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Sources say sports reporting needs to raise its game

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While we don’t usually have a sports page here at the Download, the ongoing drama that is the Boston Red Sox points to a troubling trend in journalism: What, exactly, constitutes reliable sourcing in reporting sports news and how much responsibility does a media outlet have in following up on either their story or someone else’s?

It all started within days after the Sox epic collapse last month with everyone trying to figure out what went wrong with the Greatest Team Ever. The Herald was the first to report that Red Sox starting pitchers, on the days they weren’t starting, were channeling their inner-Bill Weld by quaffing a few glasses of amber-colored beverages in the clubhouse while their teammates were trying to win games and make the playoffs.

Some other reports soon emerged about sniping by different players about now-departed manager Terry Francona, ownership, the schedule, and each other. Then, last week, the earthquake hit: The Globe’s Bob Hohler reported that the team’s top three starters – Josh Becket, Jon Lester and John Lackey regularly drank beer and ordered fried chicken and sat around the clubhouse playing video games rather than sitting in the dugout to support their teammates. The story also included a devastating account of Francona popping painkillers while living in a hotel because of the breakup of his 30-year marriage.

Then the tsunami went national and viral. WHDH-TV (Channel 7) reported Tuesday that team employees said the pitchers not only drank beer in the clubhouse, they would bring cups of beer into the dugout and drink during the game. The Sox story is overshadowing the World Series.

But one of the problems is nearly all of the accusations are ased on anonymous sources with very little detail of how connected they are or how close to the situation they are. Hohler is a former reporter in the Globe’s Washington bureau so it’s safe to think he understands the use of sources in reporting. Channel 7 sports reporter Joe Amorosino, who had the dugout story, did a follow up from his two sources to confirm they “know what they saw.” And the Globe’s Peter Abraham tweeted a simple line that he was able to confirm the WHDH report but offered no more than that one line both on Twitter and in a story about the Sox vehemently denying the report.

“Feel free to take it up with my editors,” Abraham tweeted to one follower who questioned his terse reporting on Amorosino’s piece. “I've told you all I can. Hope you understand.”

Some question the Globe’s reporting because the paper’s owner, The New York Times, has a stake in the team. Some wonder what the motives of those leaking the information are. But the stories are not only doing damage to the team’s brand (and threatening its consecutive sell-out streak) but tossing mud on a number of people, including Francona, who admitted to Hohler he had marital problems and was taking painkillers prescribed by his doctor to relieve discomfort from more than 20 knee operations over the years.

But the trend in the sports section of the paper, which clearly does not report life-changing issues, is leaning on nameless quotes to buffer stories, and it’s not just the Globe.

Check out any number of Sunday notes columns these days and you can read quotes and observations from “one team’s general manager,” “a scout,” or “an executive who did not want to be named.” It’s in football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. ESPN this morning has five stories on its home page with the headlines starting with the words “Source” or “Sources.”

What, exactly, are the “sources” worried about and could those stories have been reported without sources? And, if not, did they have to be reported? And the elephant in the room question: Should reporters in non-news sections of the media be held to the same standards? That’s a question that newsrooms will be grappling with going forward.

                                                                                                                                                       --JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

Accidental Governor’s Councilor Oliver Cipollini says he cannot vote for Land Court judge nominee Robert Foster because Foster once clerked 20 years ago at the Trilateral Commission, which groups such as the John Birch Society and 9/11 conspiracy theorists say is bent on world domination.

Probation Commissioner Ron Corbett has informed more than a dozen employees that they will be facing unpaid suspensions as part of the continuing shake-out from the department’s patronage scandal. The Globe reports that the move comes “amid rising speculation that federal indictments are coming soon” in the case.  

State Treasurer Steve Grossman has asked the state inspector general to investigate the operation of the Lottery’s Cash WinFall game, which was being gamed by betting groups that, the Globe says, included one that was essentially able to “hijack” a multi-million jackpot last year.

It is 18 months for jail for Joe Lally, the crooked software salesman who flipped and testified against Sal DiMasi in the ex-speaker’s corruption trial. Quoth wry-witted US District Court Judge Mark Wolf: “I don’t believe your cooperation was the result of some epiphany that caused your character to suddenly change.” But, he added, “I also want to send a message that such cooperation should be rewarded; I hope it gets the public to conclude the system worked.’’ Peter Gelzinis calls Lally’s cooperation with the government the best bet the self-described high roller ever made.

Baby (boomer) on board: State Rep. Sarah Peake, a Provincetown Democrat, has filed a bill to create a special Baby Boomer Generation license plate with the proceeds going to fund local councils on aging.

The state Supreme Judicial Court seeks applicants for its new administrator’s job. The pay is $140,358, CommonWealth reports.

The Cape Cod Times wants to see clarification of the laws regarding public access to police disciplinary actions.

Only 34 people showed up at a recent public information meeting on redistricting in Boston; and that was the biggest crowd to date.

Western Mass gets to keep all four of its state reps, but The Berkshire Eagle notes that the changes mean more people will be vying for the attention of the few lawmakers that the region has.

OCCUPY

Michael Kazin, a Georgetown University professor who knows from left-wing activism, ponders the potential of the Occupy movement.

Thefts of laptops, phones, and coats are on the rise at Dewey Square.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Voting rights activists worry that turnout will be low in Boston for Nov. 8 election which only features City Council races.

The New Bedford City Council is planning to meet tonight with two casino developers to discuss their interest in siting a casino in the Whaling City.

A Boston Foundation report advocates a new approach to collective bargaining between teachers and municipalities, while a Lowell Sun editorial says all public-sector bargaining should be conducted in public.

The Danvers School Committee votes 3-2 to give the superintendent a 3.4 percent pay raise, bringing her salary to $150,000, the Salem News reports.

Longtime Whitman Selectman Margaret “Peg” McGillivray, a fixture in town politics and community events, died suddenly yesterday morning.

A Quincy cop who was once disciplined for ticketing neighbors because of their dogs’ actions is in trouble once again for confiscating traffic cones from a neighbor she said were given to her but he says were stolen.

A story that is always a nice break from the murder and mayhem of the news: the firehouse reunion meeting of young child with firefighter who saved his life.

North Attleboro’s Town Meeting nixes additional school spending -- by one vote.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The nation’s teen birthrate fell 8 percent between 2007 and 2009, reaching its lowest point (39.1 births per 1,000 teens) in 70 years. The rate in Massachusetts fell significantly, while West Virginia was the only state that saw an increase.

ELECTION 2012

Barbara Anderson, writing in the Salem News, explains why she’s voting for Mitt Romney, and disputes what she calls the myths about him. The Wall Street Journal editorial page isn’t so charitable; the editors launch the latest in a string of attacks on Romney, the crux of which is, Massachusetts health care reform is a government takeover in disguise, and Romney should apologize for it. And some Americans may be having a change of heart.

Rick Perry reinvents himself as a flat-taxer, because, at this point, why not?

Ron Paul leads libertarians into the desert. In Nevada.

Are we seeing the rise, fall, and rise of Newt Gingrich?

Elizabeth Warren is raking in the out-of-state dough.

The Globe asks whether its candidates’ harsh rhetoric on immigration will hurt the Republican Party with Hispanic voters?

Newton Mayor Setti Warren ends up with $136,000 in debt after his unsuccessful campaign for US Senate.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Chase Corp. announced it will close its 60-year-old Randolph plant, eliminating 40 jobs, and move the manufacturing operations to its Oxford plant and some down to Pennsylvania.

The Eagle-Tribune, in an editorial, throws its support behind noncompete clauses. For a full examination of the issue, check out CommonWealth’s 2009 report on the issue.

HEALTH CARE

The Springfield Republican argues that Massachusetts needs to get out in front of health care costs, in part so it can show the way for the rest of the country again...despite what Mitt Romney says.

Four US senators want players to refrain from using chewing tobacco during the World Series.

Nursing home managers in MetroWest tell federal officials that skyrocketing costs could mean fewer facilities for elders in the future.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Cranberry growers are expecting a record crop this year.

A Bourne wind project runs into opposition from the Cape Cod Commission.

American solar panel manufacturers file a broad trade complaint against their Chinese competitors, alleging improper government subsidies and market dumping.

Citigroup will pay a $285 million fine for betting against its own customers.

When it comes to fixing the housing market, Alan Blinder says, “We can do better than Social Darwinism.”

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

New Bedford narcotics detectives are targeting city bars they believe allow drug dealers to set up shop inside.

MEDIA

Boston.com uses The Pulse  to analyze sports fan moods and track trends in the Twitter-sphere, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports.

Bostonist, a local news blog, goes on hiatus. Andrew Phelps, for the Nieman Journalism Lab, writes that Boston is woefully underserved by local news blogs.

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