Archive for March, 2012

Power Struggle: Rupert Murdoch, News Corp. Set to Challenge ESPN

Since its inception in 1979, ESPN has been the undisputed leader in sports coverage. It isn’t called “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” for nothing, with viewership in over 100 million American homes and presence in print, radio, online and multimedia.

If there's one man crazy enough to challenge ESPN, it's Rupert Murdoch

ESPN has dominated the sports market, but media tycoon Rupert Murdoch is hoping to change that. Word spread on Wednesday that Murdoch and his News Corp. are interested in starting a new cable sports network to rival that of ESPN’s. With many sports fans growing tired of ESPN’s programming decisions (read: Tim Tebow), some say the time could be right for a major ESPN competitor.

As other networks have already learned, taking down ESPN is no easy task. NBC Sports, a joint venture between NBC and Comcast, launched on Jan. 2, but has failed to provide much of a challenge. NBC has exclusive rights to broadcast the NHL, Indycar racing, the Tour de France, Notre Dame football and recently also acquired MLS broadcasts. While these are nice pieces in the portfolio, they simply do not drawn the attention of the NFL, NBA and MLB, three sports which ESPN has a strong hold on.

Thus far the only acquisitions by News Corp. include college football games and the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, but it will take more than that to topple ESPN. As some have pointed out, the new sports network would need the right personalities. ESPN grew to enormous popularity with hosts such as Chris Berman, Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, Stuart Scott and more. Right now the biggest name NBC has is Bob Costas, and he simply doesn’t measure up (and not just because he’s 5-foot-7).

I, like many sports fans I presume, am hoping a serious ESPN contender joins the fray. As much as I like ESPN, I feel it need to re-evaluate its coverage and spend less time on tabloid-style storylines (do we really need to see aerial coverage of Peyton Manning leaving Indianapolis?) and more on stories that actually matter.

Hey News Corp. How about giving Ron Burgundy an audition? After all, he won’t be allowed back at ESPN.

Photo (cc) by David Shankbone and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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The “Great (Fire)Wall of China”: The Challenges of Journalism in China

On Thursday afternoon our class attended a lecture by Wu Nan, a student of the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Wu spent three years as a news assistant for the Boston Globe’s Beijing Bureau and spent over a year at the Economic Observer, focusing mostly on the changes in China’s modern society.

Wu Nan discusses the challenges of being a journalist in China

Because of China’s “great firewall” which blocks content deemed unsuitable by the government, reporting and disseminating information is a challenge for journalists. Wu had an interesting analogy in describing it.

“Doing journalism in China is kind of like playing a video game,” she said. “You have to use your wisdom and courage to get around the obstacle to get the word out.” Wu also called the job “frustrating and rewarding at the same time.”

With mainstream journalism being watched with a close eye, social media is extremely valuable to people in China. Wu said over 420 million citizens use the Internet, over 270 million use mobile devices and over 250 million use China’s version of Twitter (the original form has been banned by the government). With so many people connected electronically, social media becomes one of the best avenues for news.

As Wu pointed out, social media can spark conversation and spread rapidly across the public sphere.

“Once the message gets out there, it’s out,” she said. “[The government] can’t do anything about it.”

While the government tries to do as much damage control as possible when unflattering news is passed around, it is nearly impossible to eradicate everything. For this reason, people in China tend to use social media in a much different way than Americans do. In other words, messages about outfits and trips to the mall are rare.

For journalists working in China, the challenges are numerous but the ultimate goal remains unchanged.

“The essence of journalism is the same, trying to empower people with information,” Wu said.

While it was somewhat difficult to put myself in Nan’s position as a reporter, I found her discussion very interesting. Living in America where information flows freely, it seems like a polar opposite being a journalist in China. I can certainly see why social media is so big in China and is somewhat sacred. It truly is one of the most vital resources for the people who live there.

Don’t Poke the Bear, Unless It’s on Facebook: The Bruins and Social Media

For the past five years, the Boston Bruins have been one of the most successful franchises in the National Hockey League.  The B’s have made the playoffs every year since 2008, have won six playoff series and took home the coveted Stanley Cup last June.

Aside from their play on the ice, the team has excelled in another area: marketing. The club has been clever in promoting both the team overall and their players. Some of the best examples include the subtle jabs at opponents during the playoffs and the popular “Bruins Rules” commercial series.

On Monday the Bruins debuted a new feature on their website, the Bruins Digital Entertainment Network, or DEN. The DEN is an innovative initiative that allows Black and Gold fans to follow the team on social media entities such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and more. To commemorate the launching, the DEN app will include an exclusive web series called “Bear and the Gang.”

Though the Bruins are the oldest professional ice hockey team in the U.S., they are one of the best in sports at keeping up with modern technology. According to Sports Fan Graph, the Bruins are the fourth-most popular NHL team on Facebook and Twitter. While much of this can be attributed to the club’s big fan base and winning ways, the team has made its presence felt via social media.

Of course the B’s are not alone in endeavors like this. The Cleveland Indians announced plans to expand their social media reach across six platforms this season. The Philadelphia Wings of National League Lacrosse had players wear jerseys with their Twitter handles rather than their last names on Feb. 12. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the NFL allowed players to tweet during this year’s Pro Bowl.

It’s no secret social media is becoming hugely popular in the sports world, but it’s always nice to see teams expand in a fun and engaging manner that stands out from the crowd. With the debut of the DEN it looks like the Bruins are one of those teams.

No Money? No Problem: How Investigative Reporting Has Found a Home in Non-Profit Journalism

On Thursday our class was privileged to have a visit from guest speaker Kristen Lombardi, an accomplished journalist specializing in investigative reporting. A veteran of the business for 17 years, Lombardi has been recognized for her thorough coverage of important social issues. Lombardi joined the Center for Public Integrity in 2007 and is currently one of 24 journalists selected for a Nieman Fellowship in Journalism at Harvard University.

Kristen Lombardi on investigative journalism

I was struck by the amount of time, effort and resources that have gone into Lombardi’s work. Her piece “The Hidden Costs of Clean Coal” was published by the Center in 2009, an investigative look into longwall mining in Pennsylvania. Lombardi said she spent two months living in the Keystone State and interviewed over 100 people for two stories, each well over 10,000 words.

Another piece that took an extraordinary amount of time was “Sexual Assault on Campus,” a look into the alarming trend of sexual assault cases in college that are not handled properly. Lombardi said this piece took 18 months to complete and cost over $250,000 to produce. Those are staggering statistics in the journalism industry.

What stood out the most to me regarding Lombardi’s work and investigative journalism as a whole is its shift to the non-profit model. Lombardi once worked for media outlets such as the Boston Phoenix and Village Voice but ultimately parted ways with the outlets because they could no longer financially support investigative reports that took time and money. With everyday newspapers struggling to stay afloat, many investigative journalists have found a home writing for non-profits.

Lombardi noted that the non-profit journalism model is growing as newspapers continue to let go of investigative reporters due to financial constraints.

“I don’t think these stories are possible in a sustainable model for newspapers,” she said. “The challenges are too great for most for-profit newspapers to fund this kind of work.”

Non-profit entities such as the Center exemplify what it means to make lemonade when life hands you lemons. It of course is not a good thing that newspapers are continually cutting back on investigative staff members, but with non-profits these journalists can continue to do what they do best and further expand their craft.

Lombardi called her piece on sexual assault something that “best epitomizes what a non-profit can do.” The story earned her the Robert F. Kennedy Award and Dart Award in 2011 and the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service in 2010. Pieces like this benefit the public good because they promote awareness and spring action. Thanks to non-profits, investigative journalism continues to exist.

Final Project Outline: Boston Sports Media Watch

For my final project I have chosen to focus on media critic Bruce Allen, who runs the blog Boston Sports Media Watch. BSMW collects and reviews stories written about the four local professional sports teams: the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins and Celtics. Each day the blog posts links to stories written that day about these teams and breaks down the coverage of each team. Allen also critiques the beat writers from time to time and provides commentary on topical issues.

My blog is focused on sports business, and while BSMW is not entirely devoted to this issue, there are aspects of the blog that are helpful. For example, Allen has commented in the past on the difference in coverage between the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald on the Red Sox considering the Globe’s connection to the team and its ownership. In this instance, business has an effect on how teams are covered by different media outlets, and that is certainly something I pay attention to with my blog.

Though it is called Boston Sports Media Watch, Allen actually runs his blog from his home in New Hampshire. I exchanged emails with him and he expressed interest in meeting up in Manchester, N.H., for an interview. I hope to profile his website, how it got started, what gave him the motivation, and how he uses digital media and social media to generate content.

Mad(off) Money: Mets Owners Given ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ Card by Judge

As if being a Mets fan weren’t difficult enough given the team’s play on the field, the scandalous truth behind Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme hit especially close to home for New York fans. Madoff’s major clients included Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, the team’s owners, who included the team in Madoff’s business ventures. In December of 2010 Wilpon and Katz were sued by Irving Picard, the trustee for Madoff’s victims, for more than $1 billion.

With a trial looming, the owners struck a court settlement on Monday that orders $162 million be paid to Picard’s clients in exchange for all other charges against Wilpon and Katz be dropped. Of added bonus is that payments will not begin for another three years and that funds from the payments can come from the $178 million in claims the owners have against Madoff’s estate.

Reaction from financial experts and baseball writers has been nearly unanimous: the Mets caught a huge break. The uncertainty surrounding the court proceedings led to speculation Wilpon and Katz would be forced to sell the team. It now appears the club will remain under the same ownership, a fate embattled Dodgers owner Frank McCourt could not avoid following his messy divorce.

Whether the same ownership is a good thing or not is a topic up for debate, but what’s undeniable is the Mets can finally turn their attention back to the field rather than the courtroom. General manager Sandy Alderson likened the settlement to a cloud being lifted from the organization. The settlement also improves relations between the team and Major League Baseball, which handed out emergency loans to the team to help pay legal fees.

The question now becomes how aggressive the Mets become in player contracts. The Madoff fiasco could not save the team from losing star shortstop Jose Reyes, who signed with the Miami Marlins for $106 million. Third baseman David Wright will likely command high interest this offseason when his contract is up and a $16 million club option is due. Alderson alluded to the fact that the team will have to continue to cut back in spending, saying “we’ve lost quite a bit of money over the last couple of years.”

Mets fans are used to torture but remain among the most loyal in baseball. They could use some good news, and they got that in court on Monday. The next challenge is delivering something good on the diamond.

A Diamond is Forever: The Timeless Appeal of Fenway Park

Perhaps no city in America takes more pride in its sports teams than Boston, which turns professional athletes into local cult heroes. After all, there’s a reason Fenway Park is self-proclaimed as “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.”

The view atop the Green Monster (Photo: Patrick McHugh)

Once described by author John Updike as a “lyric little bandbox,” Fenway Park opened on April 20, 1912, making it the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball. Located in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood, the park is home to the American League’s Boston Red Sox.

While each MLB stadium is different, Fenway Park stands out for its many unique quirks. The most striking is the 37-foot, 2-inch high wall in left field, appropriately dubbed the Green Monster. The 310-foot distance from home plate to left field is the shortest distance of any major league park, yet the height of the wall often turns would-be home runs into base hits. The Monster was erected to prevent baseballs from damaging automobiles at car dealerships across the street, and to prevent people in adjacent apartments from seeing games for free.

In 2003 the park added 278 seats stop the Monster, offering a picturesque view of the action for spectators.

“Every year when tickets go on sale the ones with the most demand are the Monster seats,” said Louis Noferi, a tour guide at the ballpark. “To allow as many people a chance to sit there, except Yankee fans, we have a raffle and you can only buy four tickets per season on the Monster.”

The right field wall also has its own lore. It is 302-feet from home plate to the foul pole, the shortest in baseball. Unlike any other park however, the wall abruptly curves outward and is 380-feet from home plate at its deepest. Former Red Sox great Johnny Pesky took advantage of the short fence in right field, collecting 13 of his 17 career home runs in right field. The pole is now named “Pesky’s Pole.”

(Photo: Patrick McHugh)

Unlike cookie-cutter modern ballparks, Fenway Park retains its own historic feel to it. There are still cement poles in the stands that obstruct views and there is a manual scoreboard at the bottom of the Monster that beckons a forgotten era. The 37,493 who cram into the park during games are still greeted by the wooden benches that have been there for over 80 years, creating a cozy environment.

“The seats are so close together that when you slide through the aisles, you’re nearly rubbing noses with the people in the row behind you,” Noferi said. “We’ve had more matches here than Match.com.”

From the press box behind home plate is a beautiful view of downtown Boston, and if you peer above right field you can see the recognizable Prudential Tower. The Massachusetts Turnpike is just behind left field, and it once was not unusual for baseballs that cleared the Monster to find their way onto the highway.

Still holding up strong in its 100th year in operation, Fenway Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in March of 2012.

  • Days and hours of operation: In-season tours run daily every hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but end three hours prior to game time. Off-season tours run daily from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Cost: Adults – $12, Seniors – $11, Children (3-15) – $10
  • Website, phone number, emailhttp://boston.redsox.mlb.com/bos/ballpark/tour.jsp, 617-226-6666, tours@redsox.com
  • Address: 4 Yawkey Way, Boston, MA, 02215
  • Handicap-accessible: Yes
  • Nearest T stop: Kenmore Square Station, 0.3 miles (approximately a 7-minute walk)
  • Strange Fact: Former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey and his wife Jean wanted to leave their mark on the park after their death. Along the Green Monster wall there are a series of black dots and dashes that spell out “TAY” and “JRY” in Morse code, the initials of the Yawkeys.