The Real Deal: CommonWealth associate editor Paul McMorrow likes things black and white

Somewhere between delivering kegs and writing for CommonWealth magazine, Paul McMorrow discovered a reverence for facts and figures. The 30-year-old associate editor, who also pens a weekly column for The Boston Globe, believes the best stories are those that start with a fact-based foundation that can be colored with comment and context.

“When you cover politics and business as I do, there’s a lot of things that happen behind closed doors,” says McMorrow, a history and international relations major from BU who happened into journalism while reading free papers on his breaks at the liquor store. “There’s a lot of intrigue and spin in these stories. But in order to write them the right way, you need to have a solid jumping off point which is what you get from a pack of documents out of public records, a campaign finance report, or a deed you pull off the Registry.”

It is no surprise then that McMorrow was drawn to CommonWealth magazine, the public policy journal of the think tank MassINC. In its 15 years of operation, CommonWealth magazine and have shined a light on Massachusetts politics and policy with a radar for smoke and mirrors that makes it one of the most evidence-based journals in the country. This past August, McMorrow joined the staff of CommonWealth where he covers Beacon Hill politics and business.

Previously, McMorrow had been the commercial real estate reporter for Banker and Tradesman, covering the Bay State’s biggest deals. “A lot of the big stuff gets really political,” he said. “To get anything built, you’ve got to go through City Hall or Beacon Hill and it can be very intriguing.”

It was at B&T that McMorrow realized the value of numbers. In recounting his experiences as a real estate reporter, he talks of starting with the math. “To really understand real estate, you have to understand financing. It’s all pretty simple. Either a deal works or it doesn’t; either you have the financing or you don’t.”

As simple as he claims his stories are, McMorrow’s body of work reveals an instinct for the hidden, extraordinary elements of an ordinary story that make him one of Boston’s most sought-after young writers. Since September 2009, he has been a regular guest columnist at the Globe with pieces that range from the fight between developer Don Chiafaro and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to lame duck congressional politics – all with an interpretation of the policy implications behind the headlines.

McMorrow’s work at CommonWealth includes a fall feature on the state auditor’s race which he says “appeared to be the least interesting of the state-wide elections but is maybe the most important, given the power sphere of this office.” Next up is an investigative piece on a well-known Boston real estate developer, slated for release next week in CommonWealth’s winter edition. “This one’s got everything,” he says. “Business, crime, money, and politics.”

And once again, the big story is what’s not in view. “The real story here is that there’s no technical wrongdoing. What seems like another public official indictment expose is actually perfectly legal — just business as usual.” Vintage CommonWealth, one might say.

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