You may remember ESPN's Chris Broussard having a rough night of reporting near the beginning of NBA Free Agency. Not only did Broussard "report" Deron Williams staying with the Nets well after Williams himself had said so on his own Twitter account, but he also forwarded an "exclusive" quote from Eric Gordon that was also already in the public domain. Broussard was taken to the cleaners and his bad night was held up as another example of ESPN's less-than-stellar journalistic reputation.
Lo and behold Broussard has given his side of the events to that night and the Poynter Institute has written a relevant ombudsman piece all in one stroke. Yes, instead of nebulous inside baseball columns or ignoring promised stories that will actually have an impact (ahem James, Craig), the institute has delivered a relatively timley piece regarding significant questions of ESPN's practices.
The entire Poynter article is worth taking a look because it not only addresses Broussard and his sources, but also the accusations against ESPN's practice of swiping stories by using their network of "sources." Poynter even includes the Josh Elliott BWB4 quote forwarded by our Andrew Bucholtz about ESPN stealing scoops and takes it straight up the ladder to
League Of Shadows ESPN Director of News Vince Doria. With that said, here's five thoughts on what we learned from Broussard and Doria speaking with Poynter…
1) Yes, Broussard knew what Williams tweeted
"Broussard told The Poynter Review Project that he was busy with TV and radio on the evening of July 3 and was alerted to Williams’ tweet by the ESPN news desk. He said he saw the tweet but couldn’t access the Lockerz image. So he texted a couple of sources, who told him Williams was staying with the Nets, and got confirmation of that in a text exchange with Williams himself."
This is the portion that doesn't make sense in Broussard's story. He saw Williams' tweet, but instead of merely logging onto Twitter via the web instead of his app… or finding a way to open the photo… or taking 10 seconds to search what Williams tweeted (it was obvious as everyone even remotely interested in the NBA had something to say about Williams tweeting a Nets logo), Broussard instead contacted his own sources. If he couldn't access the image, why not just RT Williams' tweet where he said he "made a very tough decision today." Furthermore, Broussard then went on with his own report completely knowledgable of Williams' tweet. This confirms Broussard tweeted his report knowing full well Williams had already declared his decision publicly, and yet he still made no mention of it. Had Broussard simply noted he saw Williams' earlier tweet but couldn't access the pic or wanted confirmation, the issues would have been avoided.
2) Broussard's tinkering with the facts cost him
As far as the Eric Gordon situation, Broussard should take less blame here, but there was one element that ended up backfiring. Instead of pointing to Gordon's agent as releasing the statement received by Broussard and The Arizona Republic, Broussard passed the report off as Gordon speaking directly to him. He made a point to say "Gordon told me" twice. That simply wasn't' true. Alhough Broussard wanted to protect Gordon's agent as a source, it happened to work against him. Had Broussard merely tweeted "Gordon said" or "in a statement from Gordon" then there wouldn't be nearly as big of a problem. Poynter did a good job pointing this out by saying "a small falsehood is still a falsehood."
3) ESPN's reporting policies are out of date in a social media age
Here's the hidden element in Poynter's story – the timeline surrounding the Gordon news.
Shortly after 10:00 PM – Broussard gets Gordon's quote through the player's agent and learns of his commitment to Phoenix
10:20 PM – Arizona Republic publishes Gordon's quote, the same one given to Broussard
10:27 PM – Broussard publishes the statement from the agent as Gordon speaking directly to him
10:33 PM – Broussard sends a second tweet in the same manner
From Poynter: "Broussard told us he filed stories to the news desk before tweeting, saying that was ESPN policy. But as we discussed in a post earlier this month (which was published after these events occurred), that doesn’t seem to be the case: Once a piece of news is vetted, it begins rolling out to various ESPN platforms and can be tweeted in advance of an actual, fully written story. If Broussard had proceeded in that fashion, his tweets would have been more timely. Broussard is far from the only reporter uncertain about this point; his experience is yet more proof that ESPN needs to dispel the confusion here."
Because of ESPN's hazy policy of reporting news on Twitter, Broussard was caught out and appeared late with his quote from Gordon's agent. How ESPN and ESPN employees still don't know what breaking news they can or can't tweet and when is mind-boggling. ESPN desperately needs a streamlined policy in terms of breaking news on Twitter, because that's where news is broken in the sports world of 2012. If reporters like Chris Broussard, Adam Schefter, and others are paid to break stories for ESPN, they need to be given the freedom to do what ESPN is paying them to do.
4) We still don't know the full story with ESPN's "sources"
Poynter found Broussard's version of events "plausible." That's hardly a ringing endorsement, but sometimes you have to take a man for his word. Broussard's evening just sounds like a horrible recipe of bad timing, bad luck, and a couple bad choices that combined to create an epic disaster. However, it would be nice to see Poynter provide a bit more challenging pushback. With regard to Vince Doria's dismissal of Josh Elliott and the accusation of stealing reports, there wasn't any resistance at all, just downplaying the importance of scoops as "increasingly meaningless" and saying "accusations of scoop stealing are a part of beat writing." It was too reminiscent of the post-Free Bruce column that mainly pushed blame onto Feldman and Sports by Brooks and serve as a mouthpiece for ESPN executives.
The accusations of stealing scoops is the most pointed criticism of ESPN's journalistic integrity. Here more questions need to be asked. Why does ESPN need to confirm a story reported elsewhere? Does ESPN use "confirmed" language for some reports and not for others that have already been reported elsewhere? Broussard knew full well Williams' tweet was published, yet he still reported via sources. Why? What distinguishes when ESPN does or doesn't give credit to an outside entity? What do others at ESPN say about the reputation the company has for stealing scoops? These are crucial, crucial questions that remain unanswered.
5) Reporters are more in the spotlight than ever
In this age of social media, minutes and seconds count in breaking stories. But Poynter makes a salient point in saying correctness and depth of reporting will always be more important than speed. While being the first to break news is still significant, it's being ethical and correct with that reporting that is more important than ever because so much more of reporting is in the open. It's not a great sin to be seven minutes behind a competitor with a report, but reporters need to be aware of the environment that surrounds the news they have as Poynter concludes:
"But, after filing, reporters do need to be cognizant of what was said, as well as when and how it was said. And they have to be quicker than ever in knocking down misconceptions and owning up to mistakes. Broussard acknowledged this in our conversation, saying that “I need to start following Twitter more closely so I know as best I can what other writers and players are putting out.”
Look at CBS Sports in the wake of the fake Paterno death report. It wasn't so much they reported the news as the way in which they took a report without accreditation when they thought it was true and passed blame only when it was false. It was that clearly unethical behavior that looked as bad in retrospect than the errant report.
Now, even a seemingly minor twisting of a report can come back to haunt someone. Chris Broussard found that out with his "exclusive" that kinda was from Eric Gordon but really wasn't. Also, Broussard could have very well answered critics or cleared up misconceptions on his own, but instead chose to tweet this:
For all the haters, I was off yesterday too. Any work done was bonus. We get days off just like u. I got a life beyond the NBA.
— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 5, 2012
The way news is broken and consumed is changing. Rapidly. And reporters and networks need to catch up, or risk being swept away in the tide.