ thing is so 1978. Our state currently ranks 35th in the nation for taxes as a proportion of income.”

Columnists can’t attribute every fact, or their 600- to 700-word essays would double in size, and we’d all fall into a stupor from boredom. But they could link. There are no links in the online version of Abraham’s column, though.

The most widely circulated number I’ve seen is the Tax Foundation’s estimate that Massachusetts’ state and local tax burden as a percentage of personal income is 23rd. That’s the difference between Massachusetts being a low-tax state, as Abraham claims, or somewhere in the middle of the pack. And it’s something we’d all have to think about before pushing a gas-tax hike, or in deciding how large that hike should be.

Abraham, a former Boston Phoenix colleague of mine, is a fine reporter, and I know she could back up her assertion that Massachusetts is 35th, at least by someone’s measure. But the Internet enables all of us to show our work. The practice should be more routine than it is.

And kudos to Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby and the editorial-page crew. Jacoby’s column has been fully linked for quite some time. Whether you agree with him or not, linking makes him more a part of the online, multi-level conversation into which journalism is evolving.

Another easy payday for Howie Carr

At the Boston Globe, columnist Yvonne Abraham writes of the Dianne Wilkerson affair: “It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.” No. Ten years ago it was sad. Now it’s just funny.

And at the Boston Herald, columnist Howie Carr has been caught stuffing his underwear with Pat Purcell’s cash. If he put more than 10 minutes into typing about Wilkerson, I’d be shocked.

Questions about a 22-year-old’s death

Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham does an exceptionally good job of framing the questions over the death of David Woodman, the reveler who stopped breathing while in police custody following the Celtics’ victory, and who died over the weekend.

As Abraham points out, there is a lot we don’t know. Which means that Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’ approach — announcing there was no excessive force even before the investigation gets under way — is wrong.

File away Shelley Murphy and Christopher Cox’s story on the fact that all nine officers involved in Woodman’s arrest went to the hospital to be treated for stress, leaving it to an officer who wasn’t there to write the report. It could be meaningless, or it could prove to be a key to understanding what happened that night.

Coming this Wednesday

Yvonne Abraham gets a tetanus shot.

Columnist smackdown!

Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen responds to John Gonzalez’s Boston Magazine piece, making up for any perceived bile shortage in rather spectacular fashion. And Boston Magazine blogger Amy Derjue responds to Cullen’s response with applause, urging Cullen’s metro-columnist stablemates, Yvonne Abraham and Adrian Walker, to get similarly worked up.

A note to the Globe’s Web folks: If Cullen thought Gonzalez’s critique was worth expending 660 words, don’t you think you should have linked to it?

Fangs for the memories

Boston Magazine’s John Gonzalez writes that the Boston Globe’s three metro columnists — Adrian Walker, Kevin Cullen and Yvonne Abraham — seem more intent on writing inoffensive feature stories than in drawing blood.

Personally, I’d like to see more outrage. But I suppose the last thing the Globe needs right now is for pissed-off readers to call up and cancel their subscriptions.

Just recently I was thinking about how I’d like to see the metro columnists redeployed, and I came up with an old-fashioned idea that I think might work. (Keep in mind even having metro columnists is pretty old-fashioned.)

I’d station one at the Statehouse, one at City Hall and one at Boston Police headquarters, and instruct all three to write reported pieces with opinion, attitude and, yes, an occasional sense of outrage. Not to be too narrow — they’d be allowed to stray from their beats, but not often.

If you’re thinking that’s not the way to draw in a new generation of twentysomething readers, well, I guess I’d have to agree. But it would certainly make me happy.

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