A Home in the Digital World
May 1, 2018
BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS
It’s always funny to hear that Charlie Baker is a very popular governor… The most popular governor in the country at the moment, according to polls. Because he doesn’t do anything very differently than his predecessor Deval Patrick did. Or than Mass House speaker Robert DeLeo does. Or than most any state Democratic leader when it comes down to core economic issues—with the exception of the leaders with little actual power.
Baker, Patrick, DeLeo, and all their ilk in both major parties essentially follow the same game plan. They work to lower taxes for those most able to afford them, cut desperately needed social programs to the bone, and give away as much money as possible to giant corporations.
Much of the rest of what they do is posturing for the various constituencies that make up their particular electorates. And that’s the stuff that gets the most media coverage. Which is not to say they’re necessarily insincere about such activity. But they’re elected to represent the wealthy interests that run the Commonwealth, and the work they do for that most important constituency is always their top priority.
So when Patrick and Baker, for example, shovel over $1.5 billion in free public money at the biotech industry or arrange millions in tax breaks and direct state aid for huge companies that don’t need them on an ongoing basis—with DeLeo’s blessing in both administrations—to the extent those acts get coverage, they’re presented as done deals that are “good for the economy.” Then it’s on to the next press spectacle of the day. Events where they can “show leadership” and the like. As when there’s a snowstorm. In Massachusetts, a northern state noted for its frequent snowstorms. And the current governor gets on TV and says “stay indoors during the snowstorm.” That is apparently showing leadership.
Which explains Baker’s high numbers, I think. Simple public relations. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and all that. With most of the major news outlets gamely playing along. And his numbers are higher than Patrick’s were because he’s a white guy in a super racist state that likes to think it’s super anti-racist.
That’s what results in people that don’t pay attention to politics—including the vast majority of white voters—going, “Oh, Baker’s such a nice man” when pollsters ask their opinion of him. More than they did with Patrick. No doubt Baker is a nice man in person or whatever. Lots of people who do bad things when they have power are personally “nice.” Like, I’m sure when some buddy of his from childhood needs money, he’ll give it to him. Or at least loan it to him. But when all the legions of people he doesn’t know personally need good jobs with benefits, need free higher education, need major improvement to infrastructure like the MBTA—because of entrenched structural inequality—that’s a different story.
A story whose narrative you can hear if you listen to Baker’s remarks to the 2018 Mass Republican Convention in Worcester last weekend.
Stripping away obligatory pleasantries and nods to major supporters, the speech was aimed at the same white middle-class suburbanites who remain the base of the state Republican Party. Baker addressed them directly at one point while enumerating the “successes” of his administration: “We offered early college programs, our Commonwealth Commitment program, which dramatically reduces the cost of a college education. And increases in state scholarships to make the price of college more affordable for moderate- and middle-income families.”
See, he thinks they’re so important he mentioned them twice in a row: “moderate- and middle-income families.” No word about low-income families, though. At all. Not even a nod. Sure, working families are discussed. But in Republican-speak, “working families” isn’t code for “working class” as it often is for Democrats. It means “those who work.” As opposed to “those who do not work.” Like all those “lazy shiftless” folks that used to be called working class in more honest times. And those totally nonindustrious [ha!] immigrants. And the “undeserving” poor in general. Everyone who supposedly lives off the bounty of “our”––the good “moderate- and middle-income” people’s, the “taxpayers’”—labor.
But no mention of his most important constituency, the one he actually works for, either. “Small business” is mentioned a number of times. But not major corporations and the rich people that own them.
Still, they’re there. Lurking behind all of Baker’s remarks. Especially when he said several things that are completely and obviously false to anyone who follows politics reasonably closely. Like taking credit for “dramatically” reducing the cost of a college education. When public higher education is an absolute disaster in Massachusetts. When both the working-class families he seemingly deplores and the middle class he purports to represent—immigrant and nonimmigrant alike—are forced to run up ruinous amounts of debt just to put kids through schools that were once so cheap as to nearly be free. While tuition and fees keep getting raised year after year. Under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
The rich and the corporations are there because public higher ed, like virtually every other beneficial government program, is being starved for operating funds. To fatten that 1 percent’s coffers. Because politicians like Baker make a virtue out of cutting taxes. Slashing budgets. Laying off public workers. Privatizing anything they can get away with. As Baker himself has certainly been doing at the much-beleaguered MBTA. Another public service he addressed in Worcester, saying: “We took on the special interests at the MBTA. Created a Fiscal Management and Control Board. And saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, and we’re rebuilding its core infrastructure.” While, in the real world, that same public transportation infrastructure continues to fall apart for lack of the needed direct infusion of state funds.
Is everything Baker does bad? No. Is he as dangerous as federal counterparts like President Donald Trump? Or the feral reactionary theocrat Scott Lively that fully 28 percent of Mass Republican delegates just chose to run against Baker in a primary this fall? No. Not yet at least.
But that’s not the point.
The point is that a polity where a Charlie Baker can be incredibly popular is a broken polity. And a news media that enables him is a broken news media. Baker does not represent even the interest of the white middle class that keeps voting him into office, let alone the working class as a whole. A media that was doing its job would make that patently clear. Every hour of every day. Yet it does the opposite. Because it too is controlled by the same rich and powerful interests that control politics and ensure pols like Baker keep getting elected. Whether those pols call themselves Republicans or Democrats.
So to fix politics, we have to fix the media. And I can’t address how that might be done in a single column. But my colleagues and I are trying our damndest to do it in practice at DigBoston and the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. And the fix starts with journalists who are independent and strive to tell the truth about problems in media and the political system. Every hour of every day. Beyond that, there’s much more to say. So, I’ll plan to talk about specific potential fixes in future columns and editorials.
Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.
April 11, 2018
BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS
Typically, I mainly focus on Bay State issues in this column. But I’ll make an exception this time and stand with my colleagues at the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and their affiliate the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS) to protest the killing of Palestinian photojournalist Yaser Murtaja by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the strongest possible terms, and to demand that his killers be brought to justice. I encourage all working journalists and editors to do the same.
Murtaja was shot Friday by an IDF sniper near the border of the Gaza Strip and Israel, according to the Guardian. He had been covering one of an ongoing series of Palestinian protests demanding their right of return from Gaza to their families’ ancestral homes in Israel—from which they were driven in the 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine and the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. He was wearing a flak jacket clearly marked “PRESS” in English in huge block letters. According to the press rights group Reporters Without Borders, he was 31, the father of a young son, and one of the founders of the independent news agency Ain Media (“Eye Media”).
Based in the Gaza Strip, Murtaja was never able to travel anywhere else even once. Largely because of the difficulties created by the longstanding Israeli military blockade of the territory.
The IDF has promised to investigate the killing and the wounding of four other Palestinian journalists the same day, according to the Intercept. Regardless, calls are rising from the global human rights community to charge Israel with war crimes over the use of live ammunition on the “Great Return March” demonstrations. Starting with the 15 unarmed protesters killed and hundreds wounded by IDF snipers at a March 30 border rally of 50,000 Gazans. Followed by nine more killed—including Murtaja—and hundreds more wounded at last Friday’s action, according to Haaretz. Plus more deaths and woundings at other border demonstrations. Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, issued a statement on Sunday saying the court is considering opening an investigation into both the Israeli actions and the possible use of Gaza civilians as “human shields” by Hamas’ military brigades.
The Gaza border demonstrations are expected to continue until May 15—known as Nakba Day (Day of the Catastrophe) to the Palestinians, the commemoration of the ethnic cleansing of their land that took place before and after the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948.
According to the IFJ, “In a statement, the PJS confirmed that they will pursue action against Murtaja’s murderers in the international forums and courts and that they will intensify their efforts to bring the murderers of Palestinian journalists to international justice. The PJS also called on the UN and all its bodies’ to act immediately and to implement its decisions, specifically the [UN] Security Council’s decision no. 2222, and to take concrete steps to provide immediate protection to Palestinian journalists on the ground.”
For up-to-date information on the campaigns to hold Israel accountable on this and related matters, check out the websites of the International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
And read the main 4.11.18 TOWNIE column AIRLINES SUING, UMASS SCREWING here.
Townie (a worm’s eye view of the Mass power structure) is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.
November 6, 2017
BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS
Good journalists typically have four attributes: an ability to communicate information about the world around them to other people, training in the conventions of journalism, compassion for their fellow human beings, and deep knowledge of the areas they specialize in (which we call “beats” in the journalism trade). DigBoston, like any news outlet, obviously needs good journalists. And we’re constantly recruiting new talent. Yet as a city newspaper with a mission to provide the people of Boston’s many neighborhoods with useful information about their hometown, we need more than that. We need native Bostonians working for us.
More to the point, we need working-class native Bostonians. People with deep knowledge of the streets they grew up on. Because we’re very serious about our mission to cover ALL of Boston’s neighborhoods—not just the rich ones. But there’s a problem: Most of the people who want to work for us as reporters—and who know enough to think that there’s even a possibility of them doing so—have just three of the four attributes we’re looking for. They can communicate well, they are compassionate at some level, and they have journalism training. What they don’t have is deep local knowledge. Nor do they necessarily care much about all of Boston’s neighborhoods. Only the ones they hang out in.
These people who apply in droves to work at publications like DigBoston—and indeed all area news outlets that can pay something—are generally middle- or upper-middle-class folks in their 20s from outside of Boston that got degrees in journalism (or communications or literature or business or art and design) at one of our many area colleges. And that’s fine. They have every right to do so, and some of them end up working for us and doing a great job. But only after, and this is key, we help them learn more about the city they’re covering.
If we’re willing to work with people who have three of four qualities that make a good journalist out of the gate, then it’s only fair that we should go the extra mile and recruit local talent that has the other combination of three attributes: ability to communicate, compassion, and deep local knowledge. Because those candidates can definitely be trained in the conventions of journalism.
Readers may not realize it, but journalists did not traditionally go to college to learn their trade until recent decades. Journalists learned journalism by doing it. By becoming, essentially, apprentices to experienced journalists. Which worked well since journalism is many things, but it is not rocket science. It’s a way of collecting and presenting information. Once you learn its conventions, then you can be a working journalist.
So, are you a smart, compassionate, talkative person from one of Boston’s working-class neighborhoods? Can you put words in rows, and maybe take some pictures on your phone? Do you want to learn to be a journalist? Do you want to tell the world about the place you grew up? About its problems and its successes? About its corruption and its virtue? Its shame and its glory?
Then drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s talk. You, too, could make shit money and help save the world.
Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. He’s a townie, and his training in journalism was, shall we say, idiosyncratic.