By Rebecca Ballard

It makes sense, when you think about it, that a post-incarceration sex offender might have trouble integrating into society. Besides the common negative reactions from adults and parents in the communities into which they intend to move into, many states (including Massachusetts) have placed restrictions on how close they can be to schools, parks, day-care centers, playgrounds, and nursing homes.

Currently, Massachusetts is looking at passing a law that would ban Level 3, or high risk, sex offenders from staying in homeless shelters. According to the Massachusetts government website, a Level 3 offender is someone for whom “the risk of reoffense is high and the degree of dangerousness posed to the public is such that a substantial public safety interest is served by active dissemination.”

David Abel covered reactions for and against the law in his article “Sex offender ban sought for homeless shelters” that ran in the Boston Glove last week.

The law seems to be met with relief throughout the article from those in charge of homeless shelters, as they explain that they don’t have the resources to deal with dangerous sex offenders, especially now with the bad economy. One person contended that they could be blamed and shut down, should a sex offender who stayed in their shelter commit a crime.

On the other side, people like Tracy Velazquez argued that such a law would simply make sex offenders more dangerous–with no permanent residence, they would be harder to track by law enforcement, in addition to making it harder for the offenders to integrate into society by meeting their basic needs.

Jill Levenson walked a middle ground by saying that it was understandable to ban dangerous sex offenders from woman and children’s shelters, but not all shelters, and that if the law passed sex offenders should be given another social service as a replacement. However, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 1 in 33 men, or 3%, have been raped in their lifetime. While this number is much lower than the 1 in 6 statistic for women that is listed on their site, that does not discredit the fact that men too can be victims of sexual abuse.

After the budget cuts however (Abel On Budget Cuts to Homeless Shelters), the shelter officials say they “shouldn’t be stuck with a problem that stems from inadequate state services for sex offenders.”

By Rebecca Ballard

Although the moderator of the Ainsley and Baron talk prefaced things with a statement saying that this would not be a talk about the uncertain future of journalism, and in particular newspapers, the questions often ended up taking the speakers in that direction.

This however, came as little surprise as the two speakers both hold high positions in one of Boston’s two larger newspapers, the Boston Globe, Steven Ainsley being the publisher and Marty Baron the editor. One of the first questions the moderator asked them was what was the hardest decision each had faced individually in the past year.

It turned out that it was a problem they had both faced together, stemming from the economic difficulties the paper faced. As a publisher, Ainsley’s job focuses on the business aspect on running a newspaper. Ainsley said that in the beginning of April, after several months of planning, he set into a motion a plan they believed would reduce loss effectively and quickly, in order to keep the paper from going under.

First they met with the labor unions, who according to Ainsley represented about 75% of their employees, in order to reopen contracts and concessions. Here, Baron stepped in saying that they’d had to lay off 12% of the newsroom in order to avoid closing the newsroom entirely due to financial difficulty. According to Baron, employees’ pay was also cut by 23%.

“It was extraordinarily difficult having to stand in from of people who care very much about the paper and tell them that if we didn’t make the kind of progress that we needed to make that this newspaper…might cease to be,” said Ainsley.

Ainsley then explained that they brought in outside consultants to help them figure out how to cut down costs and keep the paper from sinking. He said that this decision was one that caused some dismay because the consultants were not journalists.

Baron agreed that this was exactly why, stating that he was “not a fan” of the consultants because it concerned him to measure, on the editorial side of things, what they did in metrics. He stated that other newspapers where people had been cut in that manner had in his opinion, decreased in quality.

Ainsley admitted that they strayed from their task several times but still in the end contributed significantly to the successful strategy that the Globe then developed. At the same time, he praised the newsroom for working with the consultants, and also for “drawing lines where they needed to be drawn.”

The fact that these speakers came from a specific newspaper, and one who had a story of recovery no less (as the New York Times has decided in the last month to take them off the market) gave them an upbeat view. Baron pointed out that through the internet and other media they can now engage viewers and readers in ways they never could before.

“The readership of journalism everywhere is greater than it ever was,” Baron said, bringing up the fact that when the Boston Globe broke the investigation into sex abuse crimes in the Catholic Church, people around the world were following the story.

Towards the end of the question and answer session, Ainsley said that a lot of newspapers had made the mistake of dumbing down the argument for their readers in an effort to make their content more accessible. I understood why this was done, as well as why this was a problem, so once the speakers were done I approached them with a question; how do you make people care when they don’t?

I was thinking in the context of stories that have either been covered for an extensive length of time (for example, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) or that covers a topic people have been generally overloaded with previously (for example, war, famine, genocide, and disease in Africa).

Baron responded that as a journalist, one might chose to write about what was important to them, but a subject being important wasn’t enough to make a reader care. What you had to do, he told me, was make an important story interesting by showing a reader why it was relevant, or finding a way to connect them to who or what it involved. I found this advice very practical, honest, and helpful.

When asked what their “bionic” journalist of the future would be, Baron quipped that such a journalist would in fact be human, not bionic.

“To be a good journalist you have to have a soul and a heart, and a conviction and a determination,” Baron said. He also showed interesting insight into the future of journalists when he said that traditionally journalists worked their way up the ladder but in the future, journalists would likely be able to leapfrog over veterans based on skill and ability. Future journalists, Baron stated, would have to operate on their own.

By Rebecca Ballard

On November 11th, the last Brigham’s in Boston closed its doors for a final time. Given only a week’s notice, the staff said goodbye to many customers who’d set aside the time to say goodbye. In his article “Last serving, to go,” David Abel covered the last day at the restaurant, as well as spoke to staff and customers.

In the article he states that the closing was fairly abrupt, and that Luke Cooper, the CEO of Deal Metrics (the restaurant’s new owner) declined to comment “on the outstanding rent, the lack of health insurance, or what led to the restaurant’s closing.” He then wordily states that macroeconomic and financial factors are affecting the sales.

This is interesting to contrast to the waitress who states to regularly make $150 in tips and all of the praise the customers are quoted giving the restaurant (especially since many say they eat there daily).

Googling the restaurant’s demise led me to several other articles that all turned up and confirmed the same information (that the restaurant was well loved, that the employees’ were not receiving health insurance but were still having money for it deducted from their paychecks, and that the CEO refused to give any sort of an actual explanation.

I thought the use of video in the online version of Abel’s article was a good idea–often it seems that unless a reader can specifically and personally relate to a situation, they may not be able to sympathize. However, actually seeing the sadness of the staff and customers, as well as hearing them speak about the sudden closing, makes the story more interesting and relatable.

By Rebecca Ballard

Abel’s recent article, Budget trims lead to homeless shelters across Mass. to cut services and beds,” covers the anticipated effects of the budget cuts on homeless programs across the state.

While the article is brief relative to the subject matter, Abel manages to present and explain the story from several angles; Massachusetts state housing officials, city officials, and advocates for the homeless. It is easy for the reader’s sympathy to instantly lie with those who will be directly and negatively affected by the budget cuts (advocates for the homeless and the homeless themselves).

However, by quoting the associate director of the division of housing stabilization at the State Department of Housing and Community Development, Bob Pulster, the reader is shown that the homeless programs have been spared before (although it is worth questioning what exactly Pulster means by “held harmless”). They are also reminded that there are cuts being made everywhere due to the economy.

By also using a quote from the St. Francis house executive director Karen LaFrazia in which she said, “I don’t know what the governor is supposed to do with a $600 million budget shortfall,” the reader is again reminded later in the article that the cuts are being done for a reason (whether or not they agree with it is a different matter). This quote was a good choice for the article as she continues on to say, “but I know what he shouldn’t do,” which then reinforces the counter-argument.

Abel’s use of figures and percentages also worked well in the article–sometimes using statistics can just come out like empty numbers on a page, but because of how they are tied into the article, the reader can understand they represent real people. When he writes about the amount of money being cut from programs he then follows with an explanation of what that means in hard facts for the shelter (such as a loss of meals, loss of a day program, loss of security, loss of beds, etc).

I also thought it was appropriate that at the end of the article, Abel covers the progress that has been made reducing homelessness in Boston (“the city has reduced the number of single homeless adults by 500 people, or nearly 30 percent, over the past five years”) but juxtaposes this with reminders from homeless advocates that the budget cuts will potentially reduce their ability to be as effective.

In a time in which much of what we hear about the economy is focused on other areas, it’s important that the homeless are not forgotten–through budget cuts or in the media. Abel’s article does a good job to raise awareness about the issue of what happens to “people who have nothing” in a time when everyone is struggling.