The Herald’s phantom editorial page
Unclear who’s running paper’s opinion page under new ownership
BY ALL OUTWARD appearances, the Boston Herald continues to chug along under its new ownership, with its hard-working reporters churning out solid stories amidst the demoralizing departure of co-workers from the newsroom’s already depleted ranks.
The paper’s editorial page, too, hasn’t skipped a beat, offering up a daily dose of sharp opinion despite the exit nearly three weeks ago of longtime editorial page editor Rachelle Cohen and Julie Mehegan, the deputy editorial page editor, who worked alongside her for more than a decade.
But an intriguing mystery about the paper’s editorials has arisen. Though newspaper editorials are traditionally unsigned, they reflect the views of the editor of the page, who is often listed on a newspaper’s masthead. In the three weeks since Cohen and Mehegan left, however, the masthead has listed no editorial page editor.
The only names currently listed on the masthead are the paper’s new publisher, Kevin Corrado, and Herald editor-in-chief Joe Sciacca. Before the mid-March handoff to Digital First Media, the newspaper company owned by New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital, the masthead listed longtime Herald publisher Pat Purcell, Sciacca, Cohen, and Mehegan.
A call to the editorial page did little to unravel the mystery, with a person answering the phone there on Monday saying there was no one left from the staff that ran the page. The person said Sciacca would be the one to answer questions, and took a message for him, but the editor did not return the call. Corrado, the new publisher, also did not return a message.
Digital First Media has a reputation for slashing costs at papers it acquires, part of what Joshua Benton, of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, called in a recent Globe op-ed a “vulture capitalism” approach that involves stripping papers to the bone with little regard for their journalistic role in a community.
Digital First vowed to keep on board 175 of the Herald’s roughly 240 employees. In the weeks before its takeover was finalized on March 19, Digital First made offers to Herald staff members it wanted to retain.
According to sources familiar with the situation, Cohen was not offered a position but Mehegan was and accepted it, presumably putting her in line to run the editorial page as a solo operation. At the time of the mid-March ownership change, however, Mehegan was offered a communications position with the Baker administration and opted to take it and leave the Herald along with her longtime boss.
It seems likely that the paper was caught off guard by Mehegan’s departure and is in the process of figuring out who will helm the editorial page. But no one is saying anything.
Who has been writing the paper’s editorials in the nearly three weeks since Cohen and Mehegan left isn’t clear, with sources saying even some of those inside the paper aren’t sure.
The page seems to have taken an editorial turn toward President Trump since Cohen and Mehegan decamped.
The paper offered a mixed appraisal of the March for Our Lives to protest gun violence, lauding young people for speaking out on the issue – even as it put forward a popular right-wing talking point questioning some of the energy behind the demonstrations. “We can question the real impetus of today’s event and take issue with the notion of school kids being mobilized as evangelists for boilerplate, progressive talking points but we should also be empathetic to their concerns over gun violence,” the paper opined.
Under Cohen, the paper had what might be described as a solid Charlie Baker Republican voice. It railed regularly against Beacon Hill excess, talk of new taxes, or what it saw as undue government regulation. But it was as far from the Trump camp as the state’s popular GOP governor, who declared that he blanked his ballot in the 2016 presidential election. The Herald followed the same course, not making an endorsement in the presidential race for the first time in decades.
Cohen was a respected opinion leader in Boston. Her departure is “a tremendous loss in terms of the editorial integrity, institutional memory, and substance that she brought to the paper,” said John Carroll, a Boston University journalism professor. “It will be interesting to see if that can be replaced.”Carroll doesn’t seem overly sanguine. “From all reports that I’ve seen, they don’t care at all,” he said of Digital First’s commitment to the communities where it has acquired papers. “I’m sure the least amount they can invest in the Herald is what they’re going to invest in the Herald.