A rare thumbs-up

The Globe turns out two good choices
By ADAM REILLY  |  June 20, 2007

Left: Cullen, right: Abraham

When two of the Boston Globe’s three metro columnists left the paper earlier this year — Eileen McNamara for a teaching job at Brandeis and Brian McGrory to become 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 Baron’s ongoing, aggressive re-invention of the Globe. 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 Globe 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.

Related: Extreme makeover: Globe edition, Dance Monkey: JR STRAUSS, In harm's way, More more >
  Topics: Media -- Dont Quote Me , Eileen McNamara, Elections and Voting, Politics,  More more >
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