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

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?”

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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)

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