Media Critics Need to Learn That There is a Gray Area

In the examination of a sports media entity, we need everything to be black and white.  There can be no areas of gray.  Every newspaper, TV network, radio station, or website is either toeing a company line, protecting the players, or writing with a perceived agenda.  I call B.S.

Media critics, fans, and other media outlets in New England are responding in black and white terms to an article written this week by Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe seeking to explain the unprecedented collapse of the 2011 Boston Red Sox.  I’m here to say the work of the Globe cannot be so easily defined.

When there is controversy surrounding a team, especially in a electric media market like Boston, the conspiracy theorists come out in full force.  And even though the Red Sox have won two world championships in the last seven years, they remain the patsy de jour among the big four professional sports teams in town

Fans in Boston have the right to question what led to the Red Sox blowing a nine game lead in the American League Wild Card race in September.  And the Boston Globe and other media outlets should be responsible for using their resources to answering those questions.  Hohler’s article attempted to do that.

Hohler did a good job in making sure everyone in the Red Sox organization was tagged with the blame for what took place on and off the field.  But because they’re the Boston Globe, there has to be more to the story.  There must be something they’re hiding or someone they’re protecting.  No gray area allowed.

Lets look at the accusations made against Hohler and the Globe and make a realistic attempt to see the likelihood they are true.

The biggest complaint about the article is that Hohler and the Globe wrote the piece on behalf of Red Sox ownership.  The Globe’s parent company, the New York Times, owns a minority stake in the team.

This accusation that the Globe does the bidding on behalf of the team is not new, but really, does anyone really think the corporate big wigs at the Times or the Red Sox ownership, pick-up the phone to Globe Sports Editor Joe Sullivan and have the following conversation?

“Joe, John Henry.”
“Yes Mr. Henry, how are you?
“Not so great Joe.  I need your help.  We’re looking to control the message concerning our late season swoon and we’re wondering if you’d put your best investigative reporter on the case, to, you know, make us look good?  It would mean a lot to us.”
“Sure Mr. Henry, not a problem.  I assume we can use the same ‘unnamed sources’ we’ve used in the past?
“Absolutely.  We’ll be in touch.”
“Have a great day Mr. Henry.”
“I will now, Joe.  Thanks.”

How silly does that sound?  No editor of a newspaper should let that happen, no matter what the connections or bottom line dictate.  Are there perceived agendas with some media outlets?  Absolutely.  And the Globe has been tagged with them for years.  But I doubt it would jeopardize its integrity to partake in this type of practice.

Another bone of contention made by the critics of the Globe and other media outlets is why the clubhouse behavior of some of the players, specifically pitchers Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Jon Lester, was not published earlier?  To me that’s an easy one to answer.  The actions of the pitchers allegedly took place DURING the game.  Even though the media have liberal access to the clubhouse, they do not have that access DURING he game.  Even if there were rumblings about the indescretions of the pitching corps, no reporter would have had first hand knowledge of that activity.  The news on this began to leak from sources after the season ended.

Speaking of sources, critics also looked with a curious eye towards the Globe’s use of anonymous sources.  Here’s an example of people not understanding how journalism works.  It’s always preferable to get named sources for a story.  But there are times when sources for a story fear for their job, or even their lives, if their identity were to be made public.  It is better to keep those names quiet in exchange for the information.  That’s why the Globe and others use anonymous sources.  It bothers me why people still don’t understand this.

Some will say, “Why should reporters care about revealing sources or burning bridges in the locker room if the truth comes out?”   Bloggers and sports radio callers (and even some hosts) make this claim often and still don’t get it.  Beat reporters for a club rely on one thing, above all else, in getting information on the team.  That is access.  If they are not allowed access, or are shunned by members of the club, then they cannot do their job.  Not being able to do their job leads to their termination.

Are some reporters too close to players, coaches, and owners?  Yes.  But it should not hinder their ability to ask difficult questions when needed.  Some reporters are too close to be able to walk that fine line.  Those reporters should be replaced.  Most can work that balance and do a good job of it.

I will criticize Hohler for his unnecessary implication that Terry Francona’s martial problems, along with his concern for his son’s safety as a soldier in Afghanistan, and his alleged reliance on pain killers played a role in the demise of the club.  I’ve always been a proponent of keeping one’s personal life out of the news, unless brought into play by the player or coach.  Everyone has issues in their life that need not be made public in the paper.

The media today have too much pressure to report on every nuance of the team they cover.  That’s not fair. People take too much stock into how a story is reported when instead they should focus on the story itself. Not everything needs to be turned into the next big controversy.  It is not always black and white.

Gray is not such a bad color.  We should all wear it once in a while.

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