When ESPN went through its most recent round of layoffs, coupled with some high-profile departures and new hires, it seemed to send the message that the company’s priorities were skewing towards entertainment and away from journalism.
ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro would like to assuage you of those concerns.
“Quality journalism has never been more of a priority at ESPN,” Pitaro said last week at the IMG Summit, via The Athletic. “I really do believe we’re the place of record. When something happens in the sports industry, people look to ESPN. We have to get it right, we can’t get it wrong. We like to be first but don’t need to be first. We have to get it right. We do research on our brand regularly. Our brand has never been healthier, especially with younger people.
“The most important trait we look for is trust. … We have to be there, we have to be present, and we have to have the facts. Enterprise journalism, investigative reporting, incredibly important to us. We have a fantastic team out there that’s breaking news. There’s always been a question how important it is to ESPN, especially with its league relationships, and as rights fees get more expensive, is it sustainable to be breaking news that is sometimes not flattering to partners? It’s a huge part of our DNA, investigative reporting. We are not going to be pulling back there at all.”
ESPN still has a talented roster of reporters and insiders, some of whom, like Adam Schefter, and Adrian Wojnarowski, can create a news cycle all by themselves. But it’s also a year in that saw the company say goodbye to many of its longtime media staff while also investing heavily in Pat McAfee and other debate show talent, sending a signal, fairly or unfairly, that their focus lies elsewhere.
Of course, both things can be true. ESPN can want to try to entertain and inform at the same time. But in an era where some of their talents can leave for not just Fox Sports but also The Athletic or other news-focused outlets, it does seem relevant to remind the world that journalism was always at the heart of what the Worldwide Leader started as, and is still expected to provide.