Q&A with Michael Felger

Michael Felger has been a member of the Boston sports media since 1992.

Michael Felger has been a member of the Boston sports media since 1992 when he graduated from Boston University. He has spent time with a number of media outlets with various roles for each from beat reporter to now radio and television host. He has become one of the most prominent members of the Boston sports media. Like him or not, for every major Boston sports story or game everyone wants to know what Felger has to say. Felger celebrated two milestones this week, one being the three year anniversary of 98.5 The Sports Hub and also the 5,000th Sports Tonight Show on Comcast Sportsnet. Boston Sports Media Watch had the chance to catch up with Felger for a Q&A on a wide variety of subjects.

BSMW: What do you miss most about being a beat writer and covering a team on a day-to-day basis? Do you miss the writing side of journalism?

MF: There was nothing better than breaking a story in the newspaper (i.e., the actual thing you held in your hands over morning coffee), which was still possible during most of my time as a beat reporter. Now, of course, that rarely happens. So the thing I miss the most doesn’t really exist any more.

Otherwise, I liked this time of a year a lot on the Pats beat. I thought that if you went to those training camp practices every day, paid attention and knew what to look for, you could learn about the team. Once they got out of camp and closed practices, forget it. Everyone was back in the dark. But right now was one of the few times you could provide true insight. Covering hockey was great because of the people– the players were mostly humble and fun and there were characters like Pat Burns and Harry Sinden who I enjoyed even as they crushed me. The hockey culture is unique. And the games were great.

But to say I  “miss” any of that would be an overstatement. I’d rather be doing what I’m doing now. I don’t miss writing.

BSMW: Do you enjoy working full-time in radio and TV more than when you worked in print? Has not being on a beat/covering games allowed you to voice your opinion on players more than you would if you were still covering games?

MF: There were many days when I categorically did not enjoy being a beat reporter. There are very few days when I don’t enjoy commentating on radio or TV. The radio, in particular, is a blast. There’s nothing else like it.

As for the voicing of my opinion — yes, of course, there’s more freedom now. And that’s essential, because I pretty much can’t  put a sock in it, so to speak. It ultimately made me a pretty average beat guy. If I was doing a report card in the Herald and Joe Andruzzi (one of the best guys to ever come through there) had a bad game, I couldn’t downplay it just because I was friendly with him. Or if I felt the Pats should have paid to keep Deion Branch or Adam Vinatieri, I wouldn’t hesitate to criticize the team even though Bill Belichick wrote the epilogue for my book or the Krafts had been good to me (both true). So relationships were frayed, and I grew to hate the politics of the job.

This is hardly unique to me, by the way. If you want sources, you pretty much have to play favorites. That’s not a criticism of reporters who do it. It’s just the nature of the job. It’s a hard, hard thing to pull off. I’m a heck of a lot more comfortable coming at it from the outside and just saying what I think.

BSMW: What is your take on being labeled a “DB”? Does it bother you at all? Is it what you’re trying to be? Have you always been this way?

MF: You mean, was I born a douche bag? No. I’d say it’s a skill I’ve developed over time.

Seriously, it doesn’t bother me, but it’s also not what I’m trying to be. I’m not trying to be anything other than myself and, hopefully, entertaining. How it actually comes across to listeners  is up to them.

BSMW: Having worked at WEEI for some time, what do you see are the biggest differences between WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub? Has there been a time where what Felger & Mazz and 98.5 in general has done has surprised you, in terms of growing so quickly? Is there something you’d like to see your show to do in the near future to help it grow?

MF: I’ll pass on most of the first part of your question, except this: When Tony and I came on the air (exactly three years ago, Aug. 13, 2009), I said we would be different because we wouldn’t be held hostage by the relationships we had. Too often when I listen to sports commentary (the radio, ESPN, etc), I feel punches are being pulled because of a friendship, or a business relationship, or a broadcast rights agreement, or a weekly interview segment, or whatever. Just too much protecting of the brands and the people. I like to think Tony and I avoid that better than most. We try to go after everyone the same way. And I think the Hub and Comcast deserve a lot of credit for allowing it. Comcast doesn’t stop me from speaking my mind on the Celtics and the NBA, and the Hub doesn’t prevent me from going after the Bruins or NFL owners. That’s rare. We’re lucky.

As for the how quickly the competition heated up on the radio, I was surprised by it. I thought if we were lucky, that by Year 5 we’d have made it a ball game. Instead, we starting winning in 2010 and were No. 1 in the demo for a year starting in the spring of 2011 (the only sports show to do that since we came on). By this spring, it was actually treated like a failure when we finished third. We also got the simulcast deal in place. All that happened within three years.  So, yes, I was not expecting all that so soon.

BSMW: Why aren’t you on Twitter? Will you ever be on Twitter? Do you think it is good or bad for sports journalism?

MF: Excellent question. Laziness. No other reason. I have nothing against it. It seems like a great tool for news events (like a trade deadline), and as a marketing vehicle, it’s not just the future, it’s the present. So you can add “dumb” to “lazy.”  I should be on there.

BSMW: Where do you see yourself in the coming years? Have you ever considered moving to a national platform?

MF: No one has ever asked me to move to a national platform, so I’ve never really considered it. Basically, if I can do what I’m doing now for the rest of my professional life (on the radio every day in Boston; some TV at night), I would consider myself extremely lucky. In fact, I’m sure they will have to tell me to leave, not the other way around.

Follow me on Twitter at @hannable84. Shoot me an email at [email protected]

Who Are These Guys? – Mike Mutnansky

Mike MutnanskyMike Mutnansky was recently named the co-host of the new Saturday morning WEEI.com Radio Show.

Mutnansky grew up a basketball junkie in Pepperell MA, and went to UConn simply for its basketball programs. While there he wrote for the UConn’s Daily Campus covering and traveling with the men’s basketball team for two years. During his Jr year he interned with Big Show at WEEI. He graduated a bachelor’s in journalism and communications.

After graduation, Mutnansky moved back to MA.  He tried to get a job at a few of the local papers with no luck, and  was days from going into pharmaceutical sales when he met Marty Tirrell. He had just left his evening show at 1510 the Zone, and was starting a sports show on the then 5000-watt 1590-AM WSMN in Nashua, NH. Mutnansky was able to land a job as a “flash guy/co-host” on an afternoon sports show Monday – Friday and a Saturday morning show. He also helped launch and execute “Friday Night Lights – NH High School Football in Action.”

WSMN and land of station was sold in early 2004. A summer of landscaping work followed for Mutnansky. Then, late that summer,  Tom Monahan funded a similar sports show with Tirrell and Mutnansky on 900-AM Nashua. Monahan purchased the station soon afterwards and went to an all sports format. The show continues, and landed number of regular guests, including Bob Ryan.

In late 2005 Dennis & Callahan producer Steve Ciaccio called Mutnansky and offered him a chance to start doing occasional sports flashes at WEEI. By early 2006, Marty Tirrell had left the Nashua station and headed for the green pastures of Springfield. Mutnansky then assumed the lead role in Nashua.

He continues to work at WGAM (900-AM Nashua and 1250-AM in Manchester), hosting a weekday afternoon on show Mon-Fri 3:00-6:00pm while also filling in at WEEI. Last year, Mutnansky got the chance to start hosting and co-hosting at WEEI. It was mostly on weekends, and then this summer had the chance to host solo and also fill in on WEEI’s weekday programming, leading to the announcement about the WEEI.com Radio Show this week.

As for his philosphy on his job: “I am extremely, extremely lucky to be doing what I’m doing. The crew at WGAM and WEEI has been very supportive. The passion and energy of the New England fans is unmatched. I just try and match their energy and passion in any shift that I have. I’m not looking for anything scripted. Organic sports conversation that informs people, makes them laugh, makes them think. I like to argue. Hopefully I bring a bit of a younger voice to the station amongst all these “old guys.”

I still kind of have to pinch myself – I essentially grew up on Glenn and the Big Show. Now I get to take heat from them and their listeners on the Whiner Line. It’s a bit of a trip.

I’m fired up for the WEEI.com Radio Show Saturday mornings with Blogford, er, Mr. Bradford. Guys are out taking care of their honey-do lists and errands for the day. It’s a great time to talk sports. I’m thrilled at the chance to be a part of this new show.”

Who Are These Guys? – David Brown

David Brown covers the Patriots for the New Bedford Standard Times.

He grew up in Rhode Island, and went to URI for a a bachelor’s degree in journalism. During his time in school he covered the URI basketball team in the Jim Harrick/Lamar Odom era while interning for the Newport Daily News. In his senior year, he did a co-op at The Boston Globe during the 2000 election.

After graduating from URI, he went to Chicago to work on his master’s degree at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He lived five blocks from Wrigley Field and covered Chicago sports for the Medill News Service.

After grad school he moved back to Falmouth for a time before moving to Hendersonville, N.C., and becoming the Prep Sports Writer at The Times-News in that town. He covered mostly high schools, but occasionally covered the Carolina Panthers (coincidentally during their run to Super Bowl XXXVIII vs. the Pats). He was recognized by the North Carolina Press Association with an award for sports feature writing in 2004.

He escaped the mountains of North Carolina after two years and returned once again to Falmouth, where he was hired by the Standard Times. He’s covered a number of sports for the paper, eventually landing on the Patriots beat alongside the late Danny Pires. He also covered the Red Sox World Series run alongside Jon Couture last fall.

In his time with New Bedford, Brown has been honored with three awards from the New England Associated Press News Editors Association (NEAPNEA) and two from the New England Press Association (NEPA). Last spring, he was recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) for an enterprise series on the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA).

He describes his philosophy towards writing as this:

“I’m obligated to produce something that I would want to read. Because if I have no interest in my copy, then I can’t expect my readers to. Also, I’m a big fan of sleeping until noon and getting paid money to attend the Super Bowl. I can’t stress enough just how awesome that is. My greatest ambition at this point is to get paid more money to sleep until noon and attend the Super Bowl.”

For a couple examples of his work, he cites his Patriots training camp preview, as well as a piece on  Al “Bundy” Martinez, a mixed martial arts fighter from New Bedford.

Who Are These Guys? – Douglas Flynn

Douglas Flynn is an interesting guy, one with a background you might not see in many sports writers out there.

He grew up in Massachusetts, and then went to Brown University, earning an honors degree in History as well as a second degree in Afro-American Studies. He then accepted a fellowship at Ohio State in a doctoral program in military history. He gave that a year before decided he had enough of school.

Coming back to New England, he wasn’t sure what he actually wanted to do, so he started working in sports information at Brown, then stringing for a number of papers. His first full time sports reporting job with with the Daily Transcript in Dedham, where eventually served as sports editor.

He moved to the Metrowest Daily News in 2000, where he was put on the Bruins beat. This is probably where you might’ve first come across his work, and even now you might think of him as a “hockey guy.” While on the Bruins beat the paper was purchased by the Boston Herald, and Flynn wrote the Bruins Insider blog and Sunday NHL notes for the Herald, while remaining on beat coverage for the MWDN.

Once the paper was sold again, this time to Gatehouse media, and at the same time, Albert Breer left the Patriots beat to go to the Dallas Morning News. This allowed Flynn to move over to the Patriots beat. He says:

“As much as I love hockey and enjoyed my time covering the B’s (which I still get to do, though not as much with the Pats now my primary focus), I’m even more passionate about football. I actually only started following hockey (other than the B’s) as a kid when the NFL went on strike and I needed to fill the void (still miss those days of the battle of Alberta, Philly and Hartford in the long sweatpants and the Caps led by Randolph’s own Rod Langway). Still, getting to cover the Pats has kind of allowed me to come full circle back to my first love.”

Flynn followed some big names on the Pats beat at the MWDN, including Tom E. Curran, Mike Reiss and Breer, and hopes that he’s been able to learn from each one of them. He notes that his own style is “to focus primarily on the game itself and not get too embroiled in the soap opera storylines that seem to get so much attention in Foxboro, but hopefully still manage to entertain with some unique story angles, insight and humor.”

Some recent examples of his work include A job for the fearless – a look at the job of the gunner on special teams and Proven draft strategy – examining the draft philosophy of Scott Pioli.

Flynn still covers the Bruins when the Patriots season is over, and also writes about baseball on occasion.

Outside of print work, Flynn has done quite a bit of radio work, co-hosting the Inside Hockey Show on 1510 (and later XM Radio) with James Murphy for two years before turning his focus to football last year. He’s done some TV guest spots on CN8’s SportsPulse and NECN’s Sports LateNight and other radio spots both locally and in other markets discussing the Bruins and Patriots.

Who Are These Guys? – Mark Farinella

Mark Farinella has been a regular on the Patriots beat since 1977 – which makes him the longest tenured day-to-day guy covering the Patriots.

He writes for The Sun Chronicle out of Attleboro, and is pretty prolific at cranking out the coverage, singlehandedly putting out 4-5 articles on the day after a game. His daily coverage of the team is top notch, and this season he’s also been Blogging Fearlessly on the SC web site.

As a high school student, Farinella actually covered the first game ever played at then-Schaefer Stadium in August 1971 for the Mansfield News.

In the late 1980′s, Farinella spent two years at the Patriot-Ledger, backing up Ron Hobson. He also worked for the AP as a stringer from 1982-2003.

Who Are These Guys? – Mike Fine

While doing the approval ratings, I was dismayed at how many times I’d put someone up for approval, and a wave of WHO???? would roll through the comments.

Maybe because I read, listen to and observed all their work almost each day, all the names I put up were very familiar to me, and I thought would be to most observers of the Boston sports scene.

This was part of the reason the approval ratings were discontinued, more and more it was becoming difficult to put up a name that I could be assured that most readers would be familiar with and thus be able to give a valid approve/disapprove. We went through around 75 media people, so that was certainly a good start.

Periodically, I’m going to spotlight some of the media types who didn’t make the approval ratings list. Hopefully this will increase their exposure to you a little bit so that you can be on the lookout for their work, or know a little something about them as you review something that they’ve done.

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Today we’re going to spotlight longtime Quincy Patriot Ledger writer Mike Fine. If you don’t know who he is, you definitely should.

Fine’s time with the PL dates back to 1968 when he landed a co-op with Northeastern. He started with high schools, and then colleges before landing on the Boston Celtics beat in 1977. His first year was also the rookie year of Cedric Maxwell, and it was the last year for John Havlicek.

He was on the beat full time for 21 years, until the PL was sold, and the new owners switched to only home coverage of the team, which he has done for the last 10 years. All told, Fine has 31 years on the Celtics beat. 

In the offseasons Fine would serve as a columnist for the paper, and would also do quite a bit of Patriots coverage.

Since 1999 Fine has also covered the Red Sox for the paper.  Before the advent of WEEI, and shows such as Sports Final and Sports Xtra, Fine did a lot of radio and TV interviews, and did pregame reports on WRKO.

Since Gatehouse Media purchased the Patriot Ledger, the paper’s status has fallen immensely. Once boasting a sports staff of 18, the paper has now dropped all road coverage of the local teams, though Fine was in Detroit to cover the Eastern Conference Finals this season. He was not sent to Los Angeles to cover the NBA Finals, however.

If you’ve only been following the Boston sports scene for the last 15 years or so, you might have no idea who Mike Fine is, or how extensive his experience and background are.

Hopefully now you have a little better idea.