Free-speech watchdog awards find new home at WGBH

By Andrew Lapin

WGBH News's Peter Kadzis (top) guided production of the online Muzzle Awards  with assistance from digital producers Abby Ruzicka (left) and Brendan Lynch (bottom). (Photo: WGBH)

WGBH News’s Peter Kadzis guided production of the online Muzzle Awards with assistance from digital producers Abbie Ruzicka and Brendan Lynch, seated. (Photo: WGBH)

WGBH News has resurrected the annual Muzzle Awards from the ashes of the Boston Phoenix as a stand-alone website with a podcast tie-in.

The awards, which highlight the year’s most egregious cases of free-speech violations by New England public officials and universities, ran for 15 years at the Phoenix before the Boston alt-weekly shut down in 2013. But its original architects reunited at WGBH News and have kept the awards going as a feature on the pubcaster’s website.

This year’s Muzzles, which debuted online in early July to coincide with the July 4th holiday, are the first to have their own website, designed by Brendan Lynch, a digital producer at WGBH News. Their traffic has more than doubled over last year’s, becoming the week’s second–most-viewed WGBH News feature.

“This was really an example of taking advantage of an opportunity that was right under our nose,” said Peter Kadzis, senior editor of WGBHNews.org and former editor of the Phoenix, who had edited the Muzzles since their inception. The co-author of the Muzzles, Dan Kennedy, is a professor at Northeastern University and a frequent panelist on WGBH’s local media show Beat the Press. Kadzis’s arrival at WGBH as a contributing editor last year reunited him with his former Phoenix colleague, and he was able to sell the continuation of Kennedy and Harvey Silverglate’s awards to WGBH management based on their past success at the paper.

“As someone who’s spent most of the last 25 years trying to come up with new ideas, I’ve learned the value of recognizing how to extend tried-and-true ideas and adapt them in a new environment,” Kadzis said.

Kennedy’s strongly worded, deeply reported Muzzles take on targets big and small. This year’s winners included Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, for continuing to bar cameras from federal courtrooms; Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, for fighting public-records requests filed for lawsuits brought against his administration; and a high-school principal in Attleboro, Mass., for punishing a student who sent a profane tweet.

Following the suggestion of WGBH News digital producer Abbie Ruzicka, the Muzzles also became the subject of an episode of the network’s local politics podcast, The Scrum.

Kennedy’s opinionated voice has remained intact from his Phoenix days, and WGBH management did not ask him to tone down the Muzzles, Kadzis said. “In our radio and television broadcasts, ’GBH has a pretty long tradition of presenting outspoken points of view,” he said.

Questions, comments, tips? lapin@current.org
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