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RICHARD CHACóN | THE OMBUDSMAN

The Globe-Sox connection

I COLLECTED various questions and comments from Globe readers during the summer about the paper's coverage of the Boston Red Sox. I chose to wait until the end of the season to offer what I originally thought would be a look back at how the Globe followed the World Series champions -- as a sports team and as a major local institution.

After several interviews with Globe executives, editors, columnists, and reporters, it became clear that this issue is more complicated and sensitive than a single column could contain, mostly because of the corporate ties that exist between the paper and the team.

This is the first installment of a two-part examination -- starting with a look at the Globe's corporate ties to the Red Sox. The second column will address readers' questions on the newspaper's coverage.

The New York Times Co., which owns the Globe, holds a 17 percent share of New England Sports Ventures, the partnership that owns the Red Sox, Fenway Park, and 80 percent of the New England Sports Network, the cable channel that broadcasts most of the team's games. (The Times Co. also owns the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and a 49 percent share of the Metro newspaper.)

As the top Times Co. official in New England, Globe Publisher Richard Gilman also sits on the NESV partners committee along with another company executive from New York. (Gilman is my boss and receives drafts of my columns, but I am solely responsible for the final version.)

The Globe does not receive any free Red Sox tickets, according to Globe President Richard Daniels. The company's tickets are bought at market price and used for entertaining advertising clients, as rewards for staff or donations to charities.

From a purely business perspective, it's easy to see why the New Yorkers want a piece of Red Sox Nation: The team's value has no doubt risen in recent winning years and Sox management has found ways to increase revenues by adding seats and concessions around the park.

But this investment, now three years old, still irks many newsroom employees, who think it is a conflict of interest for the Globe to have a financial stake in an organization that it's supposed to cover objectively. From a purely journalistic point, they're right.

Such cross-ownership has happened elsewhere: the Chicago-based Tribune Co. owns a newspaper and the Cubs; Rupert Murdoch once owned a Los Angeles TV station and the Dodgers.

The inherent conflicts brought on by the ownership situation can create a perception among readers that the Globe is too close to the Red Sox, so the journalists must work hard to dispel any notion that their stories or photos are driven by the company's stake in the team. It also means the Globe's business-side leaders must be extra careful that their actions protect the paper's credibility.

I have found that the Globe's integrity remains -- for the most part -- well preserved on this matter. But I believe there have been some missteps. I'll present the business-side error here; the news coverage will be reviewed in two weeks.

Earlier this year, eight Times Co. executives -- including Gilman and Daniels -- received World Series rings from the Red Sox. (The other six were from New York.)

Times Co. policy, which applies to all Globe employees, states that business gifts must be ''nominal in value," not exactly how I would describe a diamond-encrusted ring.

Gilman said last week that the ring, which he recently decided to put in a Globe display case rather than keep in his own possession, was not a gift. Daniels declined to comment publicly.

''The expense of the rings was borne by the (NESV) partnership, including, therefore, The New York Times Co., meaning that the rings could hardly be considered gifts," Gilman wrote, adding that the rings should be considered taxable income.

I'm no accountant, and he may be technically right, but accepting the rings was wrong for public perceptions about the newspaper.

The ideal gesture -- and the best example for Globe employees -- would have been for the publisher and president to respectfully decline the jewelry, recognizing the possible harm it could cause to readers' opinions of the Globe.

The next best move would be to give the rings back.

The Globe's parent company has given the newspaper an added burden with its investment in the Red Sox. It now falls on all Globe employees -- on the news and business sides -- to be in agreement on the values and actions required to protect the paper's credibility.

The ombudsman represents the readers. His opinions and conclusions are his own. Phone 617-929-3020 or, to leave a message, 929-3022. Our e-mail address is ombud@globe.com.

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