Smith Campaign Chair Takes Issue With Marblehead Beacon Coverage: We Respond
We at Marblehead Beacon received a letter to the editor from Joshua Joseph, who, according to Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) records is the Chair of the Tristan Smith Committee. When we asked Mr. Joseph to confirm his affiliation with the campaign, he did not respond. His address and email match those in the OCPF filing. Because his letter alleges that Marblehead Beacon “has the intention of defaming certain candidates and propping up others,” we believe it is important that we publish his letter and provide a public response. Below is Mr. Joseph’s letter, and our response follows.
I am writing to express my concern about the Beacon’s coverage of the 8th Essex District State Representative race. I am a member of this community and am disappointed with what appears to be very biased coverage. Most recently, the Marblehead Jewish Community Center hosted a very well attended debate. Representatives of your website were present, yet you did not cover the debate. I think there were some very key issues touched on and moments that the general public would have benefitted from being made aware of. Since then there have been key endorsements that have come out in support of some candidates. The Beacon doesn’t seem to think endorsements made by members in and outside of the community, many of which have been elected by this community to significant government positions, are worthy of being reported on. You then posted some material from a debate [sic] took place weeks earlier which was hosted by a small community group in Lynn. It was disappointing that you ignored a debate hosted by a very significant local organization, yet covered a debate hosted by a group made up of two or three people in Lynn. It is painfully obvious that the editors have an affinity for certain candidates. While I respect the effort to make your affiliations known through the editors’ notes, it doesn’t make it any less unethical that the “reporting” taking place has clear intentions of defaming certain candidates, while propping up others. Fair coverage from you would help all of us decide who best might represent this district.
Since our launch of Marblehead Beacon several months ago, we have remained focused on conducting in-depth, fact-based, and unbiased coverage. We have been open and responsive to any and all input from the community, and believe we have responded in a timely manner to each and every email, text message, social media comment, or phone call to us. From agreeing to a resident’s suggestion to change our font to ensuring that we add real-time updates based on new information, we have tried to provide second-to-none transparency and responsiveness.
During the ongoing six-way race for state representative of the 8th Essex, we have provided more reporting on the candidates’ campaigns than any other print or digital news source. With two profiles of each candidate, written questions to each campaign (along with numerous unsuccessful attempts to solicit a response from candidate Tristan Smith), and a deep dive into the financial disclosures of each candidate, we have made every effort to offer high quality and exceedingly fair coverage.
As is the case with virtually any political race, or any circumstance in which public officials’ actions are scrutinized, there will be some who are unhappy with the exposure of facts unfavorable to them. While we never seek to upset anyone, our goals at Marblehead Beacon do not include appeasing candidates or public officials by not reporting on difficult topics. In fact, one of the ways we hope to set ourselves apart is by “checking under the hood” and providing coverage to Marblehead residents on newsworthy items that may otherwise remain hidden because, quite simply, bad things are less likely to happen when citizens are informed.
For example, we chose to cover the Office of the Attorney General disciplining Marblehead’s Board of Health for public meeting infractions, and we reported extensively on the (still ongoing case) of town custodian Ed Medeiros’s exposure to asbestos.
In July we ran a long piece that included the cross checking of candidates’ financial disclosures against a lobbyist database. Following our inquiries ahead of and after this coverage, candidates Jenny Armini and Doug Thompson returned such funds and stopped accepting lobbyist dollars, and three of the remaining four pledged not to take any lobbyist funds (and had never taken them prior to our reporting). The Smith campaign continued and continues to accept substantial lobbyist dollars. We take no position and have not editorialized on the merits of accepting lobbyist donations, but believe that covering the subject is prudent so that voters may make educated decisions on facts that may otherwise remain buried.
Mr. Joseph broadly suggests that we have “clear intentions of defaming certain candidates, while propping up others,” and he offers the following in support of that:
- Marblehead Beacon did not provide coverage of a “debate” held at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in which “some very key issues [were] touched on and moments [took place] that the general public would have benefitted from being made aware of”;
- We “failed to report” on “key endorsements” made on behalf of candidates; and
- We “covered a debate hosted by a group made up of two or three people in Lynn.”
A claim of defamation is a serious one, as words do matter, particularly when being accused of something with potential legal ramifications. Beyond his using of the word “defaming,” we do not see any specific allegation of defamation in Mr. Joseph’s letter, much less anything approaching a false statement by us purporting to be fact. What we do see is the suggestion that we are being unfair, which we address at length below.
- The event at the JCC was a forum, not a debate. We have provided in-depth coverage of multiple forums during the course of the state representative race. Some of this coverage may be seen here and here. We have made no promises that we would report on every forum in the district, though we have covered most.
We have been exceedingly open with anyone who asks that there are just three founders/reporters working here at Marblehead Beacon. We are not backed by any organization, nor do we ask for or accept grants or public funds. What we do is use our sweat equity. We attend and report on most municipal meetings, conduct polls, do profiles of people in the community, meet with sources and story subjects inside and outside the community, line up stories for post-election coverage, offer a satirical advice column, cover matters like the transfer station fire and the library’s nine-million-dollar renovation, and add value in a variety of other arenas. We do have to do a cost-benefit balancing act with what we cover. The forum that Mr. Joseph points out was one Marblehead Beacon attended last Tuesday, and we publicized the event on our social media pages where we posted this photo:
Much of the JCC forum involved topics like the environment, housing, and transportation that had already been covered extensively in other forums. Editorially, we opted to avoid repetitive coverage and decided that to the extent we’d report on the new ground covered at the JCC event, we would do it jointly with our reporting on tonight’s final forum of the primary season–an event being held at Marblehead High School. In the meantime, the JCC forum may be viewed in its entirety here.
- We have reported on various endorsements at times but have not made endorsements a focal point of our coverage. Candidates do a good job promoting their own endorsements in their advertising, social media, and press releases–the latter of which we have made fully available on our website.
Because the letter we are addressing here comes from an individual associated with the Tristan Smith campaign, we believe it is important to note that we did, indeed, touch upon Smith’s endorsement from Jackie Belf-Becker, former Chair of Marblehead’s Select Board. Extrapolating from the letter from Mr. Joseph, it appears likely he is wondering why we have not reported on Smith’s endorsement by others, including Senator Ed Markey. In fact, we received Smith’s press release on August 24th shortly before 6:00 PM and published it here on the morning of the 25th. His multiple other press releases may be seen on our website as well.
Furthermore, last week, after receiving the Smith campaign email with the endorsement, we reached out to Senator Markey’s office. We inquired, among other things, when the Senator had last met with Smith, and why a sitting senator was endorsing–in a Democratic primary–the only candidate with virtually no applicable experience, and whether it was because of the senator’s affiliation with Mr. Smith’s father–a former state representative and current decades-long lobbyist. We were passed along from the senator’s Massachusetts office to the DC office, speaking with several individuals who did not offer us answers. To date we have not received anything beyond an email with a link to a Tweet by Senator Markey supporting Smith, and a quote from the endorsement press release that we originally published here.
- It should come as no surprise to any candidate in this race that Lynn makes up a part of our district. It is small, yes, but nevertheless important. The “two or three people in Lynn” noted by Mr. Joseph in fact represent the group Concerned Citizens of Lynn, whose president and founder, Lisa Pressman, cared enough to prepare for and host the televised forum for the six candidates broadcast on Lynn Community Television. Moreover, there were “fireworks” at this forum in part because the moderator asked several unexpected questions, making it arguably more newsworthy than other forums, as some candidates spoke forcefully with each other and drew some key distinctions. Our story on this forum may be read here. It is unfortunate that Mr. Joseph is so dismissive of the role of an important community group in Lynn.
And one last thing:
We take this opportunity to thank the community of Marblehead (and beyond) for what has been a tremendously rewarding reception, and for web traffic growth that has enabled us to have something to provide to advertisers so that we may continue to offer Marblehead Beacon free to readers.
We know that our status as “citizen journalists” has led some to question our ability to serve as a credible news source, because we have not previously spent time working at a local paper. For those who hold such beliefs, indeed we cannot refute the facts of who we are and who we are not.
To the rest of you, we say: The face of media has shifted dramatically in recent years, with many turning to long-form podcasts and outlets such as Substack to follow individuals whose work is compelling, and whose ability to deliver news and opinion augments or replaces that of legacy media. The barriers to entry for journalists have shifted too, and for the most part, excellent and reliable content is the only fundamental requirement, though monetizing such offerings can be challenging, as proven by the “news deserts” around the country.
Our hope is that with our combined perspectives and experience, along with our commitment to substantiating our content, providing quality sourcing, and offering a depth of coverage not always seen elsewhere, we will earn your ongoing readership and support.
Editor’s Note: One of the founder-reporters of Marblehead Beacon Lena Robinson, and her family, have been close to Jenny Armini and her family for more than 25 years. Robinson’s husband, Dwight Robson, has donated to Armini's campaign. Additionally, Marblehead Beacon co-founder Jenn Schaeffner is on the steering committee of the group PowerUP!, on which another candidate for the 8th Essex District–Terri Tauro–serves. Prior to launching Marblehead Beacon, Schaeffner contributed to Tauro's campaign.