SBD/August 21, 2012/Media

ESPN's Poynter Project Reviews Company's Coverage Of London Games

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ESPN TV, ESPN.com took different approaches to Franklin's first Gold Medal
ESPN and ESPN.com “took vastly different approaches” in its coverage of the London Games, according to Kelly McBride in the latest entry for ESPN as part of the Poynter Review Project. Those two ESPN platforms “illustrate what can sometimes be a philosophical divide between TV and digital within the Worldwide Leader in Sports, as well as their basic definitions of what is newsworthy.” The day after U.S. swimmer Missy Franklin won her first Gold Medal, "SportsCenter" used a "still photo or a couple of seconds of voice-over video ... depending on the hour" to describe the event, and then "moved on.” It was a “minimalist approach to the coverage of an amazing athletic feat accomplished by a 17-year-old with a good backstory.” Meanwhile, ESPN.com “took a different approach.” Writer Wayne Drehs “sidled up to Franklin's parents in the stands while their daughter got her gold medal.” In the time “that it takes for our national anthem to play and the American flag to rise, he gathered the yarn” for his story. These differences in coverage “surfaced repeatedly over the 17 days of the Olympics.” While ESPN.com “got creative,” ESPN often turned to "counter-programming." Perhaps the “most notable miscue" involved Alex Morgan's last-minute goal in the U.S.-Canada women's soccer game. The goal had “all the makings of a classic Top 10 play,” yet every Top 10 Play in the 8:00am ET "SportsCenter" broadcast on Aug. 8 was from MLB.

VIDEO RIGHTS HAMPERED EFFORTS: NBC is the American rights holder to Olympic footage, and McBride noted of the “hours and hours of amazing video every day, NBC released only the bare-bones highlights.” NBC also “dictated when the video was available and for how long.” ESPN Senior Coordinating Producer for News Coverage Mike Leber said that part of the problem “was the delay on video rights.” Top 10 Plays are edited around 1:00am ET, but the Olympic video “was not available” until 3:00am ET. That meant when Olympic moments “were included in Top 10 Plays,” as they were when Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt won the 100-meter dash, the segment “was re-edited later in the morning.” McBride wrote that practice “should have happened every morning.” McBride: “A lack of video is a much bigger problem on television. We get that. But three to four minutes an hour is just not enough acknowledgement of all the great sporting moments that happened daily in the Olympics. ... If you were just watching ESPN on TV, you might think the Olympics were not that big of a deal in the world of sports, less important, say, than the Little League World Series" (ESPN.com, 8/20).
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