SBD/Issue 221/Sports Media

ESPN Issues Policy To All Talent Regarding Social Networking Use

ESPN Personnel Cannot Directly Post News On 
Twitter Due To Company's New Official Policy
ESPN yesterday sent a memo to all ESPN talent outlining guidelines for the use of social networking, including Twitter. The net said personal Web sites and blogs that contain sports content are not permitted, and all ESPN employees must receive permission from a supervisor before engaging in any form of social networking dealing with sports. ESPN.com reserves the right to post sports-related social media content, but if the Web site elects not to post that content, staff members are not permitted to discuss any opinions on sports-related topics on a personal platform. ESPN staffers also must avoid discussing internal policies, including how a story was reported or edited. The memo states that a violation of the guidelines could result in consequences, including suspension or dismissal (THE DAILY). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes the ESPN guidelines "restrict the freedom that ESPN employees might previously have enjoyed." ESPN Senior VP/Corporate Communications Chris LaPlaca said, "We've been in the social networking space for a long time, and will continue to be there. But we want to be smarter about how we do it" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/5).

REASONS FOR POLICY: ESPN.com Editor-In-Chief Rob King said of the net's policy, "It's an important opportunity to reiterate to folks that this technology is the equivalent of a live microphone. In that respect, it should be treated with some measure of awareness about how it represents those individuals who are forward-facing talent and how it represents how ESPN wants to connect with the audience. There's a lot of education that goes along with it. Anyone who's ever had a tweet re-tweeted by the audience knows that it can be presented in ways that you might never have understood or intended when you originally articulated those 140 characters." While some speculate that ESPN reporters may lose scoops due to the policy, King said, "I'd sooner make sure that I've got the right number of words to tell the story as well and as accurately as possible then fret about whether my 140 characters get out into the digital space first" (John Ourand, THE DAILY). For more from King on the issue, please see today's Closing Bell.

ESPN PERSONNEL RESPOND, VIA TWITTER: ESPN NBA reporter Ric Bucher tweeted, “The hammer just came down, tweeps: ESPN memo prohibiting tweeting info unless it serves ESPN. Kinda figured this was coming. … I'm probably violating some sort of policy just by telling you. … My guess is I can still tweet about my vacation/car shopping, etc. Which I will do, if I can. But the informal NBA talk is prob in jeopardy.” NFL reporter Adam Schefter: “Have seen ESPN's new Twitter guidelines. And I now have no choice. Before I start there Aug. 17, I must check myself into Twitter rehab. … My mailbox has BLOWN UP with your Twitter policy comments. Thank you for them. All I can say with certainty, for now, is: To be continued.” On-air personality Kenny Mayne: ”Was informed 2nd hand of Taliban-like decree against further Twitter. I leave noting that I am a fan of Fiona Apple.” ESPN The Magazine reporter Ryan McGee: “Its being blown out of proportion. My interpretation wasn't ‘you can't do it’ but ‘be smart about what you say.’” ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons: “My take on the great unspoken: Ultimately it's good if (redacted) incorporates (redacted). Had to start somewhere.” ESPN Event Production Manager Katie Richman: “I'm tweeting now and no one has dropped out of the ceiling on a wire to arrest me. Don't worry, Twitter, we ESPN'ers are still here... ;).”

One Theory Behind Policy Is Fans May Read
Twitter Posts Instead Of ESPN.com
POSSIBLE THEORIES FOR THE DECREE: PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote the new policy "seems to compel ESPN employees who are posting substantive sports-related information to do so in a manner that advances the ESPN agenda of getting as many people as possible to visit ESPN.com and/or tune in to one of the many ESPN television networks." The guidelines demonstrate the "concern that big media companies have regarding the extent to which their products will become undermined by Twitter feeds that cannot now -- and likely never will be -- monetized." With ESPN staffers such as NFL reporters Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen "posting regular NFL updates on their Twitter feeds, people might decide simply to follow them on Twitter, and to never visit ESPN's on-air or online properties" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 8/4). THE SPORTING BLOG's Dan Levy cites a source as saying that ESPN is "upset with on-air talent breaking news on Twitter, rather than on an ESPN platform." Levy: "The WWL is working on a system to pick and choose ESPN tweets to post on their .com platform, so if news is broken via Tweet, it will be posted on the website as well. But until that service is up and running and can find its place on the site, ESPN brass would like the breaking news to be toned down a bit" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 8/5). BIZ OF BASEBALL's Maury Brown writes ESPN "may be looking at the possible PR landmines that come with writers and on-air personalities out from behind the editorial purview," and "preventing a possibly embarrassing tweet could be ESPN's goal" (BIZOFBASEBALL.com, 8/5).

REAX: CNBC’s Darren Rovell writes, “I have absolutely no problem with this policy. As long as your name is associated with ESPN, you are reporting for the company. The fact that it’s 140 characters or less doesn’t change that” (CNBC.com, 8/5). On Long Island, Neil Best wrote the policy "sounds quite reasonable, actually." Best: "Why should media companies allow their people to post news and opinions elsewhere before they do so for the mothership?" (NEWSDAY.com, 8/4). MASHABLE.com wrote, “ESPN took to Twitter to tweet their official statement to us ... and it’s not only refreshingly honest, but the method of response was certainly well received. ... To be completely fair, the social media guidelines, albeit a little vague and overbearing, are not as bad as we expected” (MASHABLE.com, 8/4). Sports Media Challenge President Kathleen Hessert: “Be assured ESPN cares & is committed 2 SM. ESPN is made up of people grappling w/ new environment. Intentions are good. Results maturing.” CBS News' Armen Keteyian: “If this new ESPN tweeting policy is what it appears to be, did the directive define 'serve?' A delicate dance at all networks/leagues. … understandable from corp perspective, but 'good luck' walking that high wire.” New York magazine Contributing Editor Will Leitch: “Very friendly -- and good-luck-bringing! -- ESPN employee saw my Tweet that I was at Citi and came by to say hi. Hope THAT isn't banned now" (TWITTER.com, 8/5).

AND FOR THE OTHERS? After the ESPN policy was released, SI was asked if it would implement a Twitter policy for editorial purposes. The magazine, which has more than 30 writers tweeting, operates on a culture of trust with regard to social media. SI VP/Communications Scott Novak said this morning, “We view writer communication with social media platforms as an extension of what they’re already doing with many TV networks. Our mission is to deliver SI’s award-winning journalism to fans through every medium, including social media communications” (THE DAILY).

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