Farewell To The Phoenix, And Bruins Rate High on NESN

The news came suddenly yesterday, the Boston Phoenix, in business since 1966, would be closing its doors, and today’s issue would be the final one.

There wasn’t a lot of focus on the Phoenix here at BSMW, but the paper certainly had its share of sports media stories over the years, a few of which they were kind enough to call and ask for a quote or opinion or two from me.

There are plenty of tributes out there today, and I’ll pass along three from former writers of the Phoenix.

The Ashes of the Phoenix: Saying Good-bye to a Boston Institution – Charles P Pierce remembers the paper, and gives a good anecdote of how the paper was certainly different from the mainstream press in town:

In 1982, when the 76ers beat the Celtics, and the Garden erupted into a chant of “Beat L.A.!,” the great Bob Ryan interviewed Darryl Dawkins and found Michael Gee, then covering the game for us. You have to have this quote, Ryan told him, because we can’t use it. Ryan had asked Dawkins what he felt like when he heard that chant from a Boston crowd.

“Man,” Dawkins said, “when I heard that, my dick got stiff.”

If I recall correctly, that was Gee’s lead.

Boston Phoenix 1966-2013 – Gee himself also weighs in, and he and Pierce both feature the late George Kimball in their tributes.

The Boston Phoenix comes to the end of the road – Dan Kennedy, former media reporter for the Phoenix, also has a few thoughts.

Elsewhere:

Mike Salk ready to team up with Michael Holley – Bill Doyle says that Salk will make his WEEI debut next Wednesday, and talks to him about the transition.

Bruins ratings up big for NESN – Chad Finn looks at the increased ratings for the Bruins, who are beating the Celtics handily this season in that department.

WEEI sent this over today as well:

ESPN Radio’s Ryen Russillo and Bob Ryan will fill in for Cedric Maxwell during WEEI 93.7 FM’s Celtics broadcast on Saturday evening with Sean Grande. Russillo is co-host of the SVP & Russillo show heard weekdays 1-4 p.m. on ESPN WEEI 850 AM in Boston. Ryan is a renowned sports columnist with the Boston Globe.

Guest Column – Why Write? Why Not?

I’m glad to once again welcome back former Boston Herald columnist Michael Gee, who presents another guest column.

Why Write? Why Not?

By Michael Gee

Almost 400 years ago Dr. Samuel Johnson said that no man but a blockhead wrote except for money. I’ve been writing for nothing for going on six years, so what does that make me?

A happy blockhead. It’s not as exciting writing about sports from a distance rather than from the excellent seat I had at the Herald, but it has its own satisfactions. Much to my surprise, I have found I enjoy quiet satisfactions as much or more than noisy ones. I still experience wistful longing when a big game comes on TV and I realize I’m not in the press box, but the longing has faded to a momentary twinge. I think about having to catch the 7 a.m. flight out of town the day after the game, and the twinge passes.

As a business, even a nonprofit one, my blog is a bust. I lack the entrepreneurial gene. The amount of work I know Bruce does every day for this site fills me with awe. Every expert says that to draw an audience, a blogger must post daily – at least. But doing that would defeat the purpose of my blog, and in fact, remove the primary satisfaction I get from writing it.

The first principle and joy of my nonjournalism noncareer in sports commentary is to only write when I feel I have something to say, when a topic either amuses, enrages or fascinates me enough that I believe I can contribute to the sum of knowledge and opinion on the subject. You’d be surprised, or maybe not, to learn what a low percentage of sports columns, and radio and TV opinion blather stems from that principle. As a rule, in fact, the louder the opinion (and print can be as loud as any medium), the less likely the person expressing the opinion is to actually give a damn about what they’re saying.

Media space and time allotted to sports must be filled. Filling it is a job, and like any job, there are days when getting the job done is the only thing the worker cares about. There are many more games or other types of sports news that don’t lend themselves to engaged commentary than those that do. To take an example that still gives me night sweats, I was often one of three Herald columnists assigned to preseason Patriots games. There’s as close as nothing to say in that situation as can be, and I had to and did say it anyway.

I don’t have to do that anymore. I have the enormous luxury of picking my spots. That improves a person’s performance in any field. I also find writing something that hasn’t been said (or not said as I feel it should be) in the paid sports media is a bracing intellectual challenge. And, of course, I have the freedom to talk about what I read and hear in said media. When I was a member of that club, it wouldn’t have been proper. Loyalty matters.

It’s a new year, and I intend to write more. But not too much more. No more than I feel I should say. No more than I feel I want to say. No more than I feel have to say.

Back in the Terry Francona mess, a commenter on the message board here asked why my blog writing was so different than my Herald writing. It was a good question, and this piece is my answer. I honestly don’t believe my writing is that different. It’s just that the writing that was my job has been erased, and what’s left is the writing that was and is my pleasure.

Michael Gee on Handling Criticism

I’m pleased to present a second guest post from Michael Gee, former Boston Herald sports columnist.

The only thing writers knows about their work before they start is that when it’s finished, someone won’t like it.

There has never been and never will be fiction or nonfiction created by human beings that won’t be intensely disliked by at least a few other human beings. The opening night of “Macbeth,” I guarantee that one patron left the Globe Theater and said in a very loud voice (loud was the Elizabethan Internet) “That didst sukketh!!”

Sportswriters, even the very best, are no Shakespeares. Writing for public consumption in a format as transistory as is daily journalism (or hourly journalism, these days), all one can hope for is to have the “liked its” outnumber the “hated its” by the largest possible margin – say 50.000001 percent. For this piece, which is written for a site named “Media Watch,” I’ll he happy with 30 percent. This is a tough room. Nobody clicks to a site with that title because they believe said media is doing a bang-up job.

The writer and his/her audience are always going to coexist in a state of some tension. Everyone wants to be liked and wants their work appreciated. On the other hand, nobody wants to read something they don’t like, either.

As a now very part-time writer who remains a full-time reader, I am in full sympathy with both of these apparently opposite sentiments. It took a long time for me to learn that universal approval was a fool’s goal in sports column writing, but it was the most liberating knowledge of my career. It took me an even longer time as a reader to learn that my judgments on what I read were as subject to human error as what I wrote, but that was more liberating. So in the full knowledge of the mixed (I hope) reaction to come, here are the lessons I learned, which I try to apply when both writing and reading.

1. Differences of opinion are not criticism. This is sports, not physics. Right and wrong answers are few and far between. If a writer takes a position, and a reader says, “you’re wrong, you idiot,” that’s not an insult. That’s not criticism. It’s an argument. A diligent reader will make his side of the argument, and any writer with a lick of sense will pay attention.

1a. If, as I was, a writer is in the opinion business, being wrong every so often is an occupational hazard. You’re supposed to start arguments from time to time. Columnist and Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman said it best: “A columnist who is never wrong is not taking enough risks.”

2. Judging writing is infinitely subjective, and there are going to be some readers who dislike all the work of some writers and there’s nothing the writer can or should do about it. That’s not really criticism, either.

Let me make an example from my own reading. Bill Simmons is probably the most-read sports columnist in America. Obviously he has talent. Nobody becomes that popular without ability. Bill’s writing leaves me cold, so I don’t read him anymore. If Bill worries about that, he’s nuts. Due to his enormous exposure, Simmons is destined to be more widely unpopular as well as popular. It’s a paradox he can ponder on those pleasant journeys to the bank.

There’s a poster on the BMSW message board whose writing I admire. He hates mine. This makes me sad, but it’s nothing to worry about – for either of us.

3. Here are things I DO worry about. If a critic says I made a factual error, that bothers me. If he’s right, that really bothers me. If people consistently said my work was unfair to those I write about, or that I was mean when it was uncalled for, or that it didn’t seem like I enjoyed sports, I wouldn’t just be bothered, I’d be distraught. The primary responsibilities of a sports columnist, as I saw them, were to be accurate when supporting my opinions and to be fair to everyone I covered. “Fair” and “nice” are not always the same thing, mind you.

4. The most important point of criticism for the writer is this: It means the critic read the damn thing, so right away, he/she is not your enemy, he/she is a cherished customer. Maybe they’ll like what you write next time.

The explosion of reader interaction made possible by the Internet is an enormous boon to sportswriters, and those who don’t think so are, to be polite, fools. The worst thing about writing is how lonely it is. Feedback, even the deranged anonymous kind, is far easier on the soul than the void of silence.

A writer who sneers at the critics is worse than a fool. That writer is an enemy of his own best interests.

Andre Laguerre was the most successful sports editor of the second half of the 20th century. He was the genius who in the 1960s turned “Sports Illustrated” from an enormous money-loser to the profitable national institution it has been ever since. He had three rules for running a sports magazine. Two of them are not relevant here, but one sure is. It merits a stand-alone paragraph here.

You can’t get too much hate mail.

Read Michael Gee’s blog: homegame

Michael Gee on Playoff Sportswriting

Editor’s note: I’m pleased to present you today with a guest post from former Boston Herald sports columnist Michael Gee. Hopefully this is the first of several to come. Today he looks at what covering the postseason is like from a sportswriter’s perspective. 

Many sports fans believe the sportswriters who cover their favorite teams have it in for them and those teams. The writers hate the teams, the players, the coaches, the furry mascots, and of course, most of all, the fans. Writers go to the park or arena hoping that the home team loses every game by a humiliating score.

This is false. Oddly enough, it is contradicted by the most common complaint actual athletes make about sportswriters, which is “You only care about us when we’re winning!” Well over 90 percent of the time, the interests of sportswriters and the people they cover mesh perfectly.

This isn’t complex. Winning sells. The day after the final game of the 2004 World Series, the Herald sold almost a million copies, quadrupling normal circulation. Stories on the team get more space and better play. The aim of the sportswriter, as of any writer, is to tell a story to an audience, and the bigger the audience, the better. Athletes have it all wrong. Writers aren’t front-runners-fans are. We’re just the unpleasant reminder of that fact.

At a more human level, being around a consistent loser is depressing. Think summer’s going to be an endless joy for those assigned to report on the death march of the Washington Nationals? Sportswriters get paid, in part, to be able to maintain a level of human understanding of those they cover. When the people getting covered are constantly on the verge of personal professional oblivion, that’s tough on both parties.

Which makes it all the more strange that the mutual interests of the sports reporter and sports teams diverge precisely at the moment of the latter’s greatest success and when public interest is highest-the post-season. Any post-season.

Baseball is the worst, and football the relatively easiest, but for the sports section, playoffs equal pain. It’s a matter of supply and demand. The demand for information from the public (those front-running SOBs) easily swamps the ability of the sports department to supply said demand. All of a sudden, there’s five pages of space to fill on an off-day hockey practice. You know what goes on at a hockey practice? Not much is the correct answer.

Playoffs are weeks of 2 a.m. hotel check-ins and 6:45 a..m flights. They are 12-14-16 hour days spent in arenas and ballparks, writing, always writing. The Internet (all technological advances in journalism create more difficult working conditions for journalists) has made it possible to achieve the ultimate in demand-the permanent writing cycle.

In addition, there is the added pressure of micromanaging from the super senior management of the news organization, who, alas, are usually sports fans. These worthies abandon their hard-bitten personas to, as a former boss of mine once stated, “dance down Yawkey Way in their underwear.” The closest I ever got to being fired at the Herald before I got fired was in 1994 during the Winter Olympics. The bosses just wouldn’t accept that poor Nancy Kerrigan was not exactly the American heroine on the order of Betsy Ross which the Herald had decided she should be.

Before you break out the “boo-freakin-hoos,” there are compensations.. The playoffs are also tremendously exciting and fulfilling professional experiences. Hey, I got paid to see the Patriots win their first Super Bowl and the Red Sox win the 2004 World Series. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. But I remember the pain of the process along with the thrills. Sportswriting is a profession that entails a constant struggle between fun and work. Fun’s usually an easy winner. During the playoffs, work gets the upper hand, and believe me, it fights dirty in a clinch.

So during the playoffs, what writers root for is mostly for the pain to go away. Let’s wrap this up. Maybe I can eat a meal at home before the end of the month. You’re up 3-2? Win that damn game six..

Here’s a weird offshoot of that sentiment. Once the home team makes it to the championship round of its post-season, the home writers sometimes express the following sentiment. “Well, as long as we’re here, they ought to make it worth our while and win the damn thing!” Surely all this work has to have some ultimate justification.

Going back to 2004, I’m sure press box sentiment was all with the Yankees in Game 4 of the ALCS. During Game 4 of the World Series, the Sox had no stauncher fan than yours truly. It was truly amazing to watch the Patriots win that first Super Bowl. I wasn’t exactly heartbroken when they missed the playoffs the following season. Nothing personal. Just business, or the relative lack of same.

I don’t believe any of the Boston writers covering the Bruins and Celtics this spring were HAPPY when those teams lost Game 7s. I believe part of their inner selves were truly sad. But I know that another part was deeply relieved. It’s a long season. When your workload triples at the end of said season, you’d have to be more or less than human not to feel some pleasure when the work comes to a temporary halt. I’d be surprised if fans of those teams didn’t experience the fleeting thought, “well, at least I can go to bed early tomorrow night.”

The late, great sportswriter Leonard Koppett (Get his book on the NBA if you can find it) came up with two statements that summarize the sportswriter’s thoughts on postseason play. One, called “Koppett’s Law,” sayss “the outcome of the game will be the most inconvenient one.”

The other Koppett motto is a corollary to the rule “no cheering in the press box.” It goes “you’re allowed to root for yourself.”

In 30 years, I never once saw a sportswriter root against a team. In a lot of postseasons, I saw a lot of guys and gals root for themselves.

That’s no sin. Sorry if you think otherwise.

Michael Gee