logoWe all know by now that times are tough in the newspaper business, but I was still surprised and disappointed to learn recently that staff cutbacks by GateHouse Media, the Fairport, NY-based owner of several Massachusetts dailies, had stilled the keys of one of the best Pats beat writers and columnists there is.

Douglas Flynn, who had covered both the Bruins and Pats since his arrival at the MetroWest Daily News in 2000, learned in October that his position would be among those cut.

Since its inception, the Sunday Links has often taken issue with certain coverage of the Patriots, but never with Flynn’s. Along with being a deft, thoughtful writer, Flynn was clearly a football fan at his core, and his appreciation for and curiosity about the game produced the kind of work that is too often in short supply in an increasingly sensationalistic media environment.

As a news consumer, I look at it like this – treat me with a little respect, and tell me something I don’t know. Nasty screeds about alleged sycophantic fat guys in Bruschi replicas illuminate nothing and contribute nothing. They’re craven attention-grabs designed purely to manipulate and infuriate, and promote an undeserving writer who thought so little of his audience that he would insult them for his own personal gain.

It was in those times that I most appreciated honest, sincere reporters like Doug Flynn, whose respect for his readers was a given. His clever piece on special teams gunners from early August is a great example; by peeling back the detail on an element of the game that we often overlook, he told me something I didn’t know.

His reporting often did. I had a chance to chat with Doug recently about his separation from the Pats beat, his take on today’s media, and his future plans.

Did GateHouse’s cuts at MWDN come as any surprise to you?

Cuts in the newspaper business have become so widespread, it’s hard to be surprised by any of them anymore. Still, I had no idea that I was about to be laid off. I had actually spent the day in Foxboro working on stories for the upcoming weekend and wasn’t informed of my layoff until my arrival in the office that night, so I was taken completely by surprise by the news. I was informed that the decision had nothing to do with the quality of my work and that it was due only to financial conditions. Obviously, it was a disappointing end to my tenure with the paper, but I am proud of the work I did there and I am appreciative of the opportunities I did have while writing for the MWDN.

MWDN has always had superlative Pats coverage, by people like Mike Reiss, Albert Breer, and you. How will the paper cover the Patriots now?

First, thank you for the kind words and for putting my in that company, particularly with Mike Reiss, who I have worked with, consider to be the best on the beat in this market and am proud to call a friend. I would also be remiss to not point out the work of Tom Curran, who is now one of the top national football writers for NBC.com but cut his teeth with the MetroWest and really was the first to bring the paper’s coverage of the Patriots to prominence. He is also someone I feel fortunate to have worked with and call a friend. As to the future, I obviously have no say in how the paper will continue its coverage of the Pats. I was told when they let me go that they would be focusing their resources on local sports, a strategy that many mid-sized papers have adopted, and that they would rely primarily on AP and the other Gatehouse papers (the Brockton Enterprise and Patriot Ledger) for copy on the Patriots and other Boston pro teams. Glen Farley of the Enterprise and Eric McHugh of the Ledger, who had the only Pats stories on the MWDN web wite I could find when I checked this week after receiving your email, are both solid beat guys who provide quality coverage and I would also assume that MetroWest columnist Lenny Megliola will continue to write about the Pats on occasion.

It seems to me that the end effect of all this will be fewer choices for fans seeking team coverage, which is kind of ironic considering a glut of choices -like those on the Internet, but on TV and radio too – is one of the things hastening this ‘redefinition’ of traditional media. Removing your professional hat for a moment – as someone who is at heart a passionate football fan, how do you view these developments?

I think even without the loss of many writers from the mid-sized papers due to economic conditions, there was already a lack of different voices in the market. Despite the addition of so many new outlets on the web and shows devoted to sports on TV and radio, too often it’s the same people expressing the same views or reporting the same news on all the various platforms. It would be nice to see more opportunities for some new voices and opinions, but that is harder now with fewer and fewer mid-sized papers covering the team on a regular basis.

If you could be Media Czar for a day, what things would you change about the profession?

It would take a lot more than a day to make any meaningful change, but if you could make it a full-time gig I’d be glad to take the job since I could use the work about now. On a more serious note, having returned to the perspective of a fan rather than a part of the media, my top wish would be to see more time devoted to actually talking about sports and the games themselves, rather than the soap-opera subplots and attempts to generate controversy that too often dominate the coverage in the papers and discussion on the airwaves.

If you had been able to finish the 2008 season with the Patriots, what kind of story do you think you would have written?

The only regret I have about leaving the MetroWest Daily News is that I had to do it in the middle of the season and couldn’t see the campaign to its conclusion. While last year was an amazing thing to witness and record with the club’s quest for perfection, I think this year’s storylines are even more compelling in many ways. Watching the maturation of Matt Cassel, seeing the defense trying to overcome the loss of leaders like Rodney Harrison and Adalius Thomas, gauging whether the club can return to its underdog roots and make it back to the Bowl, those were ongoing themes I would have enjoyed continuing to chronicle. There were also many individual stories I had planned to pursue. In fact, on my final day in Foxboro I sat down with Lonie Paxton for a one-on-one interview and spoke with Chris Hanson and a number of other special teamers for a Patriots Beat I had planned to write about the role of the long snapper, similar to a story I wrote earlier in the season on gunners.

In your career, you’ve covered football and hockey, and done some radio and TV. Yet you’re a Brown grad with degrees in History and Afro-American Studies. What’s next for Douglas Flynn?

That’s something I’m still working on. While I’d love to continue covering pro sports, with the current state of the newspaper industry I don’t really foresee staying in the business. As much as I enjoy writing and loved the time I spent covering the Patriots and Bruins, it was probably time for me to move on anyway and look into alternatives that allow for a better standard of living than a career in the newspaper world. I’m currently exploring some opportunities in public relations and also considering going into teaching, which was my original plan when I was at Brown before I got sidetracked into journalism after a brief stint in grad school on a fellowship for a doctoral program in military history at Ohio State. I probably won’t ever completely abandon writing though. I am currently discussing a book project on the Bruins’ tradition of tough guys and the bond between the enforcers and Boston’s fans (tentatively titled “Big, Bad and Beloved”) with several potential publishers and will always be looking for an outlet for my creative side, so hopefully you haven’t read the last thing from me yet.

I hope that’s true. As fans, we need more writers like Douglas Flynn, not fewer.

Scott Benson is the Editor and Co-Founder of Patriots Daily. He can be reached at scott@patriotsdaily.com.