SBD/November 10, 2011/Media

Big Ten Net's Mark Silverman Defends Coverage Of Penn State Scandal

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Silverman happy with BTN's
coverage of Penn State story
Big Ten Network President Mark Silverman participated in a Q&A with SI’s Richard Deitsch, discussing the net’s coverage of the Penn State sex abuse scandal. Below is an excerpt from the interview.

Q: Have you been told by any league partners, any Big Ten officials, any Penn State officials, to go soft on this story or mitigate your coverage?
Silverman: "No, and we have never gotten a call on any topic we have covered."

Q: Should the Big Ten Network be judged by the same standards as an ESPN, or Sports Illustrated or Yahoo! Sports on this story? Or should the standards for covering a story like this be different for a league-owned network?
Silverman: I think we are a different network than ESPN and others. We obviously are branded. What I think is a fair evaluation of us is less about how much of it are you doing, and what is it we are doing. … I think you will see our guys are giving fully candid, true views that frankly are not often times making the conference look the way we would prefer to make them look. … We are not CNN. We are not ESPN. We are not able to go to that length. But if you look at what we have out there and how often we are trying to re-air our content, I think most people would find it relevant and appropriate for who we are.

Q: How would you assess your coverage, so far, of the Penn State story?
Silverman: It is hard to imagine a more difficult story for a branded network to cover, and I think given that incredible sensitivity around this type of story, I am really proud of the fact of how we covered it. We have covered (the story) since it launched in all of our shows. We have not shied away from it. Our challenge is we don't have a 24-hour operation. We are rarely live.

Q:
How would you assess your coverage plans going forward?
Silverman: We are looking at doing regular updates and we will continue, for the most part, with our regular programming, breaking in with updates as we think they are relevant to our audience. I think that is the appropriate way to cover it (SI.com, 11/9).

Poynter feels ESPN was slow to grasp
full implications of Penn State story
REVIEWING ESPN'S COVERAGE: In the latest entry for ESPN as part of the Poynter Review Project, Fry & McBride wrote the net was “slow this week to grasp the full implications of the recent criminal indictments" at PSU. With the “biggest staff of sports journalists in the world, ESPN should have been leading the charge to ask tough questions and shed light on this scandal.” Instead, it “was the tiny Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. out in front of the journalism pack.” The tone of the early ESPN coverage “was spotty -- sometimes getting it right, but more often seeming inappropriate.” It was not until “mid-afternoon Tuesday that ESPN finally seemed consistently to ask the right questions and find the appropriate moral outrage.” That is “72 hours after the story first broke.” ESPN Senior VP & News Dir Vince Doria “defended the network's coverage, pointing out that from the outset managers were sensitive to the victims in the story.” Doria did not “articulate a specific strategy that would have ESPN steering the story, rather than simply reacting to it.” Fry & McBride noted they were “hoping to see more of the former early on in the news cycle,” but now that football coach Joe Paterno has been fired, “the network is clearly hitting its stride.” Earlier in the week “that was not the case.” Fry & McBride: “We were particularly dismayed Tuesday morning, when ESPN and its vast resources seemed to be behind the curve, failing to turn up new information or advance the story and instead sounding tone deaf to the nature of this story.” Fry & McBride continued, “Where's the reporting designed to hold the powerful accountable? Where are the sources and the witnesses close to the case?” ESPN's lineup of former Penn State insiders “aren't capable, especially in the dawning of a brutal reality, of doing that work.” That is where ESPN “has to call upon its heavy hitters” (ESPN.com, 11/9).

WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG? In Las Vegas, Mark Anderson writes the national media "rightly has been aggressive in covering the travesty at Penn State involving alleged sexual assault of minors by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky." But "what took so long?" The story, which resulted in the firing of Paterno and PSU President Graham Spanier "hasn't been a secret." Local media "were digging for answers long before ESPN, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and CBSSports.com moved in." News of Sandusky's alleged "appalling acts have been around for a while, and it shouldn't have taken his arrest Saturday and the grand jury report to get the national media's attention" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 11/10).

MEDIA MONITOR: Last night’s editions of ABC’s “World News,” CBS’ “Evening News” and NBC’s “Nightly News” all led with coverage of the fallout from the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, with all three broadcasts featuring live reports from the Penn State campus. ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap appeared in-studio with ABC’s Diane Sawyer. ABC’s “GMA,” CBS’ “The Early Show” and NBC’s “Today” also led with Penn State news. All three broadcasts featured live on-campus reports, with legal analyst Nancy Grace and Dan Abrams discussing the legal ramifications of the case on “GMA.” SI’s Jon Wertheim and former NHLer and sex abuse victim Theo Fleury appeared live via satellite on “The Early Show,”  while NBC’s “Today” featured commentary from N.Y. Daily News columnist Mike Lupica in-studio (THE DAILY).

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