SBD/Issue 165/Sports Media

ESPN Ombudsman Praises Mayo, Pans Tejada Investigative Reports

Ombudsman Lauds ESPN's
"OTL" For Mayo Story
In her latest contribution as ESPN Ombudsman, Le Anne Schreiber discussed several recent reports on "Outside The Lines" and "E:60," and writes "OTL" “capped a long streak of excellent centerpiece features ... by devoting its air time to the results of Kelly Naqi’s four-month investigation into allegations of illicit payments” to former USC G and NBA Draft prospect O.J. Mayo. It was a “breakthrough report, impeccably researched, and it is likely to provoke further inquiry into the too-cozy relationship between NCAA basketball programs and the rogue agents chomping to get an early hold on players expected to reap hefty pro contracts.” The report also “helps answer a question that has existed in some minds: Would ESPN’s rights contracts with conferences and leagues hamper the enterprise unit from breaking investigative stories jarring to its business partners, as opposed to advancing such stories already broken elsewhere by pursuing new aspects of them?" The answer, "based on this report, is that the enterprise unit is free to investigate where it sees fit." Schreiber: "All this has been so heartening that I sometimes entertain the giddy hope it heralds the beginning of the end of opinion's dominance at ESPN."

Schreiber Feels ESPN Erred In
Handling Of "E:60" Tejada Report
TEJADA INTERVIEW: Schreiber wrote of the "E:60" report in which Astros SS Miguel Tejada was confronted on camera with evidence that he had lied about his age, "Many viewers ... took it hard, objecting not to ESPN's uncovering the lie, but to the way it was exposed in a face-to-face interview." The "offense was compounded for many viewers by ESPN's running the clip of that interview on 'SportsCenter' five days in advance of its airing on 'E:60,' making it seem they were exploiting Tejada's humiliation as a tease to draw viewers to 'E:60.'"  ESPN Senior VP/News Vince Doria said that ESPN "did not intend to run the interview as a news story on 'SportsCenter,'" but Tejada announced his actual age without any explanation before "E:60" aired. Broadcasting the interview on "SportsCenter"  "forced a crucial change in the profile" that aired on "E:60" five days later. "E:60" Coordinating Producer Robert Abbott: "Originally, the Miguel Tejada interview clip was going to appear in the middle of our 11-minute piece. Once the piece was aired by 'SportsCenter' and picked up by numerous Web sites, the management of E:60 decided to start our piece with the clip and spend the next 10 minutes of the piece providing the context of why it was important." Schreiber wrote the "end product was a profile so at odds with itself that many viewers were left shaking either their heads or their fists at the screen." The "explanations for why Tejada's aborted interview received more prominent play than was intended make sense, but they do not change the result, which was a train wreck."

MAKING IT WORK: Schreiber wrote when "E:60," "OTL" or ESPN documentaries work, it is because the "weaving of individual cases within the larger context of issues that surround them is tight." Several segments in the latest "E:60" reports "accomplished that. Several did not." It is "crucial that E:60's management team place as much emphasis on perspective and thoroughness of reporting as they do on packaging." The "OTL" team that worked on the Mayo report "faced the opposite challenge." The "density of reporting and research that went into the piece made it difficult to shoehorn so much complicated information into a lucid, compelling TV story. More emphasis was placed on core evidence and its corroboration than on context or dramatic storytelling." Schreiber: "Refining and extending the coordination between ESPN TV and ESPN.com could be the solution to providing more context and tucking in more loose ends than is possible with limited TV air time" (ESPN.com, 5/15).     

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