SBD/Issue 21/Sports Media

ESPN Ombudsman Addresses Net's Coverage Of Sensitive News

Schreiber Thinks ESPN Was Right To Publish
Sensitive Story About Vince Young
In her latest contribution as ESPN Ombudsman, Le Anne Schreiber addressed an ESPN.com headline stating that Titans QB Vince Young "mentioned suicide," and Schreiber wrote, "I felt the same repugnance at seeing that headline that many viewers did, but setting aside the accuracy issues for a moment, my answer is that ESPN could not and should not have kept that information out of the news." Once ESPN "received the AP story based on a legally obtained public record, they had an obligation to assess the information as best they could and present it responsibly to their audience." The question was "not one of whether to publish the information or not, but how to present the information in a way that neither exploited nor inflamed what might be a sensitive, evolving situation." ESPN.com VP, Exec Editor & Producer Patrick Stiegman: "I think it is our responsibility journalistically to report what we know. This was a very visible athlete on a very visible team in a very visible situation." Stiegman added, "Before we posted the story, there was a lot of internal discussion, with ESPN.com news editors, with TV news editors, a cross-format collaborative discussion, and our collective response was, 'Let's be as accurate as we can be, let's be measured in our coverage, let's be absolutely non-judgmental and let's minimize opinion about this, because it can quickly fall into armchair psychologizing, and that is not a role we want to be in.'" Schreiber noted ESPN "exercised caution by keeping the story out of the opinion mill, by persisting in its efforts to corroborate the police report until it got the clarifications" from Titans coach Jeff Fisher that "defused the story, and by not succumbing to the temptations of overkill that filled the 'Owens Overdose' archive two years ago." The "wiser course is simply to quote from the report, and add, 'We have not been able to corroborate the details of this report.'" ESPN also could have "asked its anchors to refrain not only from soliciting opinion on Young's psyche but from soliciting opinion on any aspect of the uncorroborated police report." Schreiber added, "I also think ESPN should consider keeping certain uncorroborated content out of crawls at the bottom of the screen" (ESPN.com, 10/13).

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