Guest Column – Henry-Owned Globe Taints Sox Beat

This story first appeared on BostonSportsToday.net

By Gethin Coolbaugh

John W. Henry is a pretty smart businessman — and if you don’t believe me, go check his bank account — but his latest acquisition is a head scratching one on some levels, to say the least.

Henry, the head of Fenway Sports Group which owns the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool F.C., has plucked The Boston Globe, the largest newspaper in the region, from The New York Times Co., according to multiple reports.

When considering the impact of the sale, two questions come to mind. For one, what is a successful businessman like Henry doing buying a newspaper (you know, those things with the ink and the paper you see on the subways)? As sad as it is, and this is coming from someone who loves newspapers, the print business is dying, and I’m pretty sure Henry alone isn’t enough to save it.

But hey, I’m not as smart as Henry is, nor do I have as much money as he does, so what do I know?

More importantly, though, Henry’s acquisition of The Boston Globe would immediately taint the newspaper’s coverage of the Boston Red Sox, one of the teams that Henry happens to own.

You know what’s really sad? The Globe’s baseball writers have nothing to do with it, either.

Regardless of your personal feelings about them, The Globe offers some of the greatest baseball minds in the news business today. Should they be blamed for anything in this changeover? Absolutely not. I bet if you asked them, some would say they would have preferred if Henry did not buy their newspaper, because the second he did, it instantly put a cloud over the Sox beat.

It may not be right, but when Henry steps into the picture, it creates a major conflict of interest.

What is the role of a newspaper? Or, here’s a better question, what is the proper role of a newspaper? It should strive to bring the most important news to its readers, brushing agendas and biases aside. Hopefully, that’s what Henry intends to do as assumes control of the company.

At the same time, Henry is a businessman, and a good businessman has no interest in muddying up any of his prized assets, and the Red Sox certainly qualify as one of Henry’s biggest assets.

What happens when the Red Sox need to be criticized, whether’s it’s on the field or in the front office? Will the writers be allowed to dig deep, uncover the story and say what needs to be said?

It’s a conflict of interest, and there’s no way around it. Does that mean Henry shouldn’t be allowed to buy and run The Boston Globe? Of course not. He had the money, and The New York Times Company had every right to sell the paper to him. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Henry is smart, and hopefully he’s smart enough to tackle this issue right off the bat with a clear explanation of the way his newspaper will cover his baseball team in a fair and ethical manner.

Still, there may always be a level of mistrust when anyone reads a Red Sox story in Henry’s paper.

Not even someone as savvy as Henry will be able to fix that.

Gethin Coolbaugh is the Editor-In-Chief of Boston Sports Today. Twitter: @GethinCoolbaugh.

  • bsmfan

    I had thought something similar:

    There are two ways their coverage of anything owned by Henry & Co will work:

    – The story was fed to them by an insider, as a plant, intentionally. IE: Take with a grain of salt and we’ll still have to, as we go now, to outsiders (national guys) for verification or independent coverage.
    – When a critical issue comes up, how will they cover it? Will they shill like many news papers do for whatever their bias is now? Or not allowed to be tough enough like ESPN is on entities they own?

    Both present major problems here for journalism even before getting into the business aspects. I also wonder how they’ll cover other teams in town, which LTD pointed out on a previous post, but will there be a heavy shift away from non-Henry/non-NESN sports? IE: Celtics and Patriots. I have no clue how many read the paper for its Patriots coverage, but if the numbers skew to an identical rate as they do for every other form of media, neglecting the Patriots will alienate a huge % of your audience.

    Either way winds up being a lose-lose for journalism there.

  • brickseller

    If Gethin Coolbaugh believes the coverage of the Red Sox is fair, he must have been brought up reading Pravda and believing every word of it.

  • HighWireNickEsasky

    This is a curious statement: “Regardless of your personal feelings about them,The (sic) Globe offers some of the greatest baseball minds in the news business today.”

    Not sure if that refers to personal feelings about the Globe or the “greatest baseball minds,” but that is beside the point. Abraham’s ok, but who else is there? Cafardo? Perhaps, if you think regurgitating talking points from anonymous agents and scouts is brilliant journalism.

  • bsmfan

    Speaking of questionable journalism.. this is off topic but if you want some laughs, the “respected” Howard Bryant trashes Brady/BB in a column run via ESPN the Magazine:

    http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/9532176/tom-brady-bill-belicheck-disappoint-reaction-aaron-hernandez-espn-magazine

    One quote (among many),
    ““When the media were done applauding Belichick for doing the least amount possible, it was suggested that the Patriots did not owe the public a response, because it would give the impression that the 
organization was somehow responsible for Hernandez’s alleged crimes. Here’s the truth: The Patriots do owe the public, because they and every other sports team in America take from the public, profit from the public, sell their name to the public.”

    Funny, I just saw an offer on slickdeals for 2 years of ESPN/The Magazine for less than $5.

    • JonB

      Are we talking about the same Howard Bryant that assaulted his wife in front of multiple eye witnesses, struck the arresting officer, and got away with a mere 6 month probation sentence after he threatened to pull out his handy-dandy race card? That Howard Bryant?

      Funny, because I don’t remember ESPN asking the public for forgiveness or offering its explanation as to why it continued to employ a writer who allegedly choked out his estranged wife in front of a pizza shop and hit a cop. In fact them sending Bryant on a 2 week sabbatical, then acting as if nothing ever happened. Apparently Bryant’s world, the rules that apply to the Patriots don’t apply to himself or his employer.

  • city_dweller_38

    You know when you were a kid and the birthday candles on your cake were the kind that wouldn’t blow out? No matter how hard you tried, the candles roared back to life…frustrating you to no end while providing everyone else with howls of laughter. So it is with The Boston Globe’s media hacks, who are feverishly trying to declare that nothing will change; that coverage will be unbiased and unflinchingly fair. So they blow…and the candles don’t go out. They blow even HARDER, and still no one buys the spin. It’s so fun, so humorous to watch.

  • brickseller

    Look for hypocrisy in the media in Webster’s Dictionary and there should be a photo of the Boston Globe Sports Page.

  • FenwayNation

    There’s a simple litmus test here. Would Bob Hohler’s Tito story ever have seen the light of day under a Henry regime?

    • HighWireNickEsasky

      Yes, because they wanted cover for Tito firing. A better measure would be whether they’d run the stories on the sweetheart leasing deals the Sox get from the city on Yawkey Way, etc.

      • HomerGreenz

        I totally agree. And the purely baseball coverage angle of this is completely overblown. Who needs baseball coverage? I watch and listen to games and have complete access to a range of statistics. This “coverage” is merely another form of entertainment. The Red Sox tend to disclose injuries. The teams also announce transactions.

  • NS Webster

    “…the print business is dying, and I’m pretty sure Henry alone isn’t enough to save it.”

    Does he understand that news hasn’t been the “print business” for about 10 years? The “Globe” brand and infrastructure is easily worth the $70 million he paid – whether it’s online or on newsprint.

    Just like the “blogger in your mother’s basement” has become a silly and ancient insult, talking about newspapers like they only exist on paper shows an equally one-dimensional thinking.

    As for the rest of the argument, setting up a firewall between editorial and ownership is not that hard.

  • agramante

    You’re splitting nonexistent hairs. Plenty of people have failed in the finance and commodities business where Henry has succeeded. (And I doubt his money is all due to one single formula.) There aren’t as many billionaires in the world as you might think. Henry’s skill set doesn’t extend to PR, pretty obviously. Dan Snyder became a billionaire by selling an internet gizmo not long before the internet fizzled (not unlike Mark Cuban). Are you going to call him bad at business? Bad at running a football team, assuredly, but he’s been pretty successful at making money too.

    • HomerGreenz

      JH got lucky and then started his commodities speculation “business” in 1981, when the 30 year consumer and corporate debt bubble had just begun. His company made the most money during the height of the bubble, 2000-2007 – purely coincidence of course. Since the market crash Henry’s coincidentally been “bad” at business. His company stopped managing the money of clients at the end of 2012.

      http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/7005442/mlb-how-john-henry-built-sports-empire-espn-magazine

      http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323894704578109034136385080.html

      • bsmfan

        You’re right on this. It reminds me of a person I grew up with who got rich via the arbitrage differences between exchanges in the 80s before the digital revolution on currency that stopped this exploitation.

        There is an entire ownership/money group behind NESV/FSG. I’ve never seen something on the split, and I doubt we ever will because isn’t the group private? So, we don’t even know how much money or risk he shares. And, again, this only matters to those involved.

        Snyder is a good example, among many others. Mark Cuban does come to mind as someone who basically scammed his way to money (I forget if he admitted to or it was pointed out that he used pyramid schemes to make money in college). Does any of it matter once you’re rich? Nope.

        I’ve brought this issue of how “smart” since Gammons used to have to say it during every interview, like when he did the weekly F+M spot. There is no secret, even though it’s not talked about, that his money came from being smart/right place right time lucky. Also, would any of the media in town ever touch this and risk access? Nope.

        Does it matter in the end? No, unless he’s like Wilf/Haslem where there is a legal question on how they made their money (none I’m aware of). What we should really only care about, at least here, is the sports media coverage part.