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WILL MCDONOUGH | 1935-2003

Journalistic giant didn't just write the stories - he wrote the book

Few people knew (because he wanted it that way) that Will McDonough, who lived to find out things and pass along the information, was a ranking editor in The Boston Globe hierarchy before he retired for good in 2001. He was an associate editor, a title he wore like a hair shirt but one that, ironically, allowed the newspaper's management to make full use of his renowned reporting skills.

While he was expected to continue to report and write, as an associate editor he took on the added role of counselor-at-large in the sports department. From the office, from the road, and from home, he was always ready with advice, usually wrapped in certainty, when the sports editors were looking for guidance on a given story's credibility and its importance in the lineup of the next day's sports report.

And he didn't limit himself to the sports department. Editors and managing editors learned that Will McDonough took his consigliere role seriously. If he had a tip, or if he thought the editors had blown, or were blowing, a big story, he would visit them in person. On tips, he always came with a roster full of names to call, background information, and perspective that usually was punctuated by "yada, yada, yada," and a number where he could be reached. On a story he thought the editors were missing the boat on, his chiding had an abiding protocol: He always got right to the point. "First of all, here's where you went off-track," he would begin. Advice for re-setting the train upright then followed, along with a touch of encouragement ("You know how to do the rest").

So how did Will McDonough use his four decades as a sports reporter and columnist for the Globe to build up a credibility that brooks few, if any, comparisons, in the newspaper's - and the city's - journalistic history?

He did it by skeptical reporting, not by musing. Which means going to where the story was, then calling around afterward to make sure no scrap of information, vital or not at the time, was left unrecorded. He learned early on that a reporter can never gather too much information when it is available to be had because a reporter deals in facts, not the future, and today's non-vital information often becomes tomorrow's big deal. He did it by being on the job - in person or on the phone, listening and talking and asking - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on vacation and off. This indefatigable pursuer of facts rarely got enough to satisfy himself fully. He fully appreciated the notion that tomorrow is another day, and that his story would still be in play the next day, subject to further checks and calls.

Credibility is a two-sided venture for reporters. On one hand, they need sources whom they can trust to give factual information for their stories; on the other, they need to show their sources that they are reliable in getting that factual information into their stories. This is the contract that ties reporter and source to published stories. It cannot be a fragile accord, subject to the events of any given days; it must be tightly wound if it is to have validity.

For Will McDonough, there never was any gap between the expectations of trusted sources and the actuality of his published stories. Time and time again, on stories huge and small, he used his hard-won credibility with his readers and his sources to show that good, basic reporting works for everyone. Inattention to detail erodes the trust implicit in the contract newspapers have with their readers, and Will McDonough was never inattentive when it came to matters of fact.

He was a learner; sport by sport, story by story, day by day. Boston Bruins president Harry Sinden, a longtime friend, and not-infrequent source, captured the McDonough style neatly in his comments late last week: "Hockey was a sport he didn't play as a youngster so he didn't have the knowledge of this game perhaps like he did with other sports. But he would call me and ask me about the whys - why do players do this and why do they do that, why does your team do something this way while that team does it that way? He was very inquisitive to find out so he would have the knowledge of the game. We went from him calling and asking me, 'What's wrong with your team?' to him calling and telling me, 'This is what's wrong with your team.' And he was often right."

Harry Sinden spoke for countless others in so illustrating this legendary reporter's manner. Will McDonough lived by his credo - Facts First - and in so doing left behind a script for the ages.


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