Robert Campbell

So ugly that we'd miss it


From, run by Joseph Asch:

{Boston's} Prudential Center looks as good as it’s ever going to get in this iPhone 6 shot in angled evening light, but it doesn’t hold up to the John Hancock Tower, Henry N. Cobb’s 1976 creation (he was working at I.M. Pei’s firm). The two buildings offer a sharp contrast, don’t you think? Squat brutalist power facing sleek elegance. To my mind and eye, the Hancock building wins every time.

Addendum: Wikipedia summarizes the reception that the Pru received from architectural critics:

When it was built, the Prudential Tower received mostly positive architectural reviews. The New York Times called it “the showcase of the New Boston [representing] the agony and the ecstasy of a city striving to rise above the sordidness of its recent past”. But Ada Louise Huxtable called it “a flashy 52-story glass and aluminum tower … part of an over-scaled megalomaniac group shockingly unrelated to the city’s size, standards, or style. It is a slick developer’s model dropped into an urban renewal slot in Anycity, U.S.A.—a textbook example of urban character assassination.” Architect Donlyn Lyndon called it “an energetically ugly, square shaft that offends the Boston skyline more than any other structure”. In 1990, Boston Globe architecture critic Robert Campbell commented: “The Prudential Center has been the symbol of bad design in Boston for so long that we’d probably miss it if it disappeared.”

The individual critics have it right. 

David Warsh: Globe arts revival and my migration

SOMERVILLE, Mass. Boston is slated to regain a battered badge of its identity next month, when arts coverage is expected to return to the daily broadsheet editions of The Boston Globe. To be sure, the return of a “Living/Arts” section is apparently a consequence of an expanding business coverage. Details are still unclear. It is a heartening development nevertheless.

Distinctive criticism has been a hallmark of Boston’s newspapers since 1830, when the Boston Evening Transcript opened for business. (It closed in 1941.) Thirteen years ago, to save some money in production costs, at a time when the paper was still highly profitable, The Globe banished its critics, along with its coverage of food and personal health, to a tab section it called “G,” printed a day in advance.


That robbed dignity and immediacy from criticism by such distinguished contributors as Mark Feeney, Robert Campbell, Richard Dyer, Gail Caldwell, Ed Siegel, Sebastian Smee, Jeremy Eichler, Wesley Morris and Ty Burr. (Five Pulitzer Prize winners are on that list.) Dyer, Caldwell, Siegel and Morris have left the paper. The tab was among the worst of a long series of bad ideas from the New York Times Co., which bought The Globe for $1.13 billion in 1993 and sold it last year for $70 million.


Google didn’t do that. New York did.


Another mistake, not on the same scale, was shutting down my column "Economic Principals'' {since transformed into www.economic}. Editor Martin Baron said he wanted technical economics only, no politics. But even if economists sought to strip their discipline of its inevitable political overtones (and most no longer bother to try), it was a terrible idea for newspapers to go along. So EP quit and moved to the Web.  (On the other hand, Baron subsequently hired the last four of those critics.)


Thirteen years later, EP has amply proved its point.  Its coverage of Harvard’s Russia scandal ran circles around that of The Globe, The Times  and The Washington Post (where Baron is now editor). Its reporting on trends in growth economics was praised in  The Times by columnist Paul Krugman (and, a few years later, dismissed on his blog!). Its coverage of the financial crisis has been more penetrating than that of The Times; of the fortunes of the Obama economic team, more realistic; of  U.S.  policy toward Russia, more skeptical; of the competitive situation of print newspapers, less panicky. Like  The Times,  EP made a  dreadful mistake in supporting the U.S. invasion of Iraq,


Moreover, EP’s public broadcasting model has proved out. A relative handful of readers support the enterprise with an annual subscription of $50, in return for an early email version on Sunday morning (Eastern Standard Time), with another 20,000 or so reading, over the course of a quarter, the online version for free.


How many pay? From year to year, it’s hard to know, renewal rates being hard to predict – somewhere between 250 and 500, fewer, perhaps, than had been hoped, but enough to keep EP in business.  Subscribers include civic-minded citizens from all walks of life in the four corners of the world.


Others who left The Globe have founded successful public radio talk radio shows: former foreign editor Tom Ashbrook started “On Point;” Steve Curwood, “Fresh Air.”  Bruce Mohl edits Commonwealth magazine.  EP goes it alone, with only its surpassingly loyal copy editor to correct infelicities and, occasionally, restrain enthusiasms. The payroll consists of vegetables, fruit and ice cream

The Times is in the throes of change, but it remains a great newspaper (as do the Financial Times and the The Wall Street Journal, the other papers to whose print editions EP subscribes). You can learn a million things from  The Times that you’ll never see here.


But EP regularly provides a parallax view of developments in economics and politics, as seen from Boston, much the same as it once did at the newspaper itself.

I look forward to many more years of doing the same.


I expect, too, to write slightly more frequently about Boston. The New York Times Co. occupation is ended, but  The Globe  is damaged and the Herald is a shadow of its former self.  The sphere of news-gathering and discussion is considerably attenuated.  The conversation about Boston needs to include many voices.


David Warsh is proprietor of www. and an economic historian and longtime financial journalist -- so longtime,  indeed, that he worked at The Wall Street Journal back  in the early '70's, when the overseer of, Robert Whitcomb, was there.