With four major professional teams that are hugely popular, sports are always a topic of conversation in New England. In print, online and through the airwaves, there is an abundance of coverage for the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins.
To find the best reporting, fans often flock to Boston Sports Media Watch to catch up on what is said regarding their teams. Run by media critic Bruce Allen, BSMW points out the best – and worst – the local outlets have to offer.
“Growing up I found when I looked at the sports section I enjoyed the TV sports columns,” Allen said. “I liked learning about the people who were covering the sports but also seeing the opinions on how they were doing their job. That was interesting.”
Observing Boston’s sports media landscape from his home in Epping, N.H., Allen is very unlike the personalities he covers. While many are loud and cynical – like the 98.5 WBZ-FM radio duo of Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti – Allen is reserved and easygoing. He doesn’t seek the spotlight and admits he has never been the type to go over-the-top to generate interest.
The website began as a hobby for Allen, an IT professional who specializes in Internet publishing and owns Bruce Allen Media, LLC. Discouraged by the state of sports media coverage, he sought a forum to express his opinions. Local New Hampshire newspapers did not have space to devote to media columns, so Allen launched the blog on his own in April of 2002. It has since grown into a definitive source for all things related to New England sports media, drawing more than 500,000 page views per month.
“I thought it was something I could maybe do as a side project, something additional to keep me interested, maybe make a little bit of money from it,” said Allen. “I didn’t have an endgame of it being a full-time career.”
Each weekday, Allen rounds up articles written about the local teams and posts links for readers to view on their own. BSMW also features commentary on important media issues and features comprehensive reviews of media members.
After humble beginnings, the website gained more clicks when longtime Boston Globe sports media columnist Bill Griffith mentioned it in his Sunday notes column in June of 2002. Since then, both fans and media members alike frequent the blog.
“Bruce is well-known by everyone in the media,” said George Cain, whose work as a media critic has appeared on BSMW as well as Sports of Boston. “They know that he has made them popular. The simplicity of the website allows people who read the website to know writers that they would not have necessarily known. Its significance is very important.”
Unlike other critics who are employed by media outlets and therefore limited in their range of commentary, Allen is not associated with any of the groups he covers.
“A lot of people tell me it’s good to have an independent voice,” Allen said. “Not being affiliated with a media outlet I think is an advantage in some aspects.”
The website has proved to be a creative outlet for Allen’s own commentary. A great example is the flowchart he made which diagrams Patriots coverage in a very tongue-in-cheek manner.
Allen has not been shy about letting his readers know how he feels regarding the media coverage. Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan and WBZ-TV anchor Bob Lobel are two who have consistently earned his praise while Massarotti and Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy have drawn Allen’s criticism.
Over the years, many media members have benefitted from being mentioned for their work on the site, however, others have not taken kindly to being called out.
“Nobody likes to have their work criticized,” Allen said. “That’s just human nature. Thankfully I get a lot of feedback when I praise people too, so they appreciate that. I’ve gotten a number of angry emails; I’ve gotten some phone calls. I’ve tried to be level about it and explain to them what I was thinking and what I thought of when I did what I did.”
One of Allen’s biggest issues with modern sports coverage is the prevalence of each writer’s opinions showing through in their work.
“That’s probably the biggest beef I have with sports media nowadays is that it’s more opinionated than fact,” Allen said. “That creeps into the beat writers of the different sports, which you never saw years ago. Now they sneak in their opinion into their columns or their notebook pieces.”
Allen isn’t the only observer to see opinions seep into sports coverage. Media critic Paulsen [who only goes by one name] runs Sports Media Watch, a blog launched in 2006 that looks at trends in national sports coverage and the personalities associated with them. Like Allen, Paulsen senses that sports media coverage has become brash and bold.
“In recent years, we’ve seen a real shift toward loud, in-your-face style opinion in sports media, with an emphasis on cheap shots and cynicism,” Paulsen said. “Some – Bob Costas, for example – would attribute that to the rise of blogs, but I would go back perhaps to the launch of [the ESPN show] “Pardon the Interruption” in 2001. While “PTI” was never as bad as some of its predecessors, it set the stage for what we see today on both television and in print or online.”
Though keeping checks and balances on the media tends to ruffle some feathers, Cain believes an objective voice is necessary in sports.
“There are a hundred websites that critique news stations and how they cover the media,” Cain said. “There are very few on how they cover sports. That’s very important because bias is everywhere in our society … It’s important to have a website for people who maybe don’t notice those sorts of things to point out some of the biases going on every single day and see some of the hypocrisy of the media.”
Cain is one of many who have contributed guest work to BSMW. Ken Fang of Fang’s Bites submits a weekly post filled with links to national media stories, while former Boston Herald columnist Michael Gee, former Comcast SportsNet New England reporter Jackie Pepper and former WHDH-TV executive sports director and current Boston University professor Frank Shorr have all been featured on the site as well.
On April 8 BSMW reached a milestone with its 10-year anniversary, an occasion Allen used to reflect on his experiences and thank those who assisted him. With a wife and two kids, as well as a third arriving next month, Allen hopes to keep the blog going strong, but knows it will be a challenge.
“Ten years is a big deal for any website, especially a blog,” Allen said. “They weren’t that common at all when I started so it’s noteworthy in that respect. I have been thinking about [the future] a lot. I’ve thought of a few different concepts on how I could keep it going. I wouldn’t mind if other people wanted to come in and contribute. Hopefully people continue to read and enjoy it.”
Increasingly, sports coverage has extended to include social media. Both reporters and the teams they cover have turned to social media to connect with fans. Check out the video below to learn how social media has impacted sports.