Tuesday, May 23, 2017

#FakeNewsBoston: Talking about journalism in a post-truth era

Lylah M. Alphonse at the LEWIS #FakeNewsBoston event on May 18, 2017.

When I'm not in the newsroom at U.S. News & World Report, you can find me talking about the news on WGBH's "Greater Boston" or "Beat the Press" and at various speaking gigs along the East Coast. Most recently, I was in Boston to talk about the fake news phenomenon at an event hosted by LEWIS, an elite PR and marketing group run. Here's a Storified synopsis of what we discussed.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Friday, March 17, 2017

On WGBH: Prying vs. privacy on "Beat the Press"

Back on WGBH tonight, this time on "Beat the Press," where I'm talking about the media with host Emily Rooney, Dan Kennedy of Northeastern University, WGBH News’ Callie Crossley, and Boston University College of Communications Dean Thomas Fiedler. Tune in at 7 p.m., or watch each segment of the show here:
Fake Forecast - National Weather Service withholds information:
Prying vs. Privacy - Popular podcast motive called into question
Much Ado - Rachel Maddow’s scoop on Trump's tax returns falls flat
Pool Problems - Should partisan outlets participate?
Rants & Raves - The panelists offer their rants and raves over some of what happened in the media world this past week

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

On WGBH: Trump, tax returns and other shiny things

I'm on WGBH's "Greater Boston" tonight at 7 p.m. ET, chatting about Donald Trump, tax returns, and other shiny things with Jim Braude and The Globe's Frank Phillips. Tune in! Or watch it here:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On WGBH: The first month of Trump's presidency

Back on WGBH's "Greater Boston" tonight to talk about the first month of Trump's presidency with Jim Braude, the Globe's Dante Ramos and lobbyist Jessica Tocco. Missed it? You can watch it here:

Thursday, November 3, 2016

On WGBH: Cognitive Dissonance on the Campaign Trail

With six days left until the election, Scot Lehigh of the Boston Globe and I join Jim Braude at WGBH's "Greater Boston" to talk about polls, election anxiety, the FBI and cognitive dissonance on the campaign trail. Read the write up at WGBH.org or watch the segment below:

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

CertaPro Review: Do Not Hire This Painting Company. Here's Why.

Updated, 5/23/17: Since this review was posted, the owner CertaPro of Needham has responded to a negative review with the Better Business Bureau by accusing us of trying to extort money from him. About a dozen other people have left reviews for the CertaPro of Needham  on Yelp -- most of them negative.

This is why you should not go with CertaPro painters: This area was not prepped properly before painting, and you can see the new paint inside the area where the old paint flaked off just six months after the work was completed.

If your house is in need of an exterior paint job, you have plenty of providers to choose from in the Boston area. But there's one you should absolutely avoid: CertaPro Painters of Needham, which also does business as CertaPro Painters of Norfolk County. Their prep work was poor, their painting and repair work was poor, the customer service was terrible, and they are reluctant to honor the two-year guarantee they offer.

The reviews on their site are glowing, which is what tipped the balance in their favor when we were looking for painters in Oct. 2015. But $13,325 and more than a year later, now we know the negative reviews are removed from their site and from social media in exchange for refunds. That's what happened to us when we tried and failed to have the franchise owner address problems with their work on our house -- even though one of his own employees had documented the problems early on. We've been writing reviews of products and services in the Boston area for nearly 20 years; those reviews have been published in The Boston Globe, Yahoo and elsewhere online, and in all that time we have never been offered a refund in exchange for deleting a negative review. So that request -- which came with a legal document that we refused to sign as written -- was a first for us.

We agreed in writing that the house needed a thorough scraping, sanding and power washing, as well as repairing and replacing some rotted wood siding with new pre-primed boards. They finished the entire job very quickly, and it was immediately clear they hadn't properly scraped or sanded any side other than the front of the house. They thinned the paint with water, as if for spraying, but then mostly brushed it on, resulting in poor coverage in some areas. Where they did spray, they over-sprayed, covering outlets, brickwork, the concrete foundation and utilities.

Most glaring: They painted over the rotten wood instead of repairing or replacing it.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Raising Money to Help in Haiti

My cousin's daughter is raising money to help people in Haiti, where she lives. She knows full well that organizations solicit money for relief efforts that never get to those who are really in need, or that help only a handful, or that come with strings attached. She is personally buying, collecting and raising money for things -- non-perishable food, baby formula, flashlights, school supplies, etc. -- and then delivering them herself to places where they can do the most good. If you're able, please consider helping her efforts. More information is available on her GoFundMe page. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On WGBH: Previewing the Third 2016 Presidential Debate

I took a break from debate prep today to talk about the debate-turned-Reality-TV-show tonight on WGBH's "Greater Boston" -- that's me with host Jim Braude and guest Dante Ramos of The Boston Globe, above. Read the writeup at WGBH.org, or watch the segment below:

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Defending Gabby Douglas and her Hair

This piece, published in August 2012, is still one of the most-popular posts I wrote at Yahoo.com. It seems worth resurfacing now, as Douglas prepares to compete in the Olympics again.

Gabby Douglas is proudly representing her country in the Olympics. She's poised under pressure, performing gravity-defying athletic feats in front of an international audience. She's 16 and the second female African American U.S. gymnast to ever make the team. But instead of lauding her achievements, some people are slamming her for... not getting her hair done. 

"I know that every black female looked at Gabby Douglas' hair and asked why? Just why?" Tweeted @stephaniebabe93.

Seriously? Douglas is an incredible athlete. When you're doing something like this on a 3.9-inch wide wooden beam set four feet above the ground, the last thing you're worrying about is your hair.

Some critics insist that Douglas needs to properly represent the African American community, and how her hair looks is part of that. And yet, most of the negative comments about her hair are coming from other African Americans.

"I find it sad that I have seen more Black women post criticizing comments about Gabby's hair than I have comments of praise about her athleticism or adding color to USA Gymnastics since Dominique Dawes," writes Monisha Randolph at SportyAfros.com

Many African American women choose not to work out in order to protect their hairstyle, Randolph points out. "The last time I checked when you play a sport, you sweat. I know I do. And when a Black woman who has chosen to wear her hair straight begins to sweat, her hair will (not might) begin to revert back to its natural coily, curly, or kinky state," she writes. "Some of us are sitting up right now with our hair done but suffering from high blood pressure, borderline diabetes, obesity, and/or a lack of energy. Oh, but the hair is on point."
Hair has always held a special significance in the African American community. Emmy Award-winning comedian Chris Rock was so struck by his daughter's obsession with her friend's hair that he made a documentary about it, "Good Hair," in which he goes on a quest to better understand why hair is so important to so many black women.
"There's always this sort of pressure within the black community like, if you have good hair, you're prettier or better than the brown-skinned girl that wears the Afro or the dreads or the natural hairstyle," actress Nia Long told him when he interviewed her for his film.
"They say it's for the men, but it's really for the women. Because guys don't care" about a woman's hair, he points out. His theory is borne out in the stream of tweets about Douglas' hair -- the most critical comments are by women. (Thankfully, some of the most supportive ones since have been by African American women as well.)
Instead of worrying about whether her hair is perfect, Douglas is focused on making history and winning Olympic gold. She is representing all Americans, not just one single group. She's achieved more by age 16 than most of us do in a lifetime. Shouldn't we be cheering her on instead of tearing her down? 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What would Sheryl Sandberg say about Jill Abramson's firing?

As a journalist who grew up reading the New York Times -- and as a woman whose interest in news and writing inspired her to become a journalist -- I’ve been following the coverage of Jill Abramson’s firing closely, looking for clues about why she was kicked out of the top position at the New York Times so abruptly on Wednesday. For those of you who aren’t quite as immersed in the insider-baseball world of print journalism, you can find a few good articles about the situation below:

Sultzberger Swings the Axe: Why He Fired Abramson

Jill Abramson Was Everything to Young Women at the New York Times

Jill Abramson Being Replaced as Top Editor at Times

Was Jill Abramson Fired After Complaining About Pay Discrimination?

In a nutshell:

As the news broke, the New York Times itself added fuel to the speculation fire, stating at the end of it’s first article about it that “the reasons for the switch were not immediately clear.” Politico, relying on two unnamed sources within the NYT newsroom, reported that the decision stemmed from “an issue with management in the newsroom.”

Other publications have offered up other possibilities. New York Magazine mentioned that Abramson recently found out she was being paid “considerably less” than her predecessor, Bill Keller. Several outlets have said that Abramson wasn’t interested enough in the Grey Lady’s digital and video initiatives. She reportedly incurred the wrath of newly appointed CEO Mark Thompson last year by sending a reporter to investigate his role in the Jimmy Savile scandal at the BBC after Thompson had agreed to join the Times (but before he his first day on the job). Her relationship with her boss, Times Company Chairman Arthur Sultzberger Jr., has been described as tense. The final straw, apparently, was her decision to recruit a co-managing editor without consulting her current managing editor.

And then there’s the unflattering 2013 portrait of Abramson published by Politico in which she was described as “stubborn and condescending” and “difficult to work with”; it also pointed out that while staffers agree she’s a skilled and experienced journalist, they “question whether she has the temperament to lead the paper.” Though some dismissed it as a hatchet job when it came out, others are turning to the Politico profile now as proof that Abramson had her abrupt dismissal coming.

It’s no surprise that the same qualities prized in male leaders are often derided in female ones -- if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been called “aggressive” or “bossy” instead of “goal-oriented” or “authoritative,” I could have retired comfortably in my mid-30s. Still, I’m hesitant to chalk Abramson’s firing up to gender issues or feminist failings. Her presence at the head of the New York Times table was inspiring to plenty of people, and the fact that she appointed a significant number of women to the masthead has expanded the perspective offered by the paper. And out of the ashes of this incident rises a phoenix of sorts: Managing Editor Dean Baquet was named as her successor, becoming the first African-American executive editor at the New York Times.

I’m pleased to see a person of color at the helm, of course, but as a woman I can’t help but wonder: What would Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg say about Abramson’s firing?

"Women are held back by many things. We're held back by bias, by lack of flexibility, by lack of opportunity," Sandberg said in the trailer for her book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead." "We also hold ourselves back. We don't sit at the table, we don't raise our hands, we don't let our voices be loud enough."

So, lean in... just don’t fall over?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Continuing the STEM Conversation

Over at U.S. News & World Report I've been wading deep into the STEM debate, overseeing our reporting on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education and employment, coordinating coverage of  our annual STEM Solutions Conference, and launching special reports about Common Core -- which was created in part to address the STEM skills gap in the United States -- and our new STEM Index -- the first comprehensive measurement of STEM activity in the U.S. over time.

The STEM Index was created with support from Raytheon; it's a gigantic data project, made up of thousands of data points divided into 93 sub-indices and eight component indices. We dug into the data and found that after a long period of flat to down indicators, there has been some upward movement, particularly in the actual number of STEM degrees granted at the undergraduate and graduate levels. But as I wrote in my first analysis piece, even with those numbers on the rise, as a proportion of total degrees granted they still hover close to the same levels that existed  in 2000, indicating that the education pipeline to fill the current and future jobs that will require STEM skills still isn’t producing enough talent. Here's the rest of that article: New STEM Index Finds America's STEM Talent Pool Still Too Shallow to Meet Demand.

The controversial Common Core State Standards plays a part in solving the STEM problem, but the there's plenty of confusion about how it does so. In March, we created A Guide to Common Core, reporting on both sides of the debate, to help readers understand what's really at stake.

Last week, I had the opportunity to put all the parts of the STEM debate together when I moderated a discussion for the Massachusetts Governor's STEM Advisory Council. The event brought together academic and industry leaders, all of whom had plenty to say about STEM.

(Photo courtesy of Elena Fernandez of Dassault Systemes.)

On the panel were Secretary Greg Bialecki, the chief housing and economic development adviser for Massachusetts;  Al Bunshaft, senior vice president of Americas Organization at Dassault Systemes; Gail Deegan, a director at EMC and iRobot and a Trustee of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Dr. Rick Miller, president of  Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass.; and Kelly Powers, a computer science teacher at the Advanced Math and Science Academy in Marlborough, Mass., who is also co-president of the greater Boston Computer Science Teachers Association chapter and the recipient of the 2013 STEM Teacher of the Year Award at the STEM Summit. Gary Beach, the former publisher of CIO Magazine and the author of "The U.S. Technology Skills Gap," gave a lecture on how the skills gap is affecting the U.S. economy.

Personally, I think that we focus a great deal STEM fields and whether students are opting to earn degrees in science and technology, and not enough on skill sets and how traditional STEM skills like analysis and problem solving are needed in all types of jobs. As I said during the Dassault Systemes event, I don't know of any employer who would look at a candidate and say, "No, I really don't want someone who good problem-solving or analytical skills." Similarly, skills that have been regulated to the arts and humanities -- writing, creativity, drawing -- are much needed in traditionally STEM fields like engineering and manufacturing. At its core, mechanical engineering is about dreaming up a new idea, designing it and bringing it to life -- that's a classic combination of art and science.

We used to think of an auto mechanic as a person with greasy hands and dirty overalls, but these days a mechanic needs to be able to understand computers, analyze data, and maybe even code. We used to think of a computer scientist as an anti-social guy hunched over a computer in a basement lab somewhere, but modern computer scientists need to hone public speaking skills and write documentation that makes sense to users of all ages. Isn't it time we marked progress in STEM by measuring the number of people who have mastered the skills they need to succeed in any field?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering JFK, 50 Years Later

My latest special report for U.S. News & World Report is live! JFK: 50 Years Later is a comprehensive look at President John F. Kennedy's legacy, on the 50th anniversary of his death. I wasn't around in 1963, but after looking through reams of old photographs and reels of old video, after reading U.S. News coverage from Dallas on the day itself and interviews with news makers during the aftermath, I can't help but feel the impact this amazing man has had on this country.

Click here to see the entire project

I was also fortunate to be able to interview a man who was there at the time. Now 73, Don Rickel was a doorman in the House of Representatives in 1963, and shared his memories with me.

"Friday the 22nd of November in Washington, D.C., the city was very quiet for a Friday afternoon," he told me. "Back up on 'The Hill' in offices of the members of Congress people were dazed, crying, just sitting looking out into space with television sets and radios all telling the story of what was happening in Dallas."

"My personal memories were of the hundreds of people waiting in the lines in the cold to view the body laying in state in the capitol rotunda," he continued. "The number of world leaders that came to pay their respects to a fallen President -- they may have disagreed with his politics, his religion, his family, etc., but came to pay respects to a leader of the USA. At the grave, I was standing behind several of these world leaders, in fact just 10 feet from Charles DeGaulle."

You can read the rest of his story, and view a video of JFK's funeral, at usnews.com/jfk.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

On selfies and social media: Raising boys to respect girls doesn't mean forbidding them to be friends

Miley Cyrus’s VMA twerking exhibition has triggered a wave of helpful and not-so-helpful advice aimed at America’s teenage sons and daughters. Most of it has been levied at the girls, with messages that pretty much all boil down to “You don’t need to make a spectacle of yourself to get attention”; far fewer have reached out to boys to tell them “Please don’t treat women like that.”

So when this post from Givenbreath.com popped up in my Facebook feed multiple times, I clicked through. Titled “FYI: If You’re a Teenage Girl,” it’s written by Kim Hall, a mom of four (three boys, one girl) telling her son’s female friends that they really need to watch what they post on social media.

“If you are friends with a Hall boy on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, then you are friends with the whole Hall family,” she writes, after noting that her sons’ friends sure do seem to share a lot of photos of themselves in their bedrooms, posing in pajamas (or less) and obviously not wearing their bras.

She shares a few photos of her own, pictures of her strapping teenage boys and their sweet little sister, making muscles and posing in bathing suits on the beach. Which seems fine and wholesome until you keep reading: If she sees an inappropriate, half-naked picture of a girl among her son’s friends, she's sorry to have to say, that girl is getting blocked.

“I know your family would not be thrilled at the thought of my teenage boys seeing you only in your towel. Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it? You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?” she writes. “Neither do we. And so, in our house, there are no second chances, ladies. If you want to stay friendly with the Hall men, you’ll have to keep your clothes on, and your posts decent. If you try to post a sexy selfie, or an inappropriate YouTube video – even once – you’ll be booted off our on-line island.”

“I know that sounds harsh and old-school, but that’s just the way it is under this roof for a while,” she continues. “We hope to raise men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls.”

Hypocrisy aside – featuring half-naked pictures of your sons in a post in which you tell their female friends to cover up? -- it's interesting that she holds the girls responsible for posting the unacceptable pictures, but isn't holding the boys responsible for looking at them. It's like saying that girls shouldn't wear miniskirts while giving boys a pass for ogling at them -- the old "boys will be boys" excuse that blames women when men behave badly.