News business in George Floyd upheaval

The news business is going through its own George Floyd reckoning, as traditional ways of operating are being challenged and overturned in swift fashion.

A week ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story by the paper’s architectural critic talking about the damage done to historic buildings during Floyd protests. The headline on the story, “Buildings Matter, Too,” triggered internal protests, an employee sickout, and an apology from top officials. The officials said all of the paper’s editing procedures had been followed, but nevertheless a “deeply offensive” headline suggesting an equivalence between black lives and buildings had made it into print. By Saturday, the paper’s executive editor, Stan Wischnowski, had resigned.

The Boston Globe yanked its weekly magazine out of Sunday print newspapers because an illustration on the cover, which was designed prior to Floyd’s death, bore a resemblance to the way he was killed in Minneapolis. “We have deemed it insensitive in this moment and not up to our editorial standards,” the paper said in a front-page note to readers in the electronic version of the paper, which came with a different cover on the Sunday magazine.

A black reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sent out a tweet on May 31 suggesting the looting by George Floyd protesters was no worse than the mess created during a Kenny Chesney concert. She said the tweet was clever, but editors at the paper felt it crossed a line and betrayed bias. They refused to assign her to cover Floyd protest stories, causing an uproar in the newsroom. The union representing news staff at the paper likened the situation to Vietnam, accusing the newspaper’s managers of wrongly concluding “they need to destroy the village in order to save it.”

At the news website Axios, Jim Vandehei, the co-founder and chief executive, took the opposite approach. He said in a memo to staff that the company would support employees who participate in public protests. “If you’re arrested or meet harm while exercising these rights, Axios will stand behind you and use the Family Fund to cover your bail or assist with medical bills,” he said.

The New York Times published an op-ed last Wednesday from Sen. Tom Cotton in which the Republican from Arkansas called for sending in troops to deal with local violent protests over Floyd’s killing. “One thing above all else will restore order to our streets: an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain, and ultimately deter lawbreakers,” Cotton wrote.

The op-ed caused an uproar in the Times newsroom, with black reporters complaining that the article contained inaccuracies and put them in physical danger as they covered the protests.

James Bennet, the editorial page editor and someone seen as potentially the future top editor of the Times, defended running the op-ed. In a newsletter to readers on Thursday, he pointed out that he and the Times editorial page both oppose Cotton’s viewpoint. But he said the point of running opinion pieces was not to publish views that he and the editorial page agree with. “It would betray what I think of as our fundamental purpose – not to tell you what to think, but to help you think for yourself,” he said. But, he added, “it is impossible to feel righteous about any of this. I know that my own view may be wrong.”

On Sunday, Bennet resigned, setting off a flurry of commentary about the changing mores of the news business. His replacement as acting editor of editorial page, Katie Kingsbury, formerly of the Boston Globe editorial page, sent a note to the staff of the opinion pages urging anyone who sees “any piece of Opinion journalism – including headlines or social posts or photos or you name it – that gives you the slightest pause, please call or text me immediately.”

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

The Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus plans to include a ban on the use of tear gas against protesters in a bill responding to recent cases of police brutality, citing a recent incident in Brockton. (The Enterprise)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Pressure is mounting on Mayor Marty Walsh to detail how Boston might divert some current funding for police to other needs. (Boston Globe) City Councilor Michelle Wu is seeking information on the city’s police expenditures. (WBUR)

An independent investigator is looking into whether a Methuen police lieutenant acted appropriately when he pointed a gun at a man during a traffic stop. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Webster police chief is facing national backlash for his decision to lie down on the ground with Black Lives Matter protesters to protest the killing of George Floyd. (Telegram & Gazette)

Boston ups its funding of summer youth jobs, though some internships will be virtual. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The state coronavirus testing rate is falling despite the call by state leaders to dramatically increase the number of people tested. (Boston Globe)

Holyoke Medical Center will close its birthing center permanently. The center was temporarily closed during the coronavirus pandemic and the space was used to house sick veterans from the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Joe Biden is jumping on the reform bandwagon but he has long ties to law enforcement, including working closely with policing leaders to draft the 1994 federal crime bill. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

New polling shows weakening support for President Trump, particularly among women. (New York Times)

Boston’s main police union, recently in a war of words with Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins over law enforcement treatment of blacks, has given liberally to city and state politicians who are now being asked to “reallocate” police funding to other uses. (Boston Herald)

Kip Diggs, a Democrat who last month announced a run to unseat incumbent state Republican Rep. William Crocker in the 2nd Barnstable District didn’t submit all necessary paperwork to be on the ballot for the fall primary election. He will run as a write-in candidate. (Cape Cod Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Some stores reopened on the first day of phase two, but many didn’t. (WBUR) Restaurants started opening Monday for outdoor dining. (The Salem News) Bars quietly moved to last phase of reopening. (State House News Service)

EDUCATION

Fears of teacher layoffs across the state are growing. (Boston Globe)

A Fall River teacher who allegedly made racist comments online has been put on paid leave. (Herald News)

ARTS/CULTURE

Lawmakers from the Berkshires are pushing a bill that would steer $75 million to arts and cultural institutions to help them recover from the COVID-19 shutdowns. (Berkshire Eagle)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Municipal police departments are getting lots of complaints about people setting off fireworks. (MassLive)

In a WGBH commentary piece, David Bernstein walks through Boston’s history of wrongful convictions.

PASSINGS

Ray Lamont, the former editor of the Gloucester Daily Times, dies at 67. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Jack Hoffman, the brother of famed ‘60s activist Abbie Hoffman, dies at 80 of COVID-19. Hoffman owned a Worcester medical supply store and was active in local politics. (Telegram & Gazette)