When Chris Forsberg awakes nervously in the middle of the night, it isn’t because of a nightmare, or because his baby is crying, or because of a strange noise.

It’s because he’s gone more than an a few hours without a blog post.

“I wake up and I kind of have the shakes,” he jokes, “I haven’t blogged in an hour, I haven’t blogged in two hours.”

The ESPNBoston.com Celtics reporter’s half-anxiety is the kind of badge of honor commonly found adorning young journalists these days. Reporters like Forsberg, out there in the brave new media world, shaping the much-ballyhooed future of journalism, are expected to be in more places and produce more content than their traditional journalistic forefathers.

And he’s plenty comfortable with that. Whether it’s Twitter, or live chats, or even just good old fashioned blogging, Forsberg knows the only way to succeed in today’s media environment is to become immersed in any of the different platforms an audience may gather around.

“I don’t envision a scenario where you don’t wear multiple hats nowadays,” he says. “We’re all just doing everything. I guess the key is to embrace it all. You may not know what’s next but when it does come, be ready to adapt and use it.”

It’s the only way to stay competitive. For ESPN Boston, Forsberg tweets constantly, conducts live Celtics chats, blogs regularly, and, when the job finally gives him a moment to pause and take a breath, take an amateur photo or two to bolster his Twitter feed with 1,771 followers.


Chris Forsberg's Twitter account

Especially in a sports-crazed market like Boston, it’s the kind of lengths any reporter has to go to in order to stay relevant. Between the old guards like the Boston Herald and Forsberg’s former employer the Boston Globe, television stations like NESN, radio stations like WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub, and websites like ESPN Boston and Barstool Sports, there is perhaps no more media-saturated market in the country.

Forsberg came to ESPN Boston from the Globe about a year ago, where he had been serving as an online high school sports editor of sorts after moving up the ranks from when he held a part-time position while studying at Northeastern, posting video, managing blogs, and generally just acting as an internet jack-of-all-trades.

It was something that came to him from the start, said his former boss, Globe high school sports editor Bob Holmes.

“He was very good at utilizing all the tools that existed at the time,” he says. “I always said I loved having him cover things because even if he was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean he would find a way to send his stories in. I think he was the first of the college kids that had the simple attachment of the cell phone connection to the laptop when most of us didn’t know what wireless was.”

Forsberg embodies the modern journalist, plugged in and attuned to whatever new technological advancement will garner an audience next.

He represents where journalism is headed, utilizing social media, like Twitter, and the available technology to become more deeply involved with readers, and viewers, than the media has ever been able to in the past.

“It goes back to having an audience and being able to connect with people in a way that’s more than just writing a story,” he says. “You write a story, you put it out there, and you never really know if people are reading it or not. But with chat and blogging and social media you really get the feel. You see the same names coming back at you, you start seeing the same people in the chat rooms, hitting you up on Twitter, so you know there’s an audience there. I think that’s the biggest thing, having a connection with your reader that you might not have had before.”

The challenges for the old guard of journalism are the same as ever – attracting an audience. It’s just that now, journalists have to master many different forms of communication beyond writing to do that.

Thanks to the internet, the audiences are larger than ever, and the old media types like Holmes realize that to tap into it, they have to roll with the punches of change.

“They’re fond of saying now that more people are reading the Boston Globe now than at any time in the history of the place,” he says. “What they mean is, even though circulation is going down, the blogging, the boston.com, people are reading us there, it’s just in a different format. I think one of the ways you [adapt] is to surround yourself with smart people, usually younger people, who are used to technology and comfortable using it.”

In a way, it’s not journalism that’s changing any, it’s merely the way people find and respond to journalism. People like Forsberg, and his replacement at boston.com, Zuri Berry, will be the ones that politely nudge old journalism toward the new, the bold, the different.

And, in the opinions of young guys like Forsberg and Berry, the old guard isn’t doing all that bad a job of moving forward.

“I think we’re really fortunate at the Globe because I think a lot of guys do get it, and they get the message and they want to help and they want to do what’s necessary in order for us to do well,” says Berry. “That means they’ll get in front of the camera, they’ll blog, they’ll tweet. All these things that were foreign to them one, two years ago. I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

For Forsberg, continuing in that direction is the only option possible in order to stay in this business, and he welcomes the challenge. He knows that the industry is through the looking glass, and he likes the idea of being on the cutting edge of what journalism is now, and what it’s becoming.

“Being a reporter 20 years ago was probably a little bit easier than being a reporter now. From a sports aspect we joke al lthe time that before you rode on the team plane, you were kind of buddy buddy with the team and you had to write your story by the end of the day and make sure it was in by 1 o’clock, but that was really about it,” he said. “There are reporters out there that don’t want to do the social media thing and I think they’re almost silly. It just can’t be ignored anymore.”

Dan Gregory

April 14, 2010

Dan Gregory from our own Northeastern School of Technological Entrepreneurship stopped by to talk with us a little bit and share some ideas with us on how journalism can, and is, being integrated into the world of technological entrepreneurship.

This is an idea that has interested me a little bit, though admittedly only a little bit, because it strikes me as something that I could potentially see myself trying if a more conventional route doesn’t work out right away. The idea of starting your own news website, or blog, and expanding it and running with it.

There’s even a website I’ve taken note of recently that I think does a good job of what an aspiring sports journalist could go out and do on his own – San Fran Preps.

It’s a nice little website, with pretty solid coverage, and if you know how tight-knit the community of native San Franciscans (among which I do not count, boring suburban me) is and how school pride relates to their sense of identity, you know there’s definitely a market for this sort of stuff out there.

I’ve often considered the idea of starting something of my own along those lines in my home community – Solano County – because I think there could be a market for it in the small towns that make up Solano, which extends closer to Sacramento, and has more of those small-towny types of places, than, say, Alameda County (Oakland) or Santa Clara County (San Jose) which tend to be dominated by a real major city. If covering high school sports in Massachusetts has taught me anything, it’s that small-towny type places care way, way more about high school sports than other kinds of communities (there are no shortage of tiny towns around Boston, I assure you).

So yeah, it was interesting to see Gregory promote the idea of entrepreneurial journalism, which really only exists online, because it’s something I’ve given thought to before and it’s something I could see myself maybe giving a go at if I find myself sitting around, jobless, with nothing else to do. And people have done it before, all across the country. Especially with high school sports, where access is generally not difficult to obtain (and usually welcomed, even), and where competition for coverage, especially in suburban areas, is not great.

On the other hand, I could see myself totally screwing up my own enterprise, so I’ll stick to leaving it as an idea of last resort for now.


April 12, 2010

Today we’re in class discussing the appropriateness – or lack thereof – of comment boards on major news sites. Most news sites allow anonymous commenting, and if anyone has ever looked at an anonymous comment board, they have more or less found themselves looking right into the depths of hell. Hence, the dilemma.

This post by Howard Owens, on the appropriately named howardowens.com, outlines his argument for the real-names-commenting-system he employs on his own site. He argues that since journalism has always prided itself on transparency (which you may or may not credit it with actually espousing in practice – beside the point, we’re in the lovely land of theory here), what with the aversion to anonymous sources, the disallowing of anonymous letters-to-the-editor, the very nature of a byline itself, journalism should have no place enabling anonymous vitriol and bile to flood its hard-bought bandwidth.

And I think he’s absolutely correct. Regardless of what anonymous commenting might in theory encourage, we have seen it produce only its worst in practice. Consistently. Everywhere. And so Owens adopts a real-name policy, whereby he gives it his best effort to ensure that all commenters are doing so under what is, in fact, their real names. As he basically puts it, it is a basic journalistic tenet that “readers have a right to know who is saying what.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean it can be enforced 100%. Maybe someday, but right now a best-effort is about as good as we’re going to get. And I think that’s good enough for now. Per Howard:

I make no promise that every person who comments on The Batavian is using a real name, but I do promise a best effort to enforce that policy and that people who violate the policy will be banned. That’s the best I can do and for the most part, and our users seemed satisfied with this “best effort” approach.

Can major news organizations, already under the duress of tight budgets and disappearing profits, afford to devote resources to putting in this kind of effort? I don’t know for sure. My gut says it’s impractical to think so. I wish they could, however. Or get rid of comments entirely.

I think someday we’ll see a system where everyone is expected to put their real name out there on the internet, and we’ll have the software to enforce it, and I think that will be a glorious day. We’ll get to look back on the early days of the internet and the wild-wild-west nature of commenting and laugh a little, at all those petulant minds out there that once could hind behind a keyboard, a name like “RealAmerican1776,” and spout off whatever hateful opinion they had brewing amidst their blissfully ignorant existence.


April 12, 2010

Last week we were paid a visit by Mike LaBonte from the website NewsTrust. The site functions as a gathering place for reviewers of journalism to, in theory, weed out the good journalism from the bad, a “wisdom of the masses” kind of rating system. I reviewed three stories concerning Mitt Romney’s stance on health care reform, weather the economy is turning around, and the scandal concerning Father Marcial Maciel with the Catholic Church.

I’ve had a hard time deciding whether I really like the feel of the website or not. On one hand, I quite like the idea behind the website, and I think it provides a pretty thorough way to review a piece of journalism.

On the other hand,one of the problems I come upon with NewsTrust is that I don’t know how it guards against the confirmation-bias you get with people looking to news sources that will simply confirm what they believe for them. If a left-leaning person comes upon a left-leaning story, I don’t see why they aren’t likely to give it a higher rating, and vice-versa with right-leaning people.

Another problem I feel with the site is that, in a way, it feels wonky. Geared to news junkies and people in the business. There’s a gatekeeper mentality to NewsTrust, and if there’s one thing the exodus of news consumers to the web and television has taught us it’s that people do not want a gatekeeper anymore. With NewsTrust, I don’t feel like I’m getting a true collection of opinion from the masses, I feel more like I’m getting the opinion of a collection of concerned individuals who have taken 10-20 minutes of their time to read a story and really consider things like its fairness and quality. In one sense, that’s a positive. In another, it feels a lot like the old way of doing things. In that sense, it’s almost too involved.

I guess it leads me to wonder what NewsTrust wants to be. A true collection of a mass of opinions on a given piece of journalism, or a gathering of what essentially amounts to secondary editors. I don’t think as  currently constructed it appeals to the common folks. I think if it were to do that it’d need to be pared down. But I also understand that keeping it the way it is now will, in all likelihood, deliver much higher quality reviews and much more thoughtful opinions. Because, let’s be honest, as comment boards have shown us, the general masses can be a bit rough around the edges at times.

I think it’s a worthy endeavor. I’m just not sure I can pinpoint where I think it’s headed, or to what purpose it is truly serving.


April 6, 2010

Fivethirtyeight.com is a political number-crunching sort of website ran by former Baseball Prospectus contributor and stat maven Nate Silver.

Silver first gained my attention through Prospectus, an annual publication that essentially analyzes most relevant players in organized baseball, along with collecting together a bunch of different essays that concern developments in the world of baseball statistical analysis.

He also developed PECOTA, a remarkably solid projection system for baseball players that is among the most accurate anywhere. This, I assure you, is relevant, because it’s essentially what fivethirtyeight is all about.

Silver gained national notoriety when he began his projections for the 20008 presidential election, counting as one of the few prominent voices out there claiming Obama had a chance to beat Hillary Clinton and win the entire thing. He did this, you might now assume, largely through the same kinds of mathematical projections he was using to tell fantasy baseball players he should draft, only this time drawing on political polls and historical voting trends instead of batting averages and minor league histories.

That Wall Street Journal article, written during the Democratic primary, explained the site’s appeal:

The site’s appeal, in this numbers-intensive election year, is its marriage of numerical analysis and spiffy charting, attaching an aura of certainty and order to what has been a chaotic Democratic primary.

Fivethirtyeight is an interesting website to follow because it can bring together a convergence of news and politics junkies hungry for any scraps of information and casual political observers who want a place that presents things rather simply and straightforwardly.

I like it in particular because I only like to wade out into those deep, murky waters of politics. I think Silver’s work at the website, with an emphasis on raw numbers and a sort of dispassionate approach, is appealing to me, because I don’t feel like I’m being spun anything. I’m given data, Silver’s interpretation of data, and then I’m left on my own to decide what it really means. If you’re just into politics/news a little bit, fiverthirtyeight is as good a place as any to visit and make sense of all the endless information out there.

And it doesn’t apply to elections. Silver combines jobs data, economic reports, developments in other countries, and countless other forms of data to ultimately make sense of the news for you, with facts and data that back it up, as opposed to the typical media bloviating, which is one aspect of the website I especially appreciate.

In this new media world, Silver has drawn a large audience because he gets it. He gets that people want more than mere opinion a lot of the time, even if the ratings for Fox News and MSNBC would suggest otherwise.  He gets there’s a market for simple, data-based reasoning. Fivethirtyeight is on Twitter, it’s a blog that’s updated regularly, and it brings in an audience that puts together one of the more thoughtful and engaging comment boards around.

Above all, he keeps it simple. I think a lot of time new media websites want to be everything, where fivethirtyeight succeeds because it is specifically meaningful and digestable concerning one thing.