I read a pretty interesting piece the other day on the Associated Press Sports Editors website from Boston Globe sports editor Joe Sullivan.
The article was titled “Fending off the ESPN.com Invasion.”
It’s a small window into the world of the Globe circa August when things seemed darkest for the paper.
The Globe was up for sale, its biggest union forced to make concessions by the millions with layoffs looming large.
Worse still, ESPN had decided it was about time to take a far more active role in the Boston sports media landscape with the launch of ESPNBoston.com
Sullivan was obviously most troubled by the incursion of ESPN into his market because the media giant could offer better pay and benefits than the Globe to go with infinitely more job security than any newspaper can currently promise.
ESPN also spirited away many of the Globe’s best people, though Sullivan does not name them by name.
For my part, the departure of Mike Reiss and Chris Forsberg hasn’t dented my readership of Boston.com.
Though Reiss’ Pieces was among my first reads each morning, I still return to the Boston.com NFL blog—now titled Extra Points—in addition to the excellent reporting that Mike now offers at his ESPNBoston home.
I do sympathize with the tone of the article. In the darkest times newspapers have ever seen, a new national competitor setting up shop in every big city isn’t exactly a dream scenario for sports editors.
Still, the competition hasn’t diluted the market to my eyes. Boston is voracious in its consumption of sports media and can always support another content outlet.
In the last 18 months WEEI.com, Comcast Sportsnet, 98.5 The Sports Hub, and ESPNBoston have all launched or gone through a complete overhaul, replete with new content and new faces.
The issue I have with Sullivan here is that he treats the whole process as though ESPN might be doing something wrong.
As he wrote:
“As I considered the possibility that my staff would eviscerated. I began to think out loud: “How much is too much? Is it ethical for one new organization to offer jobs to so many people from a single news organization?”
ESPN was a member of APSE, so I thought, “Is it right for one member of a professional organization to try to attract so many staffers from another member organization.”
In short, yes, it is right. That’s perfectly legitimate when your organization can’t offer what your employees are worth. It’s the case in every business.
I’m not saying the Globe is unfair to its employees, by any stretch. Their retirement benefits packages were among the best in the business and the Globe made a point of honoring their best people with fitting lifetime contracts. The layoffs and cutbacks are a sign of the times, not the Globe’s commitment to its people.
But I am saying that, right now, the newspaper business is an unfair one, and there’s nothing happening to newspapers that they haven’t done to themselves. I love newspapers and journalism, but to begrudge ESPN for wanting the best people working for them because your organization, quite simply, can’t afford to keep them, is placing blame on the wrong shoulders.
I’m a firm believer in loyalty, especially in a business where any of us are incredibly grateful to anybody who can give us an opportunity. There’s a special kind of contempt for people who constantly jump between jobs in any business. But at the end of the day, it’s a business for employees as well as employers and you simply can’t fault any employee for taking a better, more secure offer.
As writers we have families, we have bills, we have loans. We, like any employee, want to know that our work is appreciated, but we also need to see that appreciation in the form of fair compensation.
Trust me, the job market is anything but fair right now. Most sports reporter gigs start out at less than $25k per year, more with experience. How many businesses require a college degree and pay less?
Obviously, the best candidates and the best jobs are not always publicly advertised, but there haven’t been many high-profile writers changing shops in the past year.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that sports reporters—and reporters and editors of all beats—aren’t compensated as fairly as they would like. If a bigger, national outlet wants to enter the fray and is offering better compensation, I simply can’t see a reason why this should be rejected or called an “invasion.” They’re not Visigoths, they’re just a more profitable employer.
The Globe isn’t wanting for talented editors or prestige. The people who work there work there for a reason; they are some of the best in the business. But in a business that is balancing on an ever-thinning rope, that’s not enough.
Is it fair? Unfair? I don’t know. A fair world wouldn’t let newspapers fade away the way they are. But blaming ESPN for the lot of the newspaper business?
That doesn’t sound fair, either.