Step Three was staffing Murdoch’s new baby — a process which, in the end, made quite an impact on Boston’s journalistic landscape. Frank Phillips and Brian Mooney came from the Lowell Sun; Joe Sciacca came from the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune; Kevin Cullen came from the Holyoke Transcript-Telegram. The list goes on: Shelley Murphy, Andrea Estes, Andrew Costello, Andrew Gully.
If you live in Boston and pay any attention to the local media scene, these names should be familiar. Phillips, Mooney, Estes, Murphy, and Cullen were eventually hired away by the Globe and have been some of that paper’s best-known reporters for years (Cullen recently became a metro columnist). Along with Kevin Convey, who’d joined the paper under Hearst, Gully and Costello comprised the trio known as the “Micks with Dicks” that ran the Herald for most of the ’90s. Sciacca currently runs the Herald’s local-news operation.
Talk to any member of this crew today, and they’re likely to wax rhapsodic about the heady atmosphere of the early Murdoch era. “It was terrific,” Phillips recalls. “We were a bunch of hotshot young reporters, and we thought we were running circles around the Globe. I was the one person the Herald had at the State House; the Globe had five people. They were perfectly nice and very smart — they’d gone to Ivy League schools — but they couldn’t understand Massachusetts politics because they’d never covered it.”
“We really did think we were keeping Boston a two-newspaper town, and there really was an almost missionary zeal about us,” adds Cullen. “Every night, we’d meet at J.J. Foley’s” — the South End bar and Herald watering hole — “and wait for the first edition of the Herald and the Globe, to see what they’d have and what we’d have that they didn’t. And we felt like we beat them every day with something. It was a battle with them every fucking night.”
All this energy had a human cost: the Herald’s young imports were frequently trained by the same men they ended up replacing. But according to Eddie Corsetti — a Hearst veteran who was jettisoned three months into the Murdoch era — the outcome validated Murdoch’s approach. Compared with the Herald during the end of the Hearst era, Corsetti remembers, Murdoch’s paper “was much better. They were following up on stories, which they didn’t do under Hearst at the end. And the Murdoch crew would flood a story with reporters and cover every angle of it.”
Readers noticed, too. According to Murdoch biographer William Shawcross, the Herald’s circulation surged by 100,000 in one year.
That was the upside: Murdoch kept Boston a two-newspaper town, packed the Herald with sharp young talent, and got more people reading the paper. But other aspects of his tenure were more problematic.
Start with the Herald’s famously incorrect report — in a story written by political columnist Peter Lucas and published on May 26, 1983 — that Mayor Kevin White would seek re-election that fall. Lucas had been a nemesis of White’s for years — among other things, he coined the phrase “Mayor Deluxe” to highlight the mayor’s expensive tastes — and some argue that he fell victim to a perfect set-up by a crafty politician eager to exact his revenge before leaving City Hall. (As the Herald presses printed Lucas’s hand-fed erroneous report, headlined HERALD EXCLUSIVE: WHITE WILL RUN, Boston’s TV stations ran a taped announcement in which White said he wouldn’t.)