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Two new Globe columnists, two good calls

Print readers of the Phoenix won't get my take on Yvonne Abraham and Kevin Cullen being tapped as the Globe's new metro columnists until Thursday. But as a Media Log reader, you can read it now!

When two of the Boston Globe’s three metro columnists left the paper earlier this year — Eileen McNamara for a teaching job at Brandeis, Brian McGrory to become the paper’s metro editor — there was talk inside the paper that editor Marty Baron might simply leave their jobs unfilled. This wouldn’t necessarily have been a surprise, given with Baron’s ongoing, aggressive re-invention of the Globe (see “A New Balance,” News & Features, May 23). But it would have diluted and depersonalized the paper.

Fortunately, that talk was wrong. On Tuesday, Baron announced that reporters Kevin Cullen, 48, and Yvonne Abraham, 40, would be taking over McNamara and McGrory’s jobs at a yet-to-be-determined date.

The Globe’s readers should be heartened by this news. In his memo, Baron focused on Cullen’s deep Boston roots — which should be an asset in a city that frequently seems to be losing its memory (sometimes with the Globe’s help). What’s more intriguing, though, is the old-school populism that informs Cullen’s conception of the job. “A metro column is a very powerful vehicle,” he tells the Phoenix. “It can be a showcase for writing and a showcase for storytelling, but also a showcase for voices you don’t normally hear in the paper. So often, the voices we hear are those of people with a lot of power and clout.”

Couple this attitude with Cullen’s reporting chops, and his column should quickly become a must-read. As a member of the Globe Spotlight Team in the 1980s, Cullen did pioneering work on Whitey and Billy Bulger. Later, after covering Northern Ireland and becoming the paper’s London Bureau chief — which took him to Serbia during NATO’s bombing campaign — Cullen returned to Boston and worked on the paper’s Pulitzer-winning coverage of sex abuse in the Boston Archdiocese.

And Abraham? The Sydney native’s résumé isn’t quite as beefy as Cullen’s. But her multitude of Morrissey Boulevard beats (immigration, the State House, the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns) and stints at the Phoenix and Boston magazine give her a stronger base of local knowledge than most non-natives.

What’s more, Abraham has the kind of eye for detail and knack for narrative that most journalists can only covet. Consider this 1997 description of doomed mayoral candidate Peggy Davis-Mullen stumping at the Forest Hills T station, written when Abraham was a reporter at the Phoenix:

"Some folks walk right by her. Others stop to shake her hand. Others still — like the little old lady in the lavender raincoat and matching head scarf — seem to think she is an MBTA official, and nervously flash their T passes at her.

"Then there are the folks who’d talk to anyone, like the old guy in the yellow-and-purple baseball cap, his shirt and vest done up with one huge diaper pin, who inches into the councilor’s breathing space and wants to know, “Where are the 80 geese that used to be over around East Boston? No one will tell me where they are!”

"Davis-Mullen cracks a helpless smile. Politics doesn’t get any worse than this."

The caveat, obviously, is that Cullen and Abraham have yet to write a word in their new roles. But given their track records, they probably won’t disappoint.


That's my two cents. Here's Dan Kennedy's, here's Seth Gitell's, here's Adam Gaffin's, and here's the Weekly Dig's.

And here's Marty Baron's:

To the staff:

The Globe lost the strong voices of two superb columnists in recent months as Brian McGrory assumed leadership of the local news staff and Eileen McNamara left us to become a journalism professor at Brandeis University. I’m delighted to report that we’ll be replacing both of them, and that Yvonne Abraham and Kevin Cullen will bring their fresh, eloquent voices as columnists to our metro front.

Both have intimate knowledge and deep affection for this city and the region. Both are known for distinguished and distinctive reporting on a wide range of stories. And both have the insatiable curiosity, writing
chops, and energy that are the essential ingredients of a standout columnist. Both have strong opinions, too. With this appointment, they can finally let loose.

Still, as you know, their backgrounds are very different.

Yvonne, 40, was born in Sydney, Australia to Lebanese immigrants. She worked "every crappy job you can imagine," she says, but found her way to graduating from the University of Sydney with a double major in history and English literature. She got a couple of years into a PhD but abandoned that idea "when I realized I preferred shorter lead times." After working as a debt collector for a fancy department store "cajoling payments out of the formerly well-heeled," she came to Boston on a Rotary Foundation fellowship in 1993 to get a master's degree in journalism at Boston University. She worked a year as a staff writer at Boston magazine, followed by two years covering city hall, education, public housing and other topics at the Boston Phoenix, and then finally arrived at the Globe in January, 1999. Yvonne has gone on to do general assignment, cover presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004, work the State House for four years, take on an assignment in Pakistan after 9/11, and, most recently, cover immigration.

Kevin, 48, is Boston to the core. Born here and raised in Malden, Kevin says he was an "All-Star altar boy" in his first eight years at Catholic school who still "fought constantly with the nuns over what I would call intellectual freedom." He then went to Malden High and on to UMass Amherst, before withdrawing and enrolling at Trinity College in Dublin -- "fulfilling a fascination with my roots that the sociologists call 'third generation return.'" He returned to UMass for his degree as a double major in journalism and political science. Before his first newspaper interview, Kevin says, “I stayed up all night, reading the New York Times, trying to memorize the name of Thailand’s foreign minister, as if that would be what the managing editor of the Transcript-Telegram of
Holyoke would ask me in my interview.” Instead, the managing editor asked him, "What’s the least amount of money you would work for?” Apparently, Kevin answered correctly. After two years there, he joined the Boston Herald to cover cops. Since he was hired by the Globe in 1985, he has been police reporter, all-around street reporter, European correspondent (covering Ireland and the war in Kosovo), member of the Spotlight team that exposed the FBI's corrupt relationship with Whitey Bulger, and a member of the Pulitzer-winning investigative team that cracked the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. He was a Nieman fellow in 2003 and, most recently, a projects reporter. "From the time I began working as a street reporter," Kevin says, "my dream job was to be a metro columnist for the newspaper I grew up reading."

We haven't yet determined when Kevin and Yvonne will start. Meantime, please join me in congratulating both of them on their exciting, but challenging, new assignment.

Marty
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