Wednesday, April 22, 2009
O Henry, are you going to save the Globe?
Illustration courtesy of this site.
This is almost certainly not a news flash to you: The New York Times Company—which owns The Boston Globe—has a nearly 18 percent stake in the Red Sox, which makes it the second-largest shareholder in the franchise.
This relationship is one of the most polarizing issues among those who work in and follow the Boston sports media. Is the Globe’s investment in the Sox just good business? Or does it come at a heavy price for the Globe? Does the partnership between the Sox and the paper influence the Globe’s coverage and is the paper encouraged, either directly or indirectly, to go easy on the hometown team?
To read what writers and analysts alike have to say about the Globe-Sox relationship, check out Chapter Six of Fighting Words, coming soon to a bookshelf near you. And that’s the first-ever plug for the book here. Awesome. Was it good for you?
Anyway, if you think the current relationship is fraught with potential conflicts of journalistic interest, can you imagine the debate that would ensue if John Henry bought the Globe from the Times?
The Times and the Globe are in the midst of a potentially bloody standoff, with the Times threatening to close the Globe—which it says is hemorrhaging money—within the next few weeks if the Globe’s union doesn’t make concessions. The Boston Herald reported Monday that Henry floated the idea of buying the Times’ piece of the Sox from the company as well as the Globe, but that the negotiations didn’t get far.
Sports teams owning media companies, and vice versa, is nothing new. And Henry wouldn’t even be the first owner of a sports team to buy an endangered newspaper in this terrible market. Last year, Long Island cable giant Cablevision—which owns the New York Rangers and New York Knicks—bought Newsday from the Tribune Company and newspaper killer Sam Zell.
While Henry wrote eloquently of the importance of the newspaper for the baseball fan and New Englanders in general (he wrote an email to the Herald that read “Baseball fans rely heavily on newspapers. No one wants to see a newspaper with a great, long-term history go away. Losing the Globe, the Herald or any New England paper is a big loss for the Red Sox.”), the Cablevision-Newsday transaction was one bereft of romantic verbiage.
Buying Newsday was the last piece in Cablevision’s plot to monopolize Long Island media. Why, wireless service presented by Cablevision makes this it possible to post this blog. And the soundtrack for this blog was late-night television transmitted via a Cablevision box. In the morning, my wife will tune into Cablevision-owned News 12 to see the traffic report before she heads to work. I for one welcome our Cablevision overlords!
Nor did Cablevision have any interest in even paying lip service to journalistic integrity—the Knicks under Cablevision are recognized as the least media-friendly team in sports—or using Newsday as anything other than a vehicle to blow sunshine about the Knicks and Rangers up the derrieres of its readers. Surprisingly, the editors outlasted the Dolan family in that battle.
Coincidentally, it was Cablevision’s multiple media interests—as well as the fact that Larry Dolan, the brother of Cablevision head honcho Charles Dolan, already owns the Indians—that convinced John Harrington to award the Red Sox to Henry’s group in 2001 even though Cablevision made a higher bid.
It would be interesting, on multiple fronts, if Henry bought the Globe. It’d be ironic, and maybe in the real definition of the word and not in the Alanis Morrissette way, if a guy who made his fortune on the futures market ended up investing in a relative relic. Yet the fact he made his fortune in futures leads me to believe he’ll probably stay away from a newspaper industry whose future appears bleak beyond description.
Anyone who used to work in newspapers—or still looks forward to digging into the Sunday paper—has to appreciate Henry’s words Monday, even if the impact of the actual newspaper declines by the day and the true value in buying the Globe lies in Boston.com and not in the print product. The advertising that keeps the newspaper afloat is going and it’s never coming back, but there’s still plenty of value in newsgathering and a website that is updated around the clock.
Of course, how do you reinvent the wheel and make money in selling the product that the Globe and thousands of other newspapers have been giving away free for well over a decade? If Henry buys the Globe and comes up with that answer, he’ll be the man who saved journalism as well as Fenway Park.
Email Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org.