Once upon a time, two daily newspapers battled in Boston. The big one had more money and staff and circulation. But the smaller one had moxie, dammit, and its reporters hustled their way to scoop after scoop. Meanwhile, their rivals at the bigger paper sat lazily at their computers, writing under-reported odes to Big Government.
HIS BACK PAGES: Herald publisher Pat Purcell could tackle the Globe with a beefed-up Sports section.
That, at least, is the tale that Boston Herald partisans tell about the tabloid’s ongoing competition with the Boston Globe. (This narrative even had a starring role in a recent column by Washington Post media writer Howie Kurtz.) But it doesn’t jibe with reality. Consider, for example, recent press coverage of dubious deeds by Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi. When, this past week, a “Herald review” (hyped on the front page!) cited cases in which House legislation had benefited personal friends of DiMasi, every example the paper mentioned had already been reported — by the Globe.
The problem is simple: because the Herald has a bare-bones news staff — and because the Globe’s reporters are far better than Herald loyalists tend to admit — the Herald’s victories (e.g., State House reporter Casey Ross revealing that Democratic representative Charles Murphy cast seven votes from the Virgin Islands), are destined to be the exception, not the rule.
But on one key battleground — the sports pages — the playing field is nearly level. The Globe currently has 20 sportswriters, a number that includes columnists and reporters. The Herald has 14, proof that sports coverage is already seen as key to the paper’s survival. (By way of contrast, Ross is the Herald’s only full-time State House reporter. The Globe has three.)
What’s more, the Globe Sports section, like the rest of the paper, is currently seeing an exodus of talent. Columnist Jackie MacMullan and NBA writer Peter May both applied for and received the paper’s latest buyout offer. Reid Laymance, the Globe’s second-ranking sports editor, is leaving for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. And Gordon Edes, the paper’s lead Red Sox reporter, is reportedly poised to jump to Yahoo! Sports. (Both Joe Sullivan, the Globe’s sports editor, and Edes himself declined comment on the Edes-to-Yahoo! rumors for this story.)
The good news, for the Globe, is that Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessy remain as marquee columnists. Even so — and even with a pool of young talent that includes football writers Mike Reiss and Christopher Gasper and recent hire Marc Spears, who’ll cover the NBA when May departs — the paper is still hemorrhaging must-read bylines.
And the Herald? Back in 2005, the tabloid’s Sports section was hit by an especially nasty round of cutbacks: seven of 20 sportswriters left, including Patriots writer Kevin Mannix and columnists Michael Gee (a Phoenix alum) and George Kimball. Since then, however, the section has maintained its staffing equilibrium and kept its roster of big names intact. It’s also made two noteworthy hires, snagging John Tomase from the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune in 2005 to cover the Patriots, and adding Red Sox reporter Rob Bradford, another Eagle-Tribune alum, this past year.
Bradford’s work is widely praised by Sox die-hards. And though Tomase has plenty of critics, he’s done some important work. Patriots loyalists were especially incensed by his report, just before this year’s Super Bowl, that an unnamed Patriots employee had illegally videotaped the St. Louis Rams prior to Super Bowl XXXVI. But with former Patriots employee Matt Walsh scheduled to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell later this month about illegal videotaping, Tomase’s story looks groundbreaking. In addition, Tomase covered Randy Moss’s first season in New England at least as well as anybody else in the local press.
In short, sports coverage is one area where the Herald has a legitimate chance to compete with the Globe, day in and day out — particularly after the latest round of Globe departures.
“Overall,” says Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media Watch, a Web site devoted (as its name suggests) to local sports coverage, “the Globe might still have the stronger sports section. But not by much.”
Strangely, neither Sullivan, the Globe’s sports editor, nor Hank Hryniewicz, his Herald counterpart, are willing to admit that anything significant has changed. “The competition is always there with the Herald,” says Sullivan. “I don’t see it as being any different because we’ve lost some valuable people. . . . We have fewer people, and that’s going to affect the section, there’s no denying that. But what we continue to do, we’ll do very well.”
Hryniewicz, meanwhile, offers this trash-talking variation on the nothing’s-changed theme: “I still think we’ll kick their butts. Quite honestly, the guys working in this department relish the battle that goes on daily against the Globe. They live for it; that’s their fuel. . . . Honest to God, if someone laid the Globe staff on one side of the table and the Herald staff on the other, and said, ‘Who are you picking?’, I’d pick the Herald staff.”