“This was the last circumstance anyone would want,” [sports columnist Bob] Ryan said Saturday of Henry’s purchase of The Globe and other media properties from The New York Times Company for $70 million. “It’s nothing anyone would wish. It’s scary, to say the least, for all involved.”
While it’s certainly worrisome to have a newspaper and the sports team that it covers share ownership, it’s hardly unprecedented: Not only did the Chicago Tribune own the Cubs for years, but the Times itself owned a share of the Red Sox for years while it owned the Globe. (Former Globe sportswriter Gordon Edes says, “I think this is different. This isn’t the newspaper owning the team. This is the team owning the newspaper.” Which doesn’t really seem all that different to me in terms of conflict of interest, but okay.*) And in any case, it doesn’t take shared ownership for a newspaper publisher throw his weight around on behalf of the local team, as we’ve seen both recently and not so recently.
If nothing else, it’s going to be interesting to see whether every baseball story in the Globe from here on out has to refer to “the Boston Red Sox (owner of this newspaper).” And, of course, whether it’ll still run occasional articles like this.
*UPDATE: Dean Starkman at CJR argues that “sad to say, the conflict of a baseball club owning a newspaper is even more acute than a newspaper owning a ball club. In the latter case, the newspaper was the more valuable asset and its very value at least provided an incentive not to take too many risks with the paper’s reputation. The incentives are reversed when the ball club is many times more valuable than the paper.” Maybe, though the fact that so many sports leagues have tried to turn their websites into semi-independent journalism outlets is at least somewhat heartening — it appears that the fear of independent competition is the main factor keeping owners from turning their papers into total shills for their corporate interests, and there are still some non-Red-Sox owned news outlets in Boston. More every day, in fact!