SBD/February 4, 2011/Media

John Walsh Addresses ESPN's Need For Transparency In Online Chat

Walsh hosted the first of what
ESPN says will be series of chats
When Don Ohlmeyer penned his final column for ESPN last week, he noted that during his 18-month tenure as Ombudsman he impressed on network executives the importance of transparency. ESPN Exec VP & Exec Editor John Walsh wasted little time in heeding Olhmeyer's advice, hosting Thursday the first of what ESPN promises will be regularly schedule online chats. In a 60-minute conversation, Walsh addressed a wide range of topics and said transparency is a "key element" for ESPN's editorial staff. Walsh: "Because we do want people to know how we do what we do, and why we do so, when appropriate." He mentioned ESPN's editorial standards and said, "The main goal is for the standards to act as aspirational touchstones for all of our content contributors to do their best possible work. We address some issues that are by nature controversial, including commentary, coverage of civil lawsuits, etc." On a similar note, Walsh said ESPN execs learned from “The Decision,” LeBron James’ notorious summer program on the network, the need to be more transparent about editorial decisions in programming. Walsh added, “We learned from the Ben Roethlisberger story of a year and a half ago that we needed to be more urgent in the era of the Internet. As such, we've incorporated changes and nuances in these areas, among others, with our recently introduced Editorial Guidelines for Standards and Practices." Erin Andrews' new relationship with Reebok has raised some red flags in recent weeks, especially from viewers who wonder whether the endorsement may have influenced her reporting about Nike during ESPN's Rose Bowl telecast. But Walsh said, "Erin was reporting what she saw on the field, which her boothmates also observed -- the players were slipping and having difficulty getting traction with their shoes. As for the Reebok deal, we discussed that with her representatives later that month." Still, Walsh noted ESPN brass has adopted policies to prevent the network's personalities from agreeing to similar relationships. He said, "We are very vigilant and have made alterations to our policy to ensure that it does not compromise our journalism. We will review the policy again early this year."

LOOKING FORWARD: Walsh said ESPN is "in the search process" for its fourth Ombudsman, following Ohlmeyer, Le Anne Schreiber and George Solomon, and should "fill that position by early next month." Some wonder what, if any, impact the Ombudsman's column has on ESPN's decision makers. But Walsh said, "I can assure you all that these columns are widely discussed in the work place, and can have a very positive effect on future decision making." One topic of discussion surrounding ESPN that's creating quite a stir is the forthcoming release of a behind-the-scenes look at Bristol titled, "Those Guys Have All The Fun." Walsh noted authors James Miller and Tom Shales "spent 2 years interviewing more than 500 people" for the book, due out in May. Miller and Shales took a similar look into the history of "Saturday Night Live," a very well-received book that Walsh called "as accurate and fair as possible." Walsh: "So we're optimistic that this book will achieve those same goals" (ESPN.com, 2/3).

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