Jul 10 2008
By David Scott
Boston Sports Media Watch
In an unprecedented move for the Boston market, Boston Herald Red Sox reporter Rob Bradford is leaving the paper and will head up the burgeoning dot-com staff at the soon-to-be re-launched and re-focused WEEI.com, several sources have confirmed to Scott’s Shots.
WEEI.com’s Vice President/General Manager Tim Murphy would only say to Shots that “WEEI.com is ramping up and building a website reflective of, and an extension to, the radio platform,” already in place at sports talk leader WEEI 850 AM. Murphy said an announcement was “imminent” regarding initial hire(s), but job postings for several WEEI.com positions have already been widely circulating.
When contacted by Shots, Bradford deferred comment to Murphy (who, for the record, reports to Entercom’s Julie Kahn). However, two separate Herald employees confirmed that Bradford will finish out the month at the paper and then begin at WEEI.com in early August.
Bradford has been one of the region’s biggest beneficiaries of main stream media’s acceptance of blogging. In moving from the Lowell Sun to the Lawrence Eagle Tribune to the Herald, Bradford, a 1992 Springfield College graduate, stayed true to his out-of-the-box heritage and the result has been a four tool star (print/blog/radio/TV) who is now ready to take on the considerable challenge of extending and enhancing the established and strong WEEI brand with editorial content.
The move is important on several levels and Shots has already been told to expect more dominoes to fall in the market as Murphy and WEEI.com snag other local talents from established media organizations to join the dot-com line-up. The result, Murphy hopes, will be a combination of straight news delivery blended with opinion (blogs) and other, logical extensions of ‘EEI’s terrestrial audio content (and personalities).
“The idea is to distribute our audio content more aggressively,” said Murphy, 38, who joined WEEI.com in late Spring, jumping ship from the Boston Globe’s digital division. “I learned a lot in (six-plus years) at the Globe about how a traditional media organization can leverage (digital assets). WEEI.com can do a better job in optimizing our already outstanding audio content for the web.”
The re-launch doesn’t have a firm date yet, but changes will become more and more apparent in the coming weeks and months, according to Murphy, a native of Canton who went to Hamilton College in up-state New York. Murphy discussed a re-design of the site and also the use of regular contributions from “reputable talent,” as well as video content and written word as features of the improved WEEI.com portal.
Murphy said he foresees the site evolving into a hybrid of ESPN.com and “The Daily Show,” but also praised the efforts of both Deadspin.com and, interestingly, NPR.com’s use of its audio content on the web. All are worthy models to borrow from in an effort to make a distinct and different destination for local sports consumers and it’s the very kind of talk that makes the WEEI.com earnest entrance into the web wars so very compelling.
• First and foremost, Bradford’s leap marks the first time a full-time Boston writer has jumped from print to local web – and Bradford’s going to a radio station, no less. The move is eye-opening, as well as quite telling. Five years ago and certainly 10, the Herald-to-’EEI switch would have been considered ludicrous. Now, it’s probably Bradford’s best career (and lifestyle ) option and one that many of his peers would relish. (Bradford is a husband and father of three young children.)
The fact is, there’s more stability with Entercom’s digital future than there is with the current state of the combined operations of the Herald’s digital and print units. Shots has been told that ‘EEI is well-funded by Entercom for this serious foray into the web and if it fails, it won’t be for a lack of commitment by the Entercommie Emperors and their deep, gelded cofers.
[It's unclear what Bradford's specific role will be with the website, but as the site's first hire, it's logical to assume he will do a fair share of content management and editing, in addition to his own blogging, on-air radio spots and other web duties. To some extent, Bradford will be given a just-shaken and cleared Etch-a-Sketch to create his own job picture and role. It's something Bradford is comfortable doing after "hybridding" a role for himself at the Herald. His "Bradford Files" blog will likely carry with him and baseball will surely remain a focus, but Bradford will also be able to spread his wings a bit into other arenas in the area.]
Here are some other ramifications within the market and beyond that are signified by a real commitment to the Web by THE engine that drives sports discussion in this city, WEEI, and its expansive network of affiliates:
• There’s no questioning the notion that WEEI.com has been a sleeping giant simply because of the reach and power of Entercom’s Sports Leader throughout New England. Constant reminders to visit a newly-focused WEEI.com during all hours of radio programming will have the ability to generate thousands and thousands of site visits daily. Not to mention the likelihood that advertisers want multi-platform opportunities. Murphy’s bility to package highly-rated radio programming with original content (and existing archives) will be very attractive to a stable-ful of loyal ad-buyers.
“WEEI already has a point of view and a voice that is informed and irreverent,” Murphy said. “That voice can be captured in many ways on-line and then it can be consumed on different platforms (through the website) as we mirror what is done on-air.”
• With the Herald facing pending layoffs, it’s uncertain whether the Harry Houdini of sports editors, (fellow double-Her) Hank Hryniewicz, might actually get to make a hire to fill a the sports desk’s lost body – an opportunity he’s not always afforded on the belt-tightening Wingo Way.
Should any further Herald poaching occur, Hank Herald will be forced to delve even deeper into his bag of tricks. Anyone for the Track Gals on the Bruins beat???
• With both the Sox and the Celtics as deep-under-the-covers Entercom partners, we’re guessing there will also be a basketball hire in the offing for WEEI.com. It will also be imperative to have a Patriots person, but the site will clearly have plenty of audio options from WEEI’s myriad Pats’ player pop-ins. There will need to be several technical positions filled and we’d expect a large pool of freeelancers to contribute various content to the site. The “talent” positions are going to require multi-tool guys who are comfortable with new(er) technologies and able to podcast, videocast and, yes, wordcast.
• The Julie Donaldson story has been handled with remarkable class, restraint and propriety and we can’t help but think that part of the reason is because it was the Boston Globe (and Mark Shanahan) that was ahead of the story. In a week that saw the Herald’s Track Gals snag a big one with A-Rod’s Boston bimbo, it was Shanahan who first brought to light the horrific details of Donaldson’s alleged issues with Ivan Lattimore. The Herald played catch-up and did so quietly with a non-hyped Jessica Heslam-at-the-court-room piece for Thursday’s paper.
We did notice that the downplayed videotaping of sex by the couple revelation presented an interesting challenge for the reporters as Shanahan wove it into his Day Two story. Heslam steered clear of the tape, which would likely be part of any trial that may result from this week’s revealing hearings. The Track Gals picked up the ball for Friday’s Track and got into the effect all of this could have for Donaldson and Goldklank-scarred WHDH-TV.
. . . Shots did attempt to get some comment on the status of Ivan Lattimore from whatever is left of SlamBall but IMG representatives did not respond to email requests through contact email addresses. It does seem a bit irresponsible of everyone to just assume that Lattimore is still with SlamBall – or even that SlamBall still exists.
• ESPN’s PR peeps went to great lengths this week to say that everything was quite normal with The Former Boston Sports Guy Bill Simmons taking a two-and-a-half month respite. “It’s pretty standard for us to work with our writers and personalities and give them time to work on books they are writing,” said a spokesman for the dot-com. “This has been planned for a long time and is nothing out of the ordinary. This was a planned break so he can finish his second book for ESPN Books. In the mean time, he’ll continue with the B.S. Report podcast but will not file his normal columns for ESPN.com or ESPN the Magazine. If something warrants it, he may write one-offs during that time, but he is not scheduled to write while he works on finishing the book.”
The irony of all ironies is that Simmons is now writing less for his employer than Rick Reilly, who he had mock-mocked to Dennis & Callahan in early June.
• Very nice of the Guvnah to stop by Hull for a sunset chat on Thursday. Our guy, the talk-radio legend, Robert Hedlund, was also under the Bernie King Pavilion, which afforded us the chance to wish the good Senator a happy birthday. You do the same if you see him, ya hear?
David Scott writes from a seaside shanty on the shores of Hull, Mass. and can be reached at shotsATbostonsportsmediaDOTcom.
Scott’s first book, with Memphis Coach John Calipari, is scheduled for release in the Fall of 2009.