Monday, January 22, 2007

Sign of the Times Corporation?

For at least the past 20 years, the Globe and Herald sports sections have had at least one very different approach to covering big events of extreme local interest, such as yesterday's AFC championship game. The three Globe editors in that time, Vince Doria, Don Skwar, and Joe Sullivan, have preferred to be on-site at the event, directing their writers personally. Their three Herald counterparts, Bob Sales, Mark Torpey, and Hank Hyrniewicz, have preferred to stay in the office, keeping their hands as close as possible to the actual production process.

There is no issue of "right" or "wrong" in this difference. All six were and are outstanding newspapermen, and all produced excellent sections on big stories under extremely difficult professional circumstances-Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS, to cite one vividly recalled example.

So I wasn't surprised to read today's Globe and discover Sullivan had been in Indianapolis for the game. What DID surprise me was seeing Joe's byline in his own section, atop a sidebar on Ellis Hobbs, who had a big day for both good and ill for the Pats.

In addition to his other talents, Sullivan's a good writer, and his Hobbs piece was well worth reading. But was it worth him writing it? Writing on deadline requires a great deal of concentration. So does putting out the sports section of a major daily newspaper. To me, at least, it was startling to see Sullivan doing a Chuck Bednarik impersonation playing on both sides of the ball.

There are two possible explanations for Sullivan's Hobbs' story, one benign, the other less so. One hopes Sullivan's team had matters so well in hand that the boss felt free to take a busman's holiday and indulge his reporting gene. If so, he was entitled. Being a big city sports editor is a grinding job. Being a middle manager of any kind in contemporary American journalism is a simply miserable experience. By contrast, writing coherent prose on tight deadline, which isn't easy believe me, would be a well-earned day at the beach for the Globe's sports editor.

The other possible explanation for Sullivan's story should be more worrisome to the Globe's customers. Sullivan had x amount of space to fill with Pats-Colts' coverage, and y amount of stories with which to do it. Hobbs was obviously one of the topics to cover. It's possible Sullivan looked around, found himself one reporter's body short when it came time to distribute assignments, and was forced to call his own number.

There were eight other Globies with bylined stories on the game, which sounds like a lot and is. But let me say from the other side of a tough professional rivalry, I can't remember the Globe EVER not having enough bodies to throw at a big sports story-talented bodies, too.

It wasn't just the stars like Peter Gammons or Leigh Montville who made the paper one of America's top five sports sections in the '70s and '80s, the Globe had and employed awesome top to bottom depth for major events. On college football Saturdays, the plethora of New England colleges had top staffers writing their games stories. Today, the Globe has stringers cover all the football and basketball games of our state university.

That's not Joe Sullivan's doing. I suspect his good piece on Hobbs is another sign of the baleful influence the NYT corporation has had on New England's newspaper of record. The bosses in New York haven't done any spectacular harm, but they've foolishly let the Globe sort of waste away with a resulting devastation of the paper's bottom line.

It's one of the oldest mistakes in business. Treat a corporate acquisition as nothing but a cash cow, and in no time at all, it stops giving milk.


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