Archive for the ‘Class Assignments’ Category

Self-Made Media Critic Bruce Allen Puts Sports Media Personalities On Watch

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.

Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media Watch has blogged about sports media since 2002. Click above to see others weigh in on local sports media figures. (Photo: Patrick McHugh)

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.

Allen himself has been featured on SB Nation Boston, where he writes a weekly media column, as well as Patriots Football Weekly where he interviews national media figures.

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.


Think Space: A Visit to the Boston Globe Idea Lab

On Thursday evening our class took a field trip to the Boston Globe Idea Lab, an open area of space at the Globe’s headquarters where new ideas are discussed and trends are analyzed. Creative technologist Chris Marstall led the tour,  while Damon Kiesow, Joel Abrams, Andy Boyle and Miranda Mulligan also spoke about their work.

Our class took a Thursday evening visit to the Boston Globe's Idea Lab (Photo: Michael Morisy).

There is always talk in the journalism industry regarding how newspapers are constantly evolving in order to keep up with changes in how people get their news. To see the Globe’s Idea Lab was to see this evolution at work. I did my second coop at the Globe in 2010 and have been doing some work in the sports section on and off since then. When I first began working, the Idea Lab was in its infancy as the building’s layout was being rearranged to make room. I had walked past the Lab before but never actually seen it until Thursday.

Our class got to see several interesting endeavors, including how the website has been designed to allow for easy formatting on mobile devices, how stories are being shared on Twitter and what social media programs might be useful in the future.

These presentations were all intriguing, but the most interesting aspect to me was the creative aspect among the people there. It seemed like a fun place to work and with a great chemistry between those involved.  In many ways it reminded me of the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Ca. The Lab features lots of open space and seems to encourage branching out and always thinking outside the box.

Certainly not every newspaper can afford to devote an entire area of their office to having an idea lab, but I certainly think some of the larger papers would benefit from such an endeavor. The Lab workers admitted that not everything they collaborate on will be used by the company, but the hope is that some will, and that a big breakthrough could help the paper in a big way. It’s nice to see a newspaper be aggressive in improving its product and always working toward the future.

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.

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.

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”

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, email, 617-226-6666,
  • 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.

I Get By With A Little Help From My (Blogging) Friends

Since starting this blog about sports and money, I’ve learned that good blogging is nothing without good sources. Here are some of my go-to websites for information on the financial side of sports.

My first stop is typically to Darren Rovell’s “Sports Biz” blog on Rovell is generally regarded as one of the most-trusted sources for information on sports business. I really like his hands-on approach to reporting. He tries very hard to get one-on-one interviews with subjects and is willing to travel anywhere and do anything to bring unique content. Rovell does even better work on his Twitter account, constantly updating his followers at an astounding rate.

Another of my favorites is the Wall Street Journal’s sports section. The WSJ has interesting feature stories, like this one on the history of Harvard’s basketball program, and always has an eye on stories that aren’t being covered elsewhere, such as the battle between the state of New Jersey and the Giants and Jets over a new shopping mall.

Similar to WSJ, Forbes has a sports section dedicated to sports and money. I like Forbes because the stories focus on the economic implications of news items that are grabbing headlines, but explain them in a simple manner. An example is the work they did on Mark Sanchez’s new contract with the Jets.

In terms of in-depth investigation, no site does it better than Sports by Brooks. The stories are mostly based on scandals in sports, such as the Penn State fiasco. What sets Brooks apart is the extraordinary amount of detail he puts into investigations via interviews, and especially in researching court documents.

One website that brings in guest writers who have knowledge of specific subjects is Business of College Sports. Devoted purely to university athletics, the site digs up interesting facts and figures, such as this chart on college basketball revenue and attendance.

These are my main sites for generating content. Others I check out include: Awful Announcing, Boston Sports Media Watch, CBS Sports, ESPN, NBC Sports, Sports Law Blog, Sports Media Journal, Sports Media Watch and Yahoo! Sports.