Boston.com’s anonymous sports blogger to be unmasked

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 7.41.18 PMOn Sunday at 5:11 p.m., The Boston Globe’s free Boston.com site published a toughly worded blog post about Jerry Remy’s future with New England Sports Network.

Headlined “Case closed: Red Sox fans not obligated to pay for Jared Remy’s defense,” the writer argued that NESN had a public-relations problem on its hands following a Globe investigation into Jerry Remy’s son Jared, accused of murdering his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel. The writer also found it ironic that NESN would remove Jenny Dell from Red Sox coverage because of her relationship with third baseman Will Middlebrooks while Jerry Remy stays in the broadcast booth.

And, oh yes, there was this: the writer was anonymous, identified only as the Obnoxious Boston Fan.

I’d never seen an anonymous blog on Boston.com before. And though I agreed with some of the sentiments he expressed in his post about Remy, it struck me as journalistically and ethically inappropriate for the Globe to be giving a platform to any anonymous writers — let alone one who was casting aspersions on others.

In response to my inquiry, David Skok, the digital adviser to Globe editor Brian McGrory, told me by email that Mr. OBF will henceforth be writing under his name. Skok said:

We are in the midst of reviewing all of the content being posted on Boston.com and BostonGlobe.com as we continue to move forward with the relaunch and the separation of the two properties.

During this review process, we discovered that one of our community voice bloggers was posting anonymously on the site. We don’t believe that this adequately meets our journalistic principles and practices for all of our Boston Globe Media Partners properties. As a result, the blogger known as the, ‘Obnoxious Boston Sports Fan’ will be identifying himself in all future posts.

We are also excited to announce that we are bringing several of our best ‘community voices’ on as freelance writers who will go through the standard copy editing process required for all of our freelancers. We believe that these voices are valued contributors to Boston.com and we look forward to giving their work the exposure and amplification that it deserves.

As a result of these changes, we have notified all of our contributors that the community voices program will be ending at the end of the month. We want to thank all of our bloggers for their contributions through the years and we hope that they will continue to be a part of our digital community.

And yes, according to Skok, Mr. OBF made the cut.

Here, by the way, is Boston.com’s Community Voices page. Other than Mr. OBF, Skok did not say who will be staying and who will be leaving.

On Twitter earlier today, Mr. OBF claimed he has won “multiple APSE awards” (and perhaps he has) as well as “a staff Pulitzer.” I have asked Mr. OBF for a response to the news that he will now have to identify himself, and I’ll post it if I hear from him. Regardless, it sounds like we’ll know who he is soon enough.

Update: And here is Mr. OBF’s response (drum roll, please): “Looking forward to it.”

Update II: Originally I wrote that Skok had told me Mr. OBF’s anonymous status had simply fallen through the cracks. I’ve removed it because it was my characterization of what he said, and it seems too close to a direct quote.

Update III: In case you’re clicking to this post directly, I want to let you know about this.

Conflicts of interest and the new media moguls

5790408612_8952178d3f_mWashington Post executive editor Martin Baron has rejected a demand by a group of left-leaning activists that the Post more fully disclose Amazon.com’s business dealings with the CIA.

Nearly 33,000 people have signed an online petition put together by RootsAction, headed by longtime media critic Norman Solomon, to call attention to Amazon’s $600 million contract to provide cloud services to the CIA. The Post’s owner is Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon. Here is the text of the petition:

A basic principle of journalism is to acknowledge when the owner of a media outlet has a major financial relationship with the subject of coverage. We strongly urge the Washington Post to be fully candid with its readers about the fact that the newspaper’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, is the founder and CEO of Amazon which recently landed a $600 million contract with the CIA. The Washington Post’s coverage of the CIA should include full disclosure that the sole owner of the Post is also the main owner of Amazon — and Amazon is now gaining huge profits directly from the CIA.

Baron, in his response, argues that the Post “has among the strictest ethics policies in the field of journalism, and we vigorously enforce it. We have routinely disclosed corporate conflicts when they were directly relevant to our coverage. We reported on Amazon’s pursuit of CIA contracts in our coverage of plans by Jeff Bezos to purchase The Washington Post.” Baron goes on to point out that the Post has been a leader in reporting on the National Security Agency and on the CIA’s involvement in the Colombian government’s fight against an insurgency, writing:

You can be sure neither the NSA nor the CIA has been pleased with publication of their secrets.

Neither Amazon nor Jeff Bezos was involved, nor ever will be involved, in our coverage of the intelligence community.

(Note: I first learned about the petition from Greg Mitchell’s blog, Pressing Issues.)

The exchange between RootsAction and Baron highlights the conflicts of interest that can arise when wealthy individuals such as Bezos buy in to the newspaper business. It’s a situation that affects The Boston Globe as well, as its editors juggle the lower-stakes conflict between John Henry’s ownership of the Globe and his majority interest in the Red Sox.

Baron himself is not unfamiliar with the Red Sox conflict, as the New York Times Co., from whom Henry bought the Globe, owned a minority stake in the team and in New England Sports Network, which carries Red Sox games, during most of Baron’s years as Globe editor.

The way the Globe handled it during those years was just about right: don’t disclose in sports stories, but disclose whenever the paper covers the Red Sox as a business. Current Globe editor Brian McGrory has insisted that Henry will not interfere. Henry, in a speech before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce last week, said he would not breech the wall of separation between the Globe’s news operations and its business interests.

Of course, it’s not as though the era in which news organizations were typically owned by publicly traded corporations was free of such conflicts. (The Times Co., after all, is a publicly traded corporation, though the Sulzberger family calls the shots.) Media critic Danny Schechter noted in his book “Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception” that MSNBC — then in its pre-liberal phase — was a cheerleader for the war in Iraq even as its then-corporate parent, General Electric Co., was a leading military contractor.

But the rise of a new breed of media moguls such as Bezos, Henry and Aaron Kushner of the Orange County Register, who buy their way into the news business with their own personal wealth, seems likely to bring the issue of conflicts to the fore. The same is true of a media entrepreneur of a different sort — eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, who is launching an online venture called First Look Media with (among others) the journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras.

It is the very fact that these individuals have been successful that makes them such intriguing players in the quest to reinvent the news business. But disclosure and non-interference need to be at the forefront of their ethical codes.

Kerry Healey will not pre-empt the Red Sox

The city’s daily papers strain for significance in reporting on the debut of two shows on NESN, home of the Red Sox and the Bruins. The programs are “Shining City,” to be hosted by former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey, and “After the Game,” co-produced by Linda Pizzuti Henry.

First up is Jessica Heslam of the Boston Herald, who reported on the new programs (sub. req.) on Aug. 13. Although Heslam’s account of Healey’s innovation-and-technology show and Henry’s sports-celebrity program was pretty straightforward, she also wrote:

“Shining City” rolls out as NESN, the flagship station for the Boston Red Sox, beefs up its lifestyle programming. The network has lost 36 percent of its viewers from last year as the injury-plagued Sox struggled this season.

Today the Globe’s Johnny Diaz goes one better than Heslam by not simply laying out the fact that Red Sox ratings are slipping, but also tying it all together with a neat bow. He writes:

The shows, called “After The Game” and “Shining City,” are an attempt by the station to reach new viewers who aren’t necessarily sports fans but who may watch entertainment and science-related shows, as the network’s bread-and-butter programming — baseball games — is declining.

I believe this is called the “if-then fallacy.”

Here is the fundamental problem: It’s not as though Healey and Henry are going to pre-empt Red Sox games, or even the pre-game and post-game shows. Healey’s program will cablecast on Fridays at 4:30 p.m., followed by something called “Pocket Money” at 5 and then “After the Game” at 5:30. There will be plenty of repetitions during the week as well, but NESN will continue to offer a one-hour pre-game show, and Tom Caron will keep right on yelling at you as soon as the game is over.

It’s not that Red Sox ratings aren’t down. They are. But that is irrelevant to the debut of two new programs in time slots that don’t crowd any Sox-related programming. The Sox are still one of the biggest televisions draws in New England, as Diaz himself notes: “Five Red Sox games last week ranked among the top 10 most-watched shows in Boston.”

So why try to tie the new shows to declining baseball ratings? Because the urge to come up with an interesting story line — a narrative — is irresistible. Even when there is none.