In an effort to create more editorial leadership for SB Nation’s vast array of team blogs covering pro and college sports, its flagship site covering sports as a whole, in addition to several other sites following sports such as MMA, auto racing, and golf, the Vox Media vertical named Elena Bergeron editor-in-chief on Friday.
Bergeron was previously SB Nation’s executive editor, which raises the question of whether or not this is essentially just a change in job titles. She has also been a staff writer at ESPN The Magazine and the editor of TriangleOffense.com, a well-regarded basketball blog. According to Poynter, her responsibility will be the editorial side of SB Nation’s operation. Kevin Lockland, who had been the vice president of editorial for the company, will transition to overseeing the business side of the company, focusing on partnerships with companies like Facebook and other social media outlets, especially in regards to distributing more of the site’s video content.
The changes were made with an eye on expanding the company, notably with its newsroom operation and adding to its full-time staff of 80 employees. Emphasizing that SB Nation still considers itself “the voice of the fan,” Bergeron explained SB Nation’s objectives to Poynter’s Benjamin Mullin.
“What we aim to do is keep growing,” Bergeron said. “I think that as we talk about where we reach sports fans and where our voice grows and develops, it’s really important for us that we reach them where they are and where they naturally consume and talk about sports.”
Unfortunately, the Poynter article doesn’t explain why some of these changes may have been deemed necessary to begin with. Most recently, a writer for the site’s Denver Broncos blog plagiarized an article and was subsequently fired. That incident called into question whether there are simply too many sites to be adequately monitored and edited. Is proper oversight possible with such a wide variety of sites to keep track of on a daily basis?
Earlier in the year, another SB Nation writer and social media editor was fired for posting several accusatory and provocative tweets about his ex-girlfriend. Subsequently, the ex-girlfriend made several charges about the writer’s behavior. SB Nation insisted, however, that he was fired for his social media behavior, not any accusations directed toward him.
Bergeron herself played a part in arguably the worst debacle SB Nation experienced during the past year. A controversial longform article about former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw and his numerous sexual assaults was widely viewed as attempting to portray him sympathetically. Eventually, the uproar over the article and the judgment of longform editor Glenn Stout was heavily criticized and scrutinized, resulting in Stout’s dismissal and the shuttering of SB Nation’s longform program.
During an internal investigation of the article and the company’s editorial process, Bergeron was highlighted as the editor raising objections to the Holtzclaw piece, its flaws and tone-deafness, yet was ignored as the article was readied for publication. “I couldn’t believe what I was reading,” she told Deadspin’s Greg Howard and wanted to delve into its many issues editorially, so everyone could understand why the article was offensive and hadn’t been examined thoroughly enough.
Being seemingly the lone voice in the room willing to express concerns about a prominent piece set to publish on the site, rather than kowtow to Stout, singled out Bergeron as a strong editorial presence, one that needed to be listened to more seriously. That would seemingly make her ideal to oversee SB Nation’s editorial operations and provide guidelines for how thoroughly the site needs to vet its content.
Yet the question still remains: Can an operation like SB Nation adequately provide that oversight for its hundreds of sites, while also trying to maintain its standing as a non-traditional media outlet catering more toward fans?
(Editor’s Note: The author of this article formerly worked for SB Nation as an editor for its Detroit Tigers blog.)