Monday, September 30, 2013

Boston Globe Sox

I know it's been a while, I apologize for being a bad blogger lately, it's not that I haven't been writing, it's just been that a bunch of other writing commitments have kept me occupied. I'll fill you in on some of that later on, but for now let me start to play catch up.

So, back in August, August 6 to be specific, I was quoted in the International Business Times, in an article entitled Red Sox Owner Buys Boston Globe Newspaper: Five Things You Should Know, written by Palash Ghosh.

Here's how the piece begins:

John W. Henry, the private equity billionaire businessman and principal owner of The Boston Red Sox baseball club, has agreed to purchase the Boston Globe newspaper (as well as the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and some other assets) for $70 million.

Here are some things you should know about this deal:
And this is where the five things you should know come up.  Number one:

*John Henry Bought In Very, Very Cheap

Henry purchased the venerable 141-year-old newspaper (which has won 21 Pulitzer Prizes) at a bargain basement price. Twenty years ago, the New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) bought the Globe from the Taylor family for whopping $1.1 billion (or about $1.78 billion in 2013 dollars). That amounts to a 96 percent discount. Lou Ureneck, a Boston University journalism professor, told Reuters that Henry paid more for his second baseman (Dustin Pedroia who recently signed a contract extension valued at a minimum of $100 million) than he did for the Globe.

And number two (no pun intended here):

*The Globe Is In Deep Trouble

Like most newspapers, the Globe is facing serious issues -- overall revenues are declining by 7 percent annually, while revenues from print advertising plunged by 10 percent every year. “Newspapers are bleeding, losing much of their advertising revenue,” Dr. Lance Strate, Professor of Communication and Media Studies and Associate Chair for Graduate Studies at Fordham University, told IB Times. “At this point, the most valuable thing about the Globe is its distinctive brand, more so that the publication itself. Every newspaper is struggling in making the transition to the internet.”

Strate suggested that he’s not even sure the Globe is worth $70 million price tag, but added that Boston is more of a print-oriented city than most. “The Globe does have a distinctive image that most newspapers lack, so I think it may turn out to be a good deal for Henry,” he added.
And yes, there was my two cents about the seventy million dollars, quite the bargain, don't you think? Well, let's hear from someone else on thing number three:

*This Deal Raises Some Serious Conflicts of Interest

John Henry’s acquisition of the region’s biggest paper could raise some serious issues with conflicts of interest and journalistic integrity. If the boss of the newspaper owns the baseball team that its sportswriters are supposed to cover, will they be forced to limit their criticism of the team, its players, its coaches and, particularly, its front office? Keep in mind, Henry also owns a majority share in local sports television network, New England Sports Network, which broadcasts Red Sox games.

Bob Ryan, the Globe’s most well known sports columnist, told the New York Times: “This was the last circumstance anyone would want. It’s nothing anyone would wish. It’s scary, to say the least, for all involved.” The Globe’s sports editor Joe Sullivan similarly groused: “We don’t know what the new situation is going to be in terms of hierarchy, but I would hope to be able to continue to cover the Red Sox the way we always have.” Sullivan conceded that the mere appearance of conflicts of interest will be hard to deal with. “It will be there, hanging in the air,” he said.

The Globe's most prominent baseball voice, Dan Shaughnessy, finds himself in a particularly uncomfortable position since he had criticized Henry in his columns over the years. “There’s an inherent conflict of interest which no one can do anything about,” Shaughnessy said. “All we can hope for is that everyone is allowed to do his job professionally and that we are able to keep our independence.”

And back to me to straighten things out (no pun intended here either) for number four:

*But This Has Happened Before

Indeed, The Globe’s former parent, New York Times Co., once held as much as an 18 percent stake in the parent corporation of the Red Sox club, which it finally sold off in 2012 after ten years of ownership. Other pro sports clubs in Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles and elseshere have owned shares in local newspaper as well, so the Globe-Red Sox deal is hardly unprecedented. Indeed, between 1964 and 1972, the most storied franchise in all of baseball (and Red Sox rival), the New York Yankees, were owned by the CBS television network. Similarly, the Chicago Cubs baseball club was once owned by the Tribune Company.

Strate noted that television stations used to cover the games independently, with sportscasters who were calling the games employed by the station, not the team itself. “Now they tend to be employed by the team, and this changes the nature of the coverage significantly,” he said, “What once was sports journalism becomes sports public relations instead.”

And one more thing, which makes for thing number five:

*Boston Globe Has Strong Brand, Reputation

Strate also said that in the past, news organizations have had sufficient journalistic integrity to be able to report objectively despite being owned by the same individuals or companies. “Whether that is still the case, given the overall decline in professional journalism remains to be seen, but the Boston Globe, like many major newspapers, has a solid tradition of professionalism to fall back on,” he said. Nowadays blogs and social media outlets will call out any appearance of conflict of interest, another motivation for keeping to the straight and narrow.”

Nice to be given the last word here. And one thing I'd add to this report is that one of the main attractions of the Boston Globe is its sports coverage, both in paper form, and especially online, which makes the paper an especially attractive addition for a professional sports organization.

And finally, I just want to say that, speaking as a Mets fan, please note that I did not make any reference to 1986 and Bill Buckner in this discussion relating to Red Sox baseball. Really, I would never stoop so low as to remind my Bostonian friends of such a painful moment in their sports history, no matter how much pleasure the memory brings me...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The thing about sports is that there are clear winners and losers. No matter how much media power anyone acquires when it comes to journalistic integrity and reporting on the success of a team, as UCLA Bruins football Coach Red Sanders (not Vince Lombardi) said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."

So if the Boston Globe wants to keep their great "reputation" and uphold the quality of their time honored "brand" - and there is a distinct difference between reputation and brand —they'll borrow Howard Cosell's featured brand asset and tell it like it is.

I mean who could blame Red Sox fans for becoming physically ill as the ball bounced through Buckner's legs in "86.
… tears of joy and dancing in the streets, I tell ya for Met's fans. Just wonderful—and a great story.

On the other hand the only team to come back from a 3-0 deficit in World Series history… oh forget it…

For now just stick to printing all the news that's fit to print. That brand promise seems to still be holding on around here.

On the other hand, if greed takes over and paper's integrity does suffer and John Henry can't turn the Globe around, perhaps someone on their quality sports writing team might consider moving to NY and working online for The Times, We'd be happy to take a look. Some big guy made the switch from Boston to NY about a century ago during a big upheaval in his industry. Worked out well for us.