To understand the impact one article in the Boston Globe can have, speak to Bernie McDaid.
"The crisis in the church basically was a shameful hidden issue and that’s why it had it’s power of secrecy," McDaid says.
McDaid was the first victim of clergy sexual abuse profiled in the Globe. The story, by Bella English, ran on the front page of the Living Arts section in May of 2002, and McDaid says it changed his life and others.
"After that article it really took off with phone calls," McDaid says. "I had one phone call particularly I’m thinking of right now of a friend from grammar school that was raped by the same priest — and it didn’t hit him until he saw the article with my face and the priest’s face."
McDaid has come to terms with the abuse and has written an unpublished book about it. But the Globe story catapulted him into the role of spokesman for alleged victims. His sister, Rose McDaid, has saved all the paper’s clippings about her brother in a clear, zippered pouch.
"This is the story about when Bernie met with the Pope last year," McDaid says, holding up a clipping.
Rose McDaid says seeing church records and hand-written notes from parishioners complaining about abusive priests printed in the newspaper made the scandal real
"I think a lot of people would not research this issue on the Internet," she says. "Most people want to turn their heads when they hear it. When they hear young boys and priests and sexual abuse. People are going to try to avoid it. The paper puts it right in front of you."
The Globe wasn’t the first to report on the allegations of clergy sexual abuse. The Boston Phoenix was. But the Globe’s relentless, detailed reporting forced people to take notice, says Terry McKiernan of BishopsAccountability.org, an organization that didn’t exist before the abuse crisis. He says the Globe lavished resources and attention on the story.
"They spent time to diagram priests’ assignment records," McKiernan says. "So there was a graphical element to the way the Globe approached the story that was aggressive and new and persuasive and very, very important in the way it all played out."
How it played out is the most powerful Catholic in Boston at the time, Cardinal Bernard Law, resigned in disgrace. It’s not the first time the Globe’s attention has forced change.
Steve Crosby, dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at UMass Boston, says the last three Statehouse Speakers in a row have left office under some kind of an ethics cloud and the Globe played a part in their departures.
"Even though the Globe is diminished, they still have the power to essentially bring down a speaker," Crosby says. "Certainly in the issue of the relationship of lobbyists with Charlie Flaherty. Certainly the story about whether Finneran perjured himself or not on the redistricting case – they certainly played that story very big. And now all stories that are not really about DiMasi directly, but at least about people who are maybe inappropriately connected to him."
And Crosby says the Globe’s coverage sets the agenda for most of the media in Boston. That’s why Peter Meade — a fixture in the city's civic and corporate scenes -- believes the agenda the paper sets can be controversial.
"Many of us grouse about the Globe and I think that happens with every newspaper," Mead says. "They’re not supposed to necessarily win popularity contests. Part of what a great newspaper does is it reports on what’s happening, but it also holds up a mirror to a community and forces it to look at it."
What it sees is sometimes not pretty – lax oversight of the Big Dig, corruption, political favors, even a bodybuilding fireman collecting disability pay. Meade says a conversation about the Globe’s impact on Boston wouldn’t be complete with looking at its coverage of school busing in the mid 1970s.
"Years ago," he says, "I coordinated public safety during school desegregation in Boston. And, while there were many people who were unhappy with the Globe, they did an incredible job. They were a significantly important part of what was happening in Boston. And also taking a look at being a conscience of Boston and looking at our race relations."
But that doesn't mean the Globe always gets it right, in the opinion the McCormack School’s Steve Crosby, who served in two Republican administrations.
"I know full well, as anybody who’s been in public service, that the Globe can get it wrong and that the Globe can infuriate public officials and not play fair in the eye of the public officials," Crosby says. "But I think the bottom line consequence for the public interest of their role is profoundly positive."
But the Globe’s influence doesn’t register if people don’t read it. Stop most anyone under 30 in a coffee shop and this is what you’ll probably hear.
“I don’t read the newspaper on a daily basis, so…I’m not typically using the Globe for like a news source or anything like that…Well, we aren’t subscribers, I just use it online.
The Globe’s circulation has fallen to 324,000 weekday subscriptions. That’s 145,000 fewer households than it reached 10 years ago.