Image by Tak Toyoshima
There’s an old media trope that alternative publications steal from college and underground papers (or “blogs,” as we now often call them), while dailies jack hot scoops from the alts, and television news producers borrow from everyone. Before they installed tablets onto anchor desks, the proof of said thievery was in plain view on every five o’clock newscast, as that morning’s broadsheets tended to be opened wide in front of whichever hairdo was on camera.
As nostalgically sexy as that order of media operations sounds, it doesn’t much pertain to the contemporary climate. The reportorial appetite has substantially subsided around Greater Boston, mostly due to overworked newsrooms with limited resources, but also because journalists are decreasingly willing to check those in powerful positions. Without spinning into Aaron Sorkin territory with cliche criticisms, I’ll limit myself to one over-the-top metaphor, the water-skiing squirrel from Anchorman. Sadly, that Ron Burgundy classic isn’t hyperbole by modern standards; whether due to issues of priority or policy, or to satiate the shallow tastes of readers or reporters, these days outlets typically shy away from busting balls in favor of celebrity-driven vapidity and other distractions.
It’s understandable why some may feel such blanket statements are ridiculous. I would probably agree with them that the Boston Globe is one of America’s finest news organizations, and that Boston is the Ball-Busting Capital of the United States, with residents who in the past have angrily dethroned both lawmakers and lawbreakers alike. However, everyone—including us here at the Dig—can share some of the blame for allowing obvious horrors to go underreported, from crippling neglect in our justice and corrections systems to creeping neoliberal profiteering placing the public at risk. Some examples:
- Last year the local media completely ignored outgoing Governor Deval Patrick personally pinning bravery medals on Massachusetts police officers who fatally wounded arrestees, at least one of whom died under circumstances that continue to be brought into question by attorneys for the family of the deceased. To my knowledge, the topic didn’t even spur any discussion on talk radio—and that despite the ceremony happening smack in the middle of protests over state violence in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as in Boston.
- One word: Somerville. As we have covered extensively, Somerville is far from just the upwardly-mobile bohemian heaven depicted in most reports. The course of development and influence in the rapidly growing city continues to squeeze even well-to-do residents who are involuntarily helping to subsidize unfettered vertical expansion. Needless to say, in many cases the growth benefits an elite group of attorneys and builders who bankroll campaigns for the city’s political honchos.
- Two words: Big Brother. In the wake of our reporting last year that the City of Boston used facial recognition software on every attendee at two Boston Calling concerts in 2013, some local outlets (and dozens of national and international sites) acknowledged the egregious threat to civil liberties. Yet none have followed up on any tangent of our revelations; instead, there is more passive coverage than ever of items like the $130 million contract given to Raytheon to install systems that track every vehicle on the Mass Pike.
The list goes on. Generally speaking, more reporters should follow campaign dollars; instead, many are reluctant to harp on the generous gifts that pols often receive from stakeholders. For instance, few have noted that Lowell State Sen. Eileen Donoghue, who two years ago lit the legislative torch for Boston 2024 by sponsoring a bill to explore the feasibility of hosting a Summer Games, raised nearly a third of all her money in 2014 from donors with direct ties to the bid—including $500 apiece from Boston 2024 chairman Fish and master planning committee co-chair David Manfredi, $1,000 from legal committee chair Robert Popeo and his wife, and $200 from William Coyne, with whom Donoghue now co-chairs the group’s government and community outreach committee. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist …
These are issues I myself take especially seriously, sure; but working from the assumption that offenses like bribery in plain sight and massive wealth inequality deserve the spotlight, I feel defensibly self-righteous in saying that others should pay more attention—even if it means appropriating leads from the Dig, or the Dorchester Reporter, or Blackstonian, or the Bay State Banner, or Universal Hub, or Bay Windows, or the Jamaica Plain Gazette, or Spare Change News, or the Bay State Examiner, or Open Media Boston, or any of the other small and independent fonts of critical content that are struggling to be heard. Stealing is a Hub tradition after all; for those who are unaware, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese was dealt its first blow over sexual abuse by the now-defunct alternative Boston Phoenix, not the Globe as is widely believed. The Globe in its turn applied resources to force accountability, and that’s the whole point of this rant, as well as the crux of my unorthodox proposal …
One week from today, DigBoston is going to publish an expose on Boston Public Schools, and about how questionable outside operators—all of whom have ties to parties poised to further privatize Hub schools—are swooping in to take control of BPS institutions, their movements hidden between budget lines in a virtually untraceable manner. The story will include such marquee local characters as Reverend Shaun Harrison, the former English High School dean who is accused of shooting one of his students in the head, as well as John Fish himself, and a number of other business heavyweights. Juicy stuff, and the best part is I’m willing to share everything, all my notes and contacts, beforehand with any publication that asks. I don’t care if they scoop me—any hack who wants to see my files can just drop me an email.
Finally, I understand the need for light news and fluff, and have lent my own byline to pieces on everything from fashion to pop music, the latter of which I reported on regularly for a decade. There has to be a counterbalance to the troubling reports of evil in this world, but none heavy enough to completely dull the human instinct to seek justice. As historian Howard Zinn wrote in regard to authors who but graze the gory details: “Outright lying or quiet dismissal takes the risk of discovery which, when made, might arouse the reader to rebel against the writer. To state the facts, however, and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it’s not that important—it should weigh very little in our final judgments; it should affect very little what we do in the world.”
Such is too often the routine for most Boston newspeople, opinion editorial writers included, in addressing sensitive topics. Take most coverage of police brutality, in which reporters tend to faintly acknowledge general atrocities, only to tokenize specific cases that buttress a positive narrative, catalyzing scant change in the process. Similarly, while the selfish interests and undemocratic influence of Fish and his posse of plutocrats have certainly been noted, the nonchalance with which the media has nonetheless proceeded to pretend Olympic efforts may be virtuous as well merely serves to undermine any mention of those uncomfortable topics in the first place. It doesn’t have to be that way; there are mountains of legitimate dirt that are waiting to get mined. Anyone can start by stealing from this article.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.