Catching up with Bill Griffith

I mentioned back in May that one of the most helpful people I encountered in the early days of this site was Bill Griffith of the Boston Globe. He had offered advice and always answered my emails and silly questions even before I had started the site.

Hard to believe, but we’re coming up on a year since Griffith accepted a Globe buyout after nearly 40 years at the paper. I’ve tried to keep in touch with Bill, but it seems he’s had no problem keeping himself busy in the last year.

Since I’m out of town today, I thought it would be a good time to catch you all up on what Griffith has been up to recently, as well as to get his thoughts on the local media scene and the past glory days of the Boston Globe.

BSMW: Bill, first of all, I want to say thanks for agreeing to share a few minutes with us here…I know your schedule is pretty busy these days. Fill us in on what you’ve been doing since we last saw you in the role of sports media columnist at the Globe. Been to Italy I hear?

BG: NBC called the day my final column ran, offering a job editing their in-house newsletter, The Daily Olympian, in Torino. It’s not a newsletter in the traditional sense but more a detailed advance on the day’s events. Working with the folks in the research room — experts in individual sports — was an honor. I’ll never forget Andreas, our Alpine skiing expert, aplogizing for his writing in English. He’s an Austrian who’s fluent in at least six languages and correctly predicted at least half of the events.

There were two bonuses to the trip.

1. It gave me a chance to visit my daughter and son-in-law in Milan for 10 days following the Games.

2. The whole trip provided a six-week separation from the Boston sports scene, the longest by far in my adult life. If you’ve been away for 10 days or two weeks, you know how you lose a lot of the threads of local stories so it made a clean break from the local media coverage for me.

Since then, I’ve taken a part-time bookkeeping job (something different and nicely structured), been fortunate to be able to keep doing some part-time auto writing. In addition, I bought a motorcycle (don’t tell my mom) and learned how to ride this summer without damaging myself or anyone else.

BSMW: Sounds like you might have more going on now than you ever have had. Let’s revisit some of the things you saw over the course of your career. You were a Globe “lifer”, I think you told me you had been with the paper since 1965. You worked with them all; Gammons, McDonough, Fitzgerald, Montville, Ryan. They made up the best sports section in the nation. What made these guys so good?

BG: The unbeatable combination of hard work and amazing talent. Ray Fitz and Willie were outstanding athletes in their own right and could have been pros if modern medical techniques were around to treat their career-ending injuries. In addition, they all had/have encyclopedic memories. On top of that, Gammons, Ryan and McDonough could/can crank out copy as quickly as they could type, which was prodigiously fast. When they had time, RayFitz and Leigh would labor over their copy; when they were under the gun, they, too, were amazingly fast.

Leigh later told me one of the big reasons he left the biz was because of deadlines. He’d spend all day laboring on an early column — and some of his best work was in those columns — then do a rewrite after a late-night event (World Series, MNF, playoff game) in 20 minutes and not be able to remember what he’d written after he hit the “send” button.

Credit Ernie Roberts (then Globe Sports editor) for assembling the cast, which also included many others, including Lesley Visser, Kevin Paul Dupont, and John Powers, and then Vince Doria for taking that group, adding to it, and bringing the section to a higher level.

Being part of that group for 25 years as assistant sports editor was an honor.

BSMW: That bunch certainly set the bar very high, and I think the current Globe staffers probably struggle to live up to that legacy. Let’s turn to what you used to do in your last few years at the paper…the sports media beat. Susan Bickelhaupt has been doing a pretty basic weekly sports media column in the Globe. It’s different from how you and the previous guys (Jim Craig, Howard Manley) used to do it, less notes and items, and more of focus on a single media topic. Do you find it surprising that neither the Globe or the Herald has a full time media columnist, when sports media is such a huge deal here in Boston? The New York dailies each have at least one, and they’ll write several times a week.

BG: I was surprised when they cancelled the column, which was the main reason I took the Globe/Times buyout offer. The New York papers have reason to keep the columns because they’ve got the networks in their backyard.

BSMW: I guess that makes sense, when you bring that up about the networks. It still surprises me however, because it seems at times here in Boston the media is as big a part of the stories as the actual games and players are. Speaking of media that makes themselves the story…do you ever listen to WEEI now that you’re not getting paid to do it?

BG: Yes, but there’s no tape recorder or notebook next to me and I’ll hit the button when they go off on tangents or into their interminable advertising blocks. I like Mike Felger’s ESPN Radio show when I’m driving in the afternoon (can’t get it at home except on-line).

BSMW: Felger will be glad to hear that. Do you think the incredible ratings of WEEI are a direct result of the success of the Red Sox and Patriots in recent years, or in the talent of the hosts at the station?

BG: They’ve ridden the Sox-Patriots axis very well, but credit Jason Wolfe for being way ahead of the curve in establishing the station. He had the luxury of “growing” the audience and establishing WEEI as the dominant sports radio station in town and — love ‘em or hate ‘em — having the guts to yank Imus and go with Dennis & Callahan. That was a major gamble, but he hit the jackpot and it’s still paying off for him. And, behind all the fat-boy jokes, Glenn Ordway is a radio genius. At least five years ago he was talking about the New England-wide syndication of the station that is now happening.

BSMW: Moving back to the newspaper world…what do you think the outlook for the newspaper business is going forward? The struggles of the Globe and Herald print editions have been well documented…will they snap out of it, or is this a slowly dying industry?

BG: If we had the answer to that one, we’d be rich men. The advertising pendulum has swung way over to the Internet and will come back somewhat.

BSMW: I think we’re a ways away from the newspaper dying out completely, but I think at some point, the printed copy is going to fade away. People will get all their news and stories on personal devices that they can carry anywhere with them. There’s even “digital paper” that could have some sort of role in that…but I think I just revealed some of my geek background there.

Well Bill, I want to thank you again for taking some time to talk. I’m really glad to hear that things seem to be going well for you there, and also grateful for your thoughts on the above topics. We’ll try to do this again in the future.

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A reminder to check in with the Patriots Game Day page. In addition, you can get all the Patriots news and blog entries from today on the Patriots News Mashup page.

The view from the opposition is on the pages of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The Star Tribune also has a Vikings Blog .