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Dimming the Globe's Spotlight

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The term “scoop” in a journalistic sense has become a cliché, used far more by outsiders than those in the business, if it’s ever heard in newsrooms at all. But its most basic meaning – “to dig or shovel” – as well as its general usage as a colloquialism to describe an exclusive story that has a wide-ranging impact is most appropriate.

The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team has had its fair share of “scoops” over the last four decades, many of which have fostered systematic and systemic change in government and public policy, not to mention garnering a few Pulitzer prizes along the way.

But an upcoming series by the paper’s investigative unit will likely be a surprise to no one as word leaks out about what its reporters have been doing since January.

“A soon-to-be published Boston Globe investigative report that is expected to target drunk-driving prosecutions in Massachusetts is creating angst in courthouse corridors and changing the way lawyers handle OUI cases,” according to a story in Massachusetts Lawyer’s Weekly last week (subscription required). “Court officials are steeling for what is believed to be a statistical analysis of jury-waived District Court OUI trials that will shine an unflattering light on the judiciary.”

The Herald, which for years tried to develop its own “flashlight team” to compete with Spotlight, has also attempted to steal the thunder from its larger competition. Howie Carr, who likes nothing better than to tweak the Globe at every opportunity, wrote a column yesterday about the chummy relationships between judges and defense lawyers. He never mentioned the Lawyer’s Weekly piece or the upcoming Spotlight report, but sent a message to the Globe at the end of his column: “You read it here first.” It’s a line you can bet will be reprised both in print and on his radio show.

The Globe’s story comes on the heels of its explosive investigation into the scandal-ridden Probation Department, a series that triggered a slew of legislative and administrative changes, not to mention criminal charges against the former probation commissioner and a former top state treasury aide.

It is an inherent danger with long-form journalistic pieces with an extended lead time before publication that word leaks out and competitors scramble to get up to speed. But if impact is the measure of a media outlet’s efforts, the Spotlight Team has clearly met its goal. There were stories for years about clergy sex abuse but until the Globe tied all the string together, it was relegated to individual pieces.

But the Globe can take solace in the fact it is getting both attention and forcing change, without even running its first story.

“Ever since word of the investigative piece surfaced in January, one South Shore attorney said he and some of his colleagues have stopped seeking jury-waived trials, particularly in courts in Wareham, Hingham, Haverhill and Plymouth where the Globe reportedly has spent time reviewing individual case files,” according to the Lawyer’s Weekly story.

‘“OUIs that would’ve been tried jury-waived six months ago are now being presented to a jury,”’ said the attorney, who asked not to be identified. ‘“We know [Globe reporters] have been thumbing through files at the courthouse, and I can tell you that nobody wants to step into that mess.”’

                                                                                                                                                                  --JACK SULLIVAN  


BEACON HILL

Veteran US Rep. John Olver announced he will retire at the end of his current term, a development that could reshape efforts on Beacon Hill to craft new congressional district boundaries. The Springfield Republican story is here, and an editorial says his decision sends a “shudder through Western Massachusetts.” The Berkshire Eagle gets local reactions and ponders what’s next. The North Adams Transcript coverage is here. “Olver and out,” says the Worcester T&G headline. NECN interviews political consultant Michael Goldman about what US Rep. John Olver’s retirement means for redistricting.

State lawmakers and the attorney general say they’ll ramp up scrutiny of fish labeling in the wake of a Globe series reporting rampant mislabeling of fish by area restaurants.

State officials dock the pension of John Barranco, former head of the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative, until 2018.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS 

Former Lawrence mayoral candidate Israel Reyes pleads guilty to having campaign literature printed for free using the city’s school printing press. Reyes was caught up in the investigation of former schools superintendent Wilfredo Laboy, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The new group seeking to recall Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua prints an affidavit explaining why he must go. The Eagle-Tribune interviews several of the group’s members, but has nothing from Lantigua, not even a no comment. An earlier recall effort failed.

The Salem City Council delays a vote on whether to use a new state law to pursue changes in health insurance coverage for city workers, the Salem News reports.

Boston City Council candidates debate school busing.

Hubway comes to Roxbury.

In North Attleboro’s mayoral race, the endorsement of the state firefighters union -- made without the input of the city’s jakes -- invites a backlash.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The Connecticut legislature passes a $626 million package of  tax breaks and regulatory changes to boost job creation, the Hartford Courant reports.

The Congressional Budget Office goes deep on income inequality.

Cities turn on Occupy protests.

ELECTION 2012

Mitt Romney, whose 2008 presidential run mocked the loopy ways of lefty Massachusetts, is now touting the ability he showed here to work with those across the partisan aisle. It’s about to get ugly for Romney, though. He’s not making friends in Ohio, either.

Suddenly things are not looking so bright for Mario Rubio’s VP prospects.

Alan Khazei will announce today that he’s quitting the US Senate race, another victim of surging Democratic primary support for Elizabeth Warren. Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham explains why the clearing of the Democratic field is not such a good thing for Warren. Here’s the WBUR report.

A statement by Warren on federal fishery regulations has industry and government officials scratching their heads, the Gloucester Times reports.

About 40 teachers, firefighters, and activists picketed outside an event in Danvers where Sen. Scott Brown was speaking, protesting his vote against a jobs measure, the Salem News reports.

Rick Perry won’t back a Confederate license plate. The Texas governor debuts his first TV ad. And he may skip future debates.

Chaos dominates Herman Cain’s campaign.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The late Steve Jobs, despite his billions, was generally dismissive of philanthropic efforts and preferred donating and selling technology to nonprofits to do their work rather than dip into his pocket to fund them.

Ray of good economic news: Consumer spending was up in Q3.

EDUCATION

A group of parents of eighth-graders at Old Rochester Regional Junior High School are scheduled to meet with school officials over what they say is an inappropriate reading assignment of an award-winning book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, that contains some off-color and offensive language.

Greater Boston breaks down what President Obama’s plan to ease student loan debt means to the average family.

Two reports offer solutions to the teacher pension crisis, Governing magazine reports.

Time’s Steven Goodman says it’s time for government to rein in the cost of a college education.

The US Education Department is investigating charges that the state has not ensured equal opportunities for English language learners with its recent approval of new charter schools that are not prepared to serve such students.

The Westport school superintendent told the school committee that unless voters approve an override to pay for a $3.1 million cleanup of PCB contamination at the middle school, the town will be forced to close the school and layoff staff.

HEALTH CARE

Cities and towns that were canceling free flu shot clinics because of federal cutbacks were told by the state Department of Public Health this week they can resume the clinics now that the Legislature has approved funds to purchase and distribute the vaccine.

TRANSPORTATION

The Eagle-Tribune, in an editorial, applauds MassINC for issuing a report that opens a conversation about transportation financing, but calls the idea of a regionally imposed payroll or vehicle-miles-traveled tax “good government fantasy land.” The Salem News, owned by the same company, runs the same editorial.  CommonWealths Gabrielle Gurley offers an account of yesterday’s MassINC forum, which featured remarks by Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and Transportation Secretary Rich Davey, where the report was released.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The state’s largest privately owned solar-panel array is unveiled in Westford, the Lowell Sun reports.
Falmouth wind turbine opponents move to place a nonbinding article on the annual town meeting warrant to halt construction until the effects on abutters receive more study.

A proposed 480-foot wind turbine in Milton that could net $800,000 for the town has triggered a fight between Milton and Quincy officials and spawned a lawsuit and legislation to stop the project.

MEDIA

The Guardian launches an open community news platform, Nieman Journalism Lab reports.

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