By Kyle Austin
It’s almost daily on RaceTalk that we have a new update on a newsroom cut or a contract buyout. It’s a sign of the times and a subject that we have to stay on top of as industry consultants. Ben took a look at Newsweek’s shrinking staff. I took a look at how the journalist drama on HBO’s The Wire was being played out at newsrooms across America. George looked at how newspapers still have a chance, without cutting additional staff, if they just stopped wining.
Even our story on Steve Levy’s exit of Newsweek, which we broke first, turned out to be an example of a contract buyout.
In each case we’ve taken in-depth looks and offered analysis of the situation facing the incumbents of media as the digital revolution engulfs them. For the most part it has been easy not to attach sentiment with any of the cuts. Even in cases where we have personal relationships with the journalist (Levy for example), it has been fairly easy to offer analysis without attaching personal emotion.
That changed for me yesterday with the news that Boston CBS affiliate WBZ Channel 4 was offering a buyout to several longtime anchors, including sports anchor and local sports icon Bob Lobel.
Maybe this story should really be about how local broadcast news, akin to newspapers, is dying in the digital revolution. It could be about how today’s sports fan has 24 hour access to in-depth sports analysis (video or text based) and is offered the convenience of viewing on all three screens (television, computer and/or mobile device). It would be about how the news industry has taken on the philosophy of the Florida Marlins and Oakland Athletics; where executives nurture young rising stars and put them out to pasture when they become too expensive – Only if this “one” didn’t feel so personal.
“Lobie,” as those within our Boston sports family know him, was more then just another sports anchor. He was a fixture in the living rooms and kitchens of households across New England over the last three decades.
As Globe columnist Jackie poignantly scribes in her salute to Lobel in today’s paper, “Lobie” was seen as an equal to the Boston sports legends that he interacted with and covered because it was so apparent to viewers that he had personal relationships with all of them:
“At the moment Carlton Fisk got the call informing him he had been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, there was only one other person in his kitchen – Sportscaster Bob Lobel. And that is why you watched him. Lobel didn’t just cover the greatest athletes in Boston, he brought them into your kitchen in such intimate fashion, you felt as though you were part of the story, too.”
Some may argue that Lobel was passed his prime, but I would argue that he wasn’t given a fighters chance as his sports segments were cut down to 2-3 minutes from the 7-9 minutes he used to get in his heyday. How could he compete in the 24 hour sports news cycle?
For me, Lobel will always be the one that looked over the true “Golden Days” of Boston sports. BRWWA (Before Red Sox Won World Series Again) if you will. The 80’s and early 90’s, when the Celtics dynasty came to an end and the Red Sox were still torturing us. Those were the days when true Boston sports fans endured without others hopping on the bandwagon. When the good times were few and far between. When it was bad it was really bad and on the occasion it was good it was really good. During those days Lobel was equal part therapist as he tried to keep the “nation” from going manic.
It was those days that set the scene for the memorable memories that the 21st century has provided and Lobel was essentially one of us as we went along for the ride. Maybe it was his partisan view that made him some likeable. The same view that the “Sports Guy” has coattailed to online celibrity. When the Patriots won their first super bowl in 2002 and the Red Sox reversed the curse in 2004 you wanted embrace Lobel; like you wanted to embrace your grandfather who had suffered through the years.
But alas the era of the local celebrity TV anchor is dead.
Boston media is driven by sports. In fact, it revolves around sports. The only first-rate section left at the Globe is the sports section. We are home to the most popular AM sports radio station in the country in WEEI. If a local sports personality like Lobel can’t survive in Boston, then they won’t be able to survive anywhere. Yes, it’s a sign of the times but I’m sure a lot of “fans” out there today, including my self, share a similar sentiment to Lobel as they prepare to watch him sign off for the last time – from the other side of the camera.
“I can’t look into that camera and say, ‘Hey thanks. I’ve had a great time. I hope you have and I’ll see you later.’ I can’t do that. I’ll probably end up crying,” a saddened Lobel, 64, told the Herald yesterday after the station moved to buy out his contract. “It’s been such a personal relationship.”