Monday, January 24, 2005

DAVID NYHAN. The last time I interviewed David Nyhan, who collapsed and died yesterday after shoveling snow outside his Brookline home, was in the spring of 2004. I was working on an article about the ancient rivalry between the Globe and the Herald, which had just taken a new turn with the Herald's having hired former Globe columnist Mike Barnicle and reinventing itself as a New York Post-style tabloid.

Nyhan had played a role in getting his friend Barnicle the job, and there was talk that perhaps he would soon follow. Ultimately, though, Nyhan decided to keep doing what he was doing: dabbling in politics and writing a column for the Eagle-Tribune newspapers, a small chain north of Boston that included the first paper Nyhan ever worked for, the Salem News.

Nyhan retired from the Globe in 2001, but he wasn't particularly happy about it. Essentially he was forced out. The sense at 135 Morrissey Boulevard was that his florid, overtly liberal style of opinion-mongering was part of the past, and that it was time to make way for a newer generation of more analytical columnists such as Joan Vennochi and Scot Lehigh.

On the day that Nyhan and I talked, he expressed his unhappiness with the New York Times Company's stewardship of the Globe, blaming what he saw as the Globe's relentlessly negative coverage of the upcoming Democratic National Convention over pique back at the Mother Ship that the DNC hadn't come to New York. Nyhan speculated that "the corporate masters on 43rd Street" were "quite PO'd that Boston got it. And I think that the locally owned franchise reflects that view."

It also seemed increasingly apparent to him that the Times Company was intent on making sure the Globe would never be seen as anything but a satellite of the Times. "I believe that the business strategy of the New York Times, and you can find the spoor of it in the annual report - they want to be the dominant newspaper for upper-income Americans, which I applaud," Nyhan said. "But to do that I would argue that they have downsized the Boston Globe."

I don't buy Nyhan's critique; not all of it, anyway. My point is that Nyhan himself was passionate about newspapers, and he never lost that passion. He was part of a now-dwindling band of men - yes, pretty much all men - who brought the paper to greatness and prominence in the 1960s and '70s: the late editor Tom Winship; the late sports columnist Will McDonough; and Marty Nolan, who's still out and about. There were others, of course, but these four still stand out all these years later.

One of the last columns Nyhan wrote appeared in the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune on December 19. It was, in a sense, a summation of the lament that he had delivered to me several months earlier. Headlined "Boston Isn't Run by Bostonians Anymore," he wrote about the loss of local institutions such as the Bank of Boston, Jordan Marsh, John Hancock, and the like, as well as the increasing reality that the city's fate is controlled by business leaders who don't live here:

The banks and businesses that helped build Boston were taken over. "Such well-known institutions as the New England Telephone Co., the Shawmut Bank, Beacon Properties, Jordan Marsh and Filenes were sold, merged, or moved out of state," recounts Boston College historian Thomas O'Connor in "The Hub: Boston Past and Present." The Boston Globe sold itself to the New York Times. Fleet Bank, the merged progeny of the First National Bank, Bank of New England, Shawmut and Bank Boston, became Bank of America, controlled from North Carolina....

The executives now chosen to lead Boston-based institutions are now much more likely to be promoted and fired by people from away. They listen to stockholders and Wall Street analysts and bond issuers and investment bankers far from the corner of Park and Tremont streets. And there is less engagement in civic and philanthropic and educational and charitable endeavors when the bosses live far from area code 617.

Even though I'm pretty sure that Nyhan regarded me as a moralizing twit, I always enjoyed my talks with him. He was smart and funny, and he really cared. He was, in that old-fashioned sense of the term, a good guy, and the city will be a much lesser place without him.

THE METRO AND THE GLOBE. Globe ombudsman Christine Chinlund today weighs in on her paper's rather light coverage of the contretemps over Boston's Metro, whose parent company, Metro International, has had some serious problems with racist remarks. The Times Company is looking to buy 49 percent of the local Metro, and the Herald is fighting it on anti-competitive grounds. If you haven't been following the story, I've got a roundup online here.

Should the Globe have done more? Chinlund says no. I don't really disagree, although maybe one additional story, more prominently played, would have been in order. Still, from the start, this was more fodder for bloggers (including Media Log) and, of course, the rival Herald. Besides, this story isn't over yet by any means.

Meanwhile, Rory O'Connor, who started all this, is bugging the Times' public editor, Daniel Okrent, to write about it.

6 comments:

rozzie02131 said...

I missed David Nyhan's Globe columns from the day they disappeared and I continue to miss them each and every Sunday. The Focus section might as well have gone away afterwards, and in fact it did. The Ideas section is still overburdened with Deep Thought and not enough feisty opinion. The opinion pages should be the heart and soul of a newspaper. David Nyhan helped make them so. It was sad to lose his voice from the Globe in 2001, and it is much sadder to lose his voice from the world today.

efgoldman said...

I adored Nyhan's work, and his strong and clear opinions, and the total clarity of his writing, were the best of it.

I met him once or twice in the course of several years at the public radio stations, and for what its worth his brother Chris was a high school classmate of mine, so long-distance (42 years) condolences are in order.

Nyhan's departure from the Globe was one of the eariest and most obvious indicators of the paper's wish to become the most boring broadsheet in the country. They're just about there, especially on Sundays.

Anonymous said...

My cousin passed practically the exact same way two years ago...

Shoveling his car out in the driveway of his home in Lincroft, NJ

During another huge storm that hit the east coast December 12, 2003

Frankie was 57.

May a small part of their legacy be a reminder to folks who have family members "getting up there in years" to stop by their house and pitch in (or make arrangements) to have their walkway and driveway cleared.

Especially during whopper snowstorms like the two that took David & Frankie...

What a godforsaken shame.

Anonymous said...

ALAS, POOR DAVIDS
Just as we get over the loss of one {Bruds} another leaves {Nyhan}. One suffered terribly, one went quickly.
Hopefully they are in a better place,though the point is,one never knows,does one?

Anonymous said...

David Nyhan's column(s)
were the most fun and illuminating of the paper's
columns and contributors. I nearly 'lost it' last
year when he took the summer off and went to Ireland.
But he came back, and I continued to enjoy his work.
Miss him very much. Bless him.
j

Amarsanaa said...

Dave was my best American friend, colleague. As Reuters Fellows we became friends in Oxford, 1996. Dave and Chris from Edinburg we enjoyed good times together. We shared common values, ideas, often exchanged our views on the world political life. Over the past 9 years, we were in constant touch by the email.
My wife and me very much miss him, his letters, ideas, opinion and especially great optimism, shining heart.

Amarsanaa and Otgon, Mongolia