WGBH studio complex, 1 Guest Street, Brighton/Boston. Entrance, seen from Market Street. Image from Wikimedia Commons, photographer unknown.
WGBH studio complex, 1 Guest Street, Brighton/Boston. Entrance, seen from Market Street. Image from Wikimedia Commons, photographer unknown.

GBH needs to start inviting Dig and BINJ reporters to appear on its local news and public affairs shows

GBH—the Boston-based PBS flagship television station and NPR-affiliate radio station that recently lost its W—cancelled it’s long-running media analysis show “Beat the Press” on Friday, Aug. 13 for reasons that remain unclear.

My partners Chris Faraone and John Loftus and I do not view this as cause for celebration—given that such programming is so rare on American TV that it’s a real blow to democracy to lose it. Although we do agree with the general consensus in reports on news of the show’s demise that the comments by host Emily Rooney last spring on the debate then swirling around the outsized budget afforded documentarian Ken Burns by public media in the US while award-winning BIPOC documentarians are forced to fight for the crumbs on his proverbial table were ill-considered and likely played a role in GBH management’s decision.

However, we find it difficult to muster up much enthusiasm to pen an encomium for “Beat the Press” when none of the 200-plus journalists that work with DigBoston and the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (also led by Faraone, Loftus, and I) were ever invited to be guests on the show to discuss stories they did with us in the four years we’ve owned the Dig and the six years we’ve run BINJ.

And while we’re on the subject, no GBH show that covers local news and public affairs—including “Greater Boston” and “Under the Radar” (a radio show that is literally focused on featuring local media voices from across the nation)—has ever had a single active Dig or BINJ reporter on as a guest in that period either. 

Now obviously, the Boston news media is not that big a club—since the rolling collapse of American journalism is at least as far advanced hereabouts as anywhere in the country. So our crew has plenty of friends that work at GBH—mostly in the lower and middle levels of its large bureaucracy—and we know for sure that many people at GBH, including staff in its higher echelons, follow us on social media. Therefore, we know that it’s not a simple oversight or happenstance that our crew is never invited on any of the shows that journalists from other Boston news media are regularly invited to. Not after so many years publishing so many stories on so many hot-button topics. Especially when reporters from other local news outlets our size and smaller regularly appear on GBH shows.

We also know it’s not because our reporting sucks. We may be tiny and poor relative to a huge operation like GBH, but we have always punched far above our weight as journalists. We break investigative story after investigative story that major Boston area news organizations don’t and we do it for less than the office supply budget of a typical PBS station. And our talent has developed deep expertise on underreported policy and cultural issues of the day that the rest of the Boston press corps simply doesn’t have. Including GBH.

So why are none of our extremely knowledgeable journalists (from an extremely diverse array of backgrounds)—many of whom have exactly the same training as news staffers and talent at GBH—ever invited to share what they have learned while working with Dig and BINJ with the station’s viewing public? NECN has periodically had our talent on air. WBUR has worked with us on a couple of articles and even did a great feature on BINJ back in 2019. Why the cold shoulder?

Is it because we criticize GBH? Sure, we do from time to time. But then we criticize virtually every large media outlet in Boston now and again. Though we don’t make a habit out of it and hardly go out of our way to take the shots we take.

Is there some inside baseball stuff going on that makes us personae non gratae* at the Brighton behemoth? Yes, there is some personal animus between us and a handful of GBH players. But nothing unusual, significant, or surprising in the small world of Boston media. Certainly nothing which would explain why literally every journalist working on stories with Dig or BINJ is never invited to discuss them on GBH shows that invite local journalists to discuss things.

Is Dig or BINJ ever mentioned on GBH. Yes. We do, as we said, have friends there. And we think there are people in their bureaucracy we don’t know that are at least willing to throw us an occasional bone, too.

So then why do we think we’re iced out? Hard to say. Is it because GBH management views Faraone—who used to be a frequent guest on its shows when he was a Boston Phoenix reporter—as a loose cannon and me as a commie? Is it because we’re too critical of the Boston ruling class that provides the station with so very much of its funding? Or because we don’t usually pull punches with powerful political figures whose favor it courts? Or because we don’t bow and scrape before the Great and Powerful GBH? Are we not “serious” journalists by the lights of its swells? Do they think we’re amateurs because we believe in fairness and accuracy but not objectivity? We really don’t know.

Whatever the reason, we think that the apparent ban on our talent needs to stop. Now. Faraone and I, as top editorial leadership at Dig and BINJ, don’t care if we’re never invited to appear on the remaining GBH news and policy shows going forward. But we help train a lot of the best young journalists in the Northeast with our very active reporting internship program. We are also a home to some very experienced older journalists who have fewer and fewer paying markets to write for with every passing year, more’s the pity.

All of these exemplary reporters should be considered for regular appearances on GBH shows whenever their areas of expertise are up for discussion. We don’t expect more than a few Dig and BINJ journalists a year to actually make it on air.

But a few would be a hell of a lot better than none.

*the plural form of persona non grata, Latin for “an unacceptable or unwelcome person” 

Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston and executive director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.