Following the upcoming next round of layoffs, ESPN appears set to make a rare move, bringing all of its editorial talent together for an in-person meeting. Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch reports that this meeting will take place at ESPN’s Bristol headquarters in early December, and will cover the company’s changing social media policy, its approach to covering political and social issues, its current priorities and more (note 1):
ESPN management is requiring all of its editorial talent, from people who appear on-air to those who write for the company’s many outlets, to attend a two-hour presentation at the company’s Bristol headquarters on Dec. 13.
The topics at the presentation will include the company’s current priorities, the recent changes to the social media policy, how political and social issues should be handled by editorial staffers and upcoming initiatives. Clearly, the timing is intentional with layoffs coming to ESPN this week as well as an endless cycle of negative news. The company told staffers that all employees are required to attend the presentation in-person (not an insignificant expense given ESPN has people based all over the country) and if talent cannot attend the meeting due to a work conflict, they must work with their supervisor to confirm the legitimacy of the excuse. Said one ESPN staffer: “I imagine it will be like Dorothy walking outside after the twister to see what’s still standing.”
In some ways, flying people in from everywhere for an in-person meeting doesn’t seem like great optics for ESPN in the wake of yet another round of cost-cutting. But it should be noted that while the costs here are significant, they’re not on the order of magnitude of the cuts ESPN is making, which are projected to save the company $80 million.
The more interesting element of this may be the importance placed on getting everyone in one room to hear this message, and that suggests that ESPN may plan to enforce its new social media policy much more heavily than it did the old one. In particular, it seems like the material in that new policy prohibiting political and social takes of any sort from hard-news writers, reporters, producers and editors and telling other talent to get political or social takes approved by management may come up:
Writers, reporters, producers and editors directly involved in “hard” news reporting, investigative or enterprise assignments and related coverage should refrain in any public-facing forum from taking positions on political or social issues, candidates or office holders.
…The presentation should be thoughtful and respectful. We should offer balance or recognize opposing views, as warranted. We should avoid personal attacks and inflammatory rhetoric. Communication with producers and editors must take place prior to commentary on any political or social issues to manage volume and ensure a fair and effective presentation.
This policy has already proven controversial, and Awful Announcing has learned that many inside ESPN are chafing at those above restrictions in particular. It also doesn’t appear to have been completely followed at this point; anyone who follows ESPN personalities on Twitter has seen evidence of “positions on political or social issues” from those involved in hard news reporting, and of “commentary on political or social issues” that doesn’t seem likely to have been previously approved by management. So far, we haven’t seen any discipline for violations of the new policy become public, but this meeting directly addressing it may serve as notice to everyone that the company intends to try and enforce it in a way they didn’t with the old policy.
Beyond that, it’s certainly interesting to see ESPN pull everyone still left on the editorial side in for a meeting, and to do so so soon after the layoffs. The comment the staffer gave to Deitsch of “Dorothy walking outside after the twister to see what’s still standing” seems appropriate; it’s going to be quite the unusual environment with so many people laid off right before this. And it will be worth keeping an eye on any reports of how this goes, and what’s said about ESPN’s current priorities and upcoming initiatives. ESPN’s clearly making a big deal of this meeting, and it will be worth seeing what comes from that.