I was slouching at my desk, already knowing that the President of the United States is a threat to journalism as well as the American people, including those who support him, when the email arrived:
Call for action to protect free press: Publish editorial next week on dangers of Trump’s attack on journalism. … The slander of “fake news” has become Donald Trump’s most potent tool of abuse and incitement against the First Amendment, labeling journalists the “enemy of the American people” and “dangerous and sick.”
You. Don’t. Say. The press release, which came from the Boston Globe via a New England newspaper trade association, continued:
This dirty war on the free press must end. The Boston Globe is reaching out to editorial boards across the country to propose a coordinated response. The Globe proposes to publish an editorial on Aug. 16 on the dangers of the administration’s assault on the press and ask others to commit to publishing their own editorials on the same date.
My region’s newspaper of record, it appeared, was requesting a favor—superficially in solidarity with outlets all across the country its asking to “stand together” in “common defense” against Trump, but actually in service of the Globe itself and no one else. Less than stunned, I considered some of my newspaper-of-record’s most heralded prior publicity stunts:
- The time it was the subject of an Oscar-winning film, Spotlight, about a story it built on the shoulders of previous work by smaller outlets it refuses to acknowledge.
- Its unprecedented page-one opinion against semi-automatic firearms, which bravely noted the investment firms that ultimately profit from proliferate sales of these murder machines but that curiously omitted said specific condemnation in the everlasting online version of its landmark package.
- And who could forget (everyone, that’s who) its faux page-one hijinx (that actually fronted its opinion section) from 2016 predicting, however tritely, that Trump would gun for immigrants and journalists if voted into office.
Am I cherry-picking? Of course. Nevertheless, whether deliberate or if editors there really are delusional enough to think that Trump will care and can tell the Globe from the Wahlburgers menu, their marketing and editorial teams are using all these suckers—readers, writers, conservative nutjobs freaking out about a left-wing media conspiracy—to execute an inarguably futile campaign to spread the word about something people who read newspapers already know. They’re steering a sensationalist bandwagon, and in the process wasting the time of every caboose that hitches on, all so they can pander to a paying readership that salivates to any lefty dog whistle blown at vast POTUS depravity.
Since First Amendment phonies cannot help but to contest the taste and timing of detractors despite the hypocrisy such arguments invite, some people have already pegged me spiteful, bitter, and—gasp—reactionary for my stubborn, contrarian hard line. They’re all correct; I may loathe the Globe for its indifference to topics I believe are locally important, but as an advocate for my brand and my writers, I’m nothing short of jealous of its knack for gaining clicks and confidence with banal boilerplate baloney. In one particularly painful punch in the pants, even my own beloved trade group, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN), asked all affiliated outlets to throw their two cents into the Globe’s editorial wishing well.
With some due respect to AAN papers that are participating, and with understanding that it’s generally prudent to support this kind of effort if you’re in the media, it’s no less horrifying that an editor of any publication in any city would have a reaction other than This is a total waste of energy and will amount to nothing; This is something we’ve already written in some way or another innumerable times; or, most appropriately, Fuck that, we have far too much important local shit to cover to help some assholes in Boston juice their rep.
But that’s not how most of the responses sounded. Rather, they lapped it up, just like saps at dailies nationwide. Sadly, watching editors at so many alternatives react with unbelievable enthusiasm—far more excitement than was expressed one week earlier, when people on the same thread discussed collaboratively running an essay by one of our own about his heinous prosecution stemming from a mass arrest in DC on the day of Trump’s inauguration, a nightmare totally unmentioned by the Globe and most other influential dailies—revealed a void in local journalistic values and responsibility that reflects the biggest problem our industry faces.
It sure as hell ain’t Donald Trump.
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF