Sean Payton agreed to a new contract with the New Orleans Saints Friday, ensuring the suspended coach would return to the Saints sidelines for the foreseeable future and hopefully placing the bounty scandal well and truly behind us all.  In the wake of the news, another controversy developed regarding ESPN's well-documented sourcing issues.  An ESPN news editor engaged in a Twitter back and forth with Jay Glazer after the Fox reporter once again criticized ESPN for their use of sources.  In the process, the curtain was pulled back on ESPN's use of the dreaded "s" word.

At just past 6 PM ET Friday night, the Sean Payton report dropped.  Jay Glazer did indeed "have it first on Twitter" but ESPN's Adam Schefter and CBS's Jason La Canfora were right behind him.  In fact, there was only 3 minutes separating the 3 tweets.  Glazer at 6:02 PM, Schefter and La Canfora at 6:05 PM.

Unsurprisingly, ESPN cited "sources" reporting the Payton news on television and Glazer took notice of the lack of credit as he retweeted this message on his Twitter page and thanked respected NFL reporters like Peter King and Albert Breer for crediting his initial tweet.

At this point in the story, Glazer's public outcry is just another in a long line of ESPN sourcing controversies in the past year.  In fact, it's not even the first time Glazer himself has felt wronged by Bristol.

However, here's where our most recent tale about ESPN's mythical sources takes an intriguing and revolutionary turn.  Paul Pabst tweeted this picture of ESPN's bottom line crediting "sources" for the Sean Payton report.

ESPN news editor and coordinating producer Steve Peresman replied to Pabst's tweet defending ESPN's policy and letting us all in behind the scenes on how ESPN's sources come into being on an occasion like this…

In this instance, I actually side with Peresman and ESPN on the accusation of stealing Glazer's report.  It's clear that Glazer, Schefter, and La Canfora all had the goods and Glazer just happened to beat the others to the punch by a mere 3 minutes.  Surely that is not enough elapsed time to think anyone stole something from another outlet.  

But it's not ESPN stealing scoops that became the story here, it's the revelation from Peresman that ESPN still uses the terminology of "sources" when multiple outlets are reporting a story.  That public admission drew Glazer's ire even further.  Glazer said this in an extended tweet when he learned he may in fact be one of ESPN's sources:

"Sorry Steve that may be the dumbest thing I've heard! You get beat on a story by more than one outlet so ESPN's policy is to decide to make US your sources??? Can't stress enough how wrong this is. I AM NOT your source!"

Peresman responded:

Glazer fired again:

"Steve ur excuse is so farfetched. Regardless I AM NOT UR SOURCE!! Credit where do"

To his credit, Peresman was open about ESPN's sourcing policies and how they came to be in replies to other tweeters.  His timeline answering questions about ESPN's sourcing policy is worth the read.  Most interesting is the fact that ESPN won't name the source for the Saints story until it is officially announced by the team.  Peresman also pointed to ESPN crediting other outlets on their bottom line for other stories.

But a few questions remain.  Why wouldn't ESPN merely credit Adam Schefter by name for the Sean Payton report since he had it in due time?  Why use the ambiguous and mysterious "sources" that apparently lumps in reporters from CBS and Fox in an incredible twist of fate?  

This is a nuanced point, but a significant one.  The issue at hand here is ESPN crediting "sources" instead of "reports."  Had ESPN used "reports" in the Payton case, they could acknowledge the multiple outlets reporting the news with no harm done.  The use of "sources" implies ESPN has proprietary ownership of the story.  Lumping other outlets into ESPN's "sources" is the crux of the larger trust issue that has plagued Bristol in the last year and Jay Glazer has every right to take umbrage with that.  Jay Glazer and Jason La Canfora are not, nor should they ever be, sources for ESPN.

In all honesty, I don't think ESPN means malice in this case, but this exchange reveals the core of their sourcing issues.  ESPN needs to be more transparent and clear in how they report stories moving forward, which is what we've been saying from the outset.  There are too many good reporters at ESPN like Adam Schefter for the entire network to fall under this blanket of mistrust.  If ESPN is indeed including other outlets in their reports, they need to be named as such.  Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk views this practice as purposely misleading by ESPN:

"The most unfortunate aspect of this exchange is that it perpetuates audience confusion regarding the meaning of the terms “source” and “report” when used here or elsewhere. For us, “source” applies when we are reporting something based on a source of our own. We use “report” when some other company is reporting something based on its own sources. For ESPN to use the term “sources” to encompass a melange of their own reporters and other reporters is misleading, factually inaccurate, and hardly inadvertent or accidental."

Only the higher ups at Bristol can answer as to their true intentions in their liberal use of "sources."  From a big picture standpoint, this case shows why the sourcing issues at ESPN and decay of trust is a big story and something Bristol must address.  There should have been no controversy surrounding the Sean Payton breaking news as multiple reporters broke the story at approximately the same time.  However, because ESPN's use of "sources" has been clouded with so much mystery and criticism in the past year, it blew up and became a story.  The problem that has developed for ESPN is that informed viewers and followers now have doubts as to whether or not ESPN's reporting and use of sources is to be trusted.   That's the end result of a year where there have been repeated questioning of ESPN's sources.  That's where ESPN's brand comes under fire.  And it's not just blogs that are questioning ESPN now, it's mainstream reporters and outlets.  Glazer fired yet another shot Saturday afternoon:

"@StevePeresman you, a news coordinator for Espn, really think its ok to credit my work and others as Your "sources" without attribution? No!!!"  

Thanks to this exchange between Glazer, Peresman, and Pabst, we learned plenty about ESPN's use of "sources."  What's your take?  Does ESPN need to be more careful in deliniating between sources and reports?  Is Jay Glazer right to be offended?  Could this public exchange prompt ESPN to be more careful in their reporting moving forward?  Surely ESPN's use of "sources" is gaining enough attention now to take some kind of action.

UPDATE: Monday, ESPN credited Glazer by name for breaking the news of Pat Shurmur's firing in Cleveland.

Comments are closed.