The Codcast: ‘Beat the Press’ celebrates 20 years

Emily Rooney, who is celebrating her 20th year hosting Beat the Press on WGBH, says the biggest change she’s witnessed over that time period has been in the news-gathering business itself.

In television, the network and local news shows have narrowed their focus and range. Locally, she says, the focus increasingly is on traffic, weather, and “two-bit crime coverage. Anchors, once known by their first names, are now barely known at all.”

“Everything looks exactly the same and they’ve got these fungible anchors that all look the same,” she says on The Codcast.

In print, the business is shrinking and also taking on a sameness. “Nobody reads the newspapers and that includes people in the news business,” she says. The Boston Globe is “hanging on,” she says, and “the Boston Herald is basically dead.”

Rooney pointed out that Digital First Media, the hedge fund that owns the Boston Herald, recently announced that Herald Editor Joe Sciacca was taking over as regional editor of a large number of the chain’s papers in Massachusetts and New York. (Rooney put the number at as many as 15, but the announcement listed seven.)

Rooney said she thought Digital First’s announcement was odd, since it suggested one person could be in charge of news gathering at multiple publications in different communities. “He’s not really the editor,” Rooney insists, pointing out that his job is really to support the business enterprise.

While the news business may be shrinking in a lot of ways, Rooney said that doesn’t mean there is any less fodder today for Beat the Press shows.  She noted Twitter and Facebook have been a focus of the show over the past year. “We’re never at a loss for something to look at,” said Rooney, who personally holds the patent on her show’s name.

On Beat the Press’s anniversary show Friday night, Rooney and her fellow media analysts Adam Reilly and Callie Crossley of WGBH, Jon Keller of WBZ News, and Dan Kennedy of Northeastern University talked about the changing news business as well as scandals, stellar reporting, and media obsessions over the years. Rooney and others said the media tend to get carried away with the salacious and the sensational.

Keller got off what may have been the best line, pushing back against the notion that the news business is overly obsessed with trivial, gossipy matters such as the death of former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith or the lipstick color of Monica Lewinsky.

Keller said media obsessions have been going on forever (he mentioned coverage of the Lindbergh kidnapping in the 1930s), partly because they are salacious but also because they tend to speak to broader truths. He indicated media obsessions don’t bother him.

“Anna Nicole Smith. I couldn’t get enough of it. I’d watch it again if they’d run it again,” he said, noting drug abuse was a big story. “You could make the case that was a significant moral lesson.”

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

A population shift from cities to suburbs may explain why the Massachusetts education funding formula is not being revised to address urban inequities, say Lawrence DiCara and Michael Nicholson. (CommonWealth) Parents plan to deliver more than 1,000 handwritten messages to Gov. Charlie Baker today imploring him to back a revamp of the school funding formula. (Boston Herald)

US Rep. Joseph Kennedy applauds the House for passing legislation that would extend the unemployment benefits of locked-out National Grid workers and urges the Senate and the governor to do the same. (Metrowest Daily News)

A Globe editorial outlines several measures the Legislature could take care of during its informal sessions before the year ends, including an Airbnb tax.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Worcester firefighter Christopher Roy dies fighting a basement blaze in an apartment building. (Telegram & Gazette)

Charlemont town meeting members rejected a Comcast offer to provide high-speed internet service and will probably move ahead with a plan to to have the town build its own network for $1.4 million. (MassLive)

ELECTIONS

Herald columnist Howie Carr joins the pummeling of Elizabeth Warren that has her would-be presidential run now in doubt, but his focus is almost entirely on the idea that her rise in academia was due to claims of Native American ancestry, something that a detailed Boston Globe investigation said is not true.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Guess what’s anchoring many small downtowns in Massachusetts? Amy Dain says the answer is bookstores. (CommonWealth)

Richard Dimino of the business group A Better City says Business Improvement Districts can play a key role in addressing climate change mitigation in Boston. (CommonWealth)

Renee Loth questions whether the increasing role of private philanthropy in addressing social ills is a good thing. (Boston Globe)

A new bank is opening in Springfield, another sign of the city’s comeback, says Jon Chesto. (Boston Globe)

Despite a recent Supreme Court ruling that was widely viewed as a body blow to the nation’s unions, union membership hasn’t suffered. (Governing)

Developers continue to feel the effects of the National Grid lockout as projects are stalled by the inability to complete natural gas connections. (Patriot Ledger)

EDUCATION

Simmons University president Helen Drinan earned $1.7 million in 2016, 16th among all private university presidents and more than the leaders of Harvard and MIT were paid. (Boston Globe)

A South Coast Today editorial backs New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell’s call for rejecting the City on a Hill charter school’s bid to renew its charter.

Ardith Wieworka of the Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership says pot tax revenues should be used to support afterschool programs. (CommonWealth)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A new study indicates the number of children in Massachusetts without health insurance is rising for the first time in years. (Salem News)

Hospital emergency rooms are transforming their approach to addiction treatment in the midst of the state’s opioid addiction crisis. (Boston Globe)

Paul Hattis of Tufts University Medical School analyzes some ways in which Partners HealthCare may benefit from the merger creating the Beth Israel-Lahey health care system. (CommonWealth)

Insulin prices are so high that many Type 1 diabetes sufferers are struggling to survive. (WBUR)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Deb Pasternak of the Massachusetts Sierra Club pens a hard-hitting op-ed taking to task Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for not moving aggressively enough on energy-related climate change issues. (Boston Globe)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

Jim Borghesani says the Boston City Council’s proposal to ban pot shops near addiction treatment centers should be a nonstarter. (CommonWealth)

MEDIA

NPR relies on an army of temporary workers to put out its broadcasts — and the contingency employees are growing increasingly unhappy with the situation. (Washington Post)

Dan Kennedy of Media Nation applauds a recent hire by Stat, the health and life sciences website.

A proposal to the Federal Communications Commission being pushed by the cable television industry would decimate local public access programming. (Standard-Times)