A news story must have a “Hey Mah-tha” factor in order to generate a strong reaction, said Sean P. Murphy, a 32-year Boston Globe veteran, who is now a consumer advocacy reporter for the newspaper.
Murphy was pointing to that moment when a reader shouts, in a thick Boston accent, to their wife, Martha, to come check out this remarkable story.
Murphy shared his insights on Jan. 30 at “Pizza, Press & Politics,” a weekly speaker series sponsored by Northeastern University’s Journalism School.
Murphy recounted a few of his favorite stories over the past few years. One of his most popular involved a cat, with the headline: “A brief frolic outside may cost a woman her cat.”
His story explained how a shelter cat was claimed by a woman, with a contract with the shelter stating the animal must never be allowed free outside. However, the cat escaped from the woman’s arms at one point, and she took a picture of it sunning itself, which she posted on social media.
Citing the violated contract, the shelter took the woman to court, demanding the return of the cat. Murphy’s story generated hundreds of comments and had a happy ending — the cat stayed with the woman.
Other stories by Murphy have had headlines such as: “Norwegian Cruise Line changes course, offers couple apology, refund, and ‘dream’ trip,” “Neil Diamond steps in and steps up for fans whose plaque wasn’t delivered,” and “An Airbnb guesthouse of horrors.”
Murphy talked about these stories in vivid detail, adding in extra behind-the-scene details for an audience of journalism students.
In 2017, The Boston Globe moved from Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester to Downtown Boston. Murphy, and other newsroom staffers, were tasked with reinventing themselves as reporters. After years of covering casinos and gambling, this gave Murphy the chance to champion the “regular Joe” as a consumer advocate.
Murphy admitted that he “wasn’t sure how the column was going to work out at first.” But after three years on the job, he now receives more than 50 tips a month. He noted that “credibility and contradiction” are imperative when he is picking his next project, meaning that the person and the complaint have to be credible. Despite all the tips that he receives, he strives to respond to everybody.
He credits much of the success of his column to the readers: “I didn’t get the compan(ies) to change, the readers got the (companies) to change.”
Along with writing for the Globe, Murphy has taught journalism at Suffolk University since 2007 as a senior lecturer.