SBD/May 17, 2011/Media

Poynter Criticizes ESPN Insider For Handling Of Football Player's Death

In the latest entry for ESPN as part of the Poynter Review Project, Poynter faculty Regina McCombs and Kelly McBride noted less than three hours after incoming Univ. of Alabama football player Aaron Douglas was reported dead last week, ESPN Insider's Rumor Central "published a short item titled 'Shocker at LT' with news of the death, and speculation on the implications for the Crimson Tide’s lineup." Within 30 minutes, ESPN Insider editors "reviewed and removed the post." But the "important question is: How does something like this make it on the Insider site?" Insider writers, "mostly freelancers, craft the RC items and post them directly to the site." ESPN The Magazine and ESPN Insider General Editor Chris Sprow said that the posted item then is "sent to other Insider editors, who review the items and make any requisite changes." In the case of the Douglas post, the copy editor "who read it Thursday morning was uncomfortable with the tone and brought it to the attention of Sprow, who then quickly pulled it off the site." The post was live for about 20 minutes, and "later in the afternoon, an apology appeared on the site." ESPN The Magazine and ESPN Insider Exec Editor & Exec Producer Robbyn Footlick said despite posts going live before they’ve been edited, "you can count on one hand the problems that we’ve had." Footlick argued that this one "was the equivalent of accidentally swearing on air." She added, "The good news is that what we can do, and what we do do, is apologize for it and move on." But McCombs & McBride wrote, "We disagree. Apologizing and moving on isn’t enough. Fans who wrote into the mailbag were outraged. ... Perhaps Rumor Central should consider a two-tiered system, where most items go live without editing, but sensitive posts receive extra attention before they hit the site" (, 5/16).
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