ESPN's Ombudsman Talks Journalistic Standards And Practices For The Network

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Le Anne Schreiber has once again pulled the curtain back on the most powerful Sports network in the World, and as she addresses perceived biases across the board at ESPN (including BCS rights and Chris Spielman's Michigan comments), she also hints at a committee being formed to write a book of standards for the "Leader's" personalities. It seems like a simple idea in theory, but after speaking with Bill Simmons on the matter, it might not be so easy to get put into action....

When I told Simmons about the guidebook in progress, he said, "You mean they are planning on cracking down?"

When I suggested he think of it as clarifying rather than cracking down, he said, "So I'm writing a column and I have to consult the rule book."

I reversed field and asked him what he found most troublesome about writing for ESPN.com.

"When you are supposed to push the envelope," Simmons said, "but you are afraid of the repercussions of every decision, I think it affects you. I don't really blame the editors, because those guys aren't really sure where the lines are anymore, so they're going to take stuff out that is anywhere close to the line. But if you're going to take something out, the reason can't be 'We'd rather be safe than sorry.' You have to put some thought into it and say, 'If this stays in, what are the potential repercussions?'"

What if guidelines meant editors didn't have to resort to the better-safe-than-sorry stance, because they knew and could articulate where the lines were, and didn't have to wait to see how PR would draw the lines after some genuine or manufactured public outcry?

"If these guidelines could help me do my job, great," Simmons said.
It still amazes me that a company as large and as prominent as ESPN, doesn't have standards in place, but I think it's more the penalties that people question. When you suspend a Jemele Hill for a Hitler comment, and then don't do the same for Lou Holtz, you come off as a tad hypocritical. And when you fire someone like Harold Reynolds (allegedly based on heresay), and then stories of multiple transgressions from various employees are leaked onto the Internet.....you almost solidify the hypocrisy.

I personally could care less what Chris Spielman says when he's not on ESPN's airwaves, or in print. But if you let things like that go when they happen, there's almost no way that someone might not bring that bias back to the network. Again, you don't have to start disliking a team you played for, or grew up liking, but catering to them on-air is just taking it too far.

I have a feeling that ESPN will be taking a closer look at itself in the new year, but changing a culture can be a huge undertaking. With all of the new league, and championship, acquisitions....I just don't think there will be enough time to hammer something out. Good luck though.

ESPN can define boundaries and keep its edge, too (ESPN Ombudsman)

11 Comments:

I'll believe when I see it, ombudswoman.

GMoney said...
Dec 16, 2008, 1:32:00 PM  

AA...In my opinion this is a big waste of time. The reporters SHOULD know how to do their job...these standards are taught to them in college. If they cannot follow the basic tenants of journalism, they should be let go.

In terms of the analysts, its simple..at a game act as if you have no stake in the game. Elsewhere, share your opinions in anyway you see fit.

Done.

Anonymous said...
Dec 16, 2008, 2:56:00 PM  

Cancel E:60 or "ESPN Circle J" as it's properly known.

Bigface said...
Dec 16, 2008, 3:39:00 PM  

In my opinion, the difference between the Hitler comments is Lou Holtz said it on live TV, whereas Jemele Hill wrote it where it could have been edited out at any time before publication.

I'm not defending Lou Holtz, by the way.

Anonymous said...
Dec 16, 2008, 4:41:00 PM  

Get off the Holtz thing AA. The situations were totally different. Holtz called Hitler a great leader (by the fucking way, he was, you don't get an entire country to follow you by being meek and timid) and Hill compared Boston fans to Nazis. One is a fact about a horrible person, the other is an insult that likens a good bit of your readership to the most evil group of the 20th century.

I thought you were better than this, AA.

Anonymous said...
Dec 16, 2008, 7:28:00 PM  

I agree with Anon @ 7:28. I don't disagree with you often, AA, but I do disagree with you here. I am a history major and I feel this needs to be cleaned up to an even greater extent than what Anon did.

I hate saying things I have to preface for the obvious reasons but alas I've been holding this in ever since the Holtz controversy occured and it does need to be prefaced. I do NOT condone what Hitler did. He was a mass murderer and was directly responsible for the deaths of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust and was in part indirectly responsible for the deaths of over 60 million people in World War II. That being said, it is an undisputable historical fact that Adolf Hitler is a great leader.

After World War I, Germany had been slammed with reparations. They were blamed for the entire war in the Treaty of Versailles and were forced to pay millions of dollars. Not only that, but they had lost a lot of land in that treaty and they were only permitted an army of 100,000 men. For the first time ever, a democratic government, the Weimar Republic was set up. And they failed. Miserably. If you think the Great Depression hit the U.S. hard, then let me tell you what, the U.S. during the Great Depression was paradise compared to life in Germany post-WWI. Millions of Germans were without work. Adolf Hitler would eventually overthrow the Weimar Republic and he brought Germany back. Hitler created jobs in tank factories. He gained back some of the land Germany had lost in the Treaty of Versailles. He expanded the army beyond the 100,000 person mark stated in the Treaty of Versailles. Britain and France did not care because they had problems of their own and were not worried about Germany. Adolf Hitler instilled a sense of unity among (Aryan) Germans and he brought them back from being in the gutter of all gutters to a military superpower. What he did once Germany became a superpower, is absolutely inexcusable, there's no doubt about it, but the fact that Hitler was a great leader in that he made Germany relevent again in the world is true. Lou Holtz is right. Adolf Hitler, was in fact, a great leader. He was a horrible person, yes, but he knew how to lead, he instilled confidence in the citizens of Germany who had no confidence at the time, and got them to believe in him and what his goals were (regardless of how sinister they were). What Hitler did and caused, does not change or interfere with the fact that he was a great leader.

JFein said...
Dec 16, 2008, 8:28:00 PM  

Hitler was such a great man, I'm gonna buy a cake from ShopRite in his honor.
Wait. What? Damn!

Dec 16, 2008, 9:13:00 PM  

@ RJBO: That's one of the most sick and twisted things I've ever read. Poor kid. He's gonna be tortured and picked on by bullies all through his life. And wait? JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell? Aryan Nation? Yeah, this is perfectly sane father who has no problems with African Americans and minorities.....

JFein said...
Dec 16, 2008, 9:43:00 PM  

I just hope AA read Schreiber's last ombudsman column when he named "Hitler was a great leader too" his PWC quote of the year.

I doubt anyone who watched Fox's BCS selection show would think ESPN will censor its commentators from pushing for a playoff now that it has the BCS contract. The announcers there were suggesting a playoff might be a good thing; if it's okay with Fox why wouldn't it be okay with ESPN? Not to mention plenty of ESPN personalities railed for a playoff when ABC had the BCS rights last...

Morgan Wick said...
Dec 17, 2008, 1:34:00 AM  

A playoff will come because fans like me who are pissed off at the BCS aren't watching anymore, save it be for the I-AA and Division II playoffs. I've got NFL Network, NBA TV and tons of other cool networks, why should I watch worthless bowl games. The bowl games can remain but a playoff system will be implemented. Screw you Jim Delaney when we get a playoff I'll grind you under my heel you pice of trash.

Brad James said...
Dec 17, 2008, 1:58:00 PM  

Anon @7:28 is absolutely right about the Hitler thing. AA is completely off-base for again bringing up the two Hitler references and saying that both Hill and Holtz should be punished the same. That is such a close-minded view and it is insulting to think that the readers of AA are dumb enough to agree with that. What Hill said was absolutely vile, hateful, and offensive. What Holtz said was not offensive and it should not have even warranted an apology. I would think AA would be smart enough to realize this.

Anonymous said...
Dec 18, 2008, 2:14:00 AM  

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