SBD/November 25, 2013/Media

ESPN Ombudsman Examines Sourcing Dispute Between ESPN, San Antonio Reporter

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ESPN Ombudsman Robert Lipsyte in his most recent column wrote about the "recent dust-up between a local newspaper reporter and a national ESPN reporter" over providing credit for a quote in a recent story. The San Antonio Express-News' Brent Zwerneman on Nov. 6 reported the Texas A&M football team "was no longer interested in playing" Texas in the regular season. He attributed a key quote by noting, "A&M senior associate athletic director Jason Cook told me this afternoon." ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy three hours later "filed a similar story with exactly the same quote" from Cook. McMurphy wrote in the piece, "'We hope to play them again in a BCS bowl or playoff game at some point,' Texas A&M senior associate athletic director Jason Cook told ESPN on Wednesday." Zwerneman "subsequently demanded that McMurphy credit him for the initial scoop, believing that McMurphy had been pointed to Cook and the story by Zwerneman's tweets and blogs on the topic." Lipsyte wrote ESPN has "gotten a lot better at giving credit since it changed its sourcing policies this year and adopted more rigorous standards of attribution." However, the impression "exists -- right or wrong -- that ESPN, among other national bigfeet, use local media as the 'sources that tell me' when they rip and run with a breaking story." It is "not exactly a lie," but it "gives the false impression that the information came out of some indispensable analyst's magic cellphone."

WHERE CREDIT IS DUE: McMurphy "doesn't dispute the fact that Zwerneman's blogs alerted him to the Cook quote or the story." But he "saw no reason to offer attribution ... because he independently interviewed Cook by phone 'for 10 or 15 minutes' as well as other sources." Lipsyte wrote the situation involves a "gray area and the dismissive attitude of McMurphy and his manager," ESPN Senior News Editor Chuck Salituro. Salituro has been at ESPN "for 19 years, and, before that, spent 17 years at The Milwaukee Journal, including five as sports editor." Salituro said, "This is not about crediting news; it's about two reporters getting the same quote. Brett didn't steal the quote. He wanted to show he did his own interview. I don't consider this story a news break. Nobody has been more diligent in crediting others than Brett because he was a 'victim' of ESPN's old policies of taking credit for a story as soon as we confirmed it." Lipsyte: "Nevertheless, I think there's a flag on this play. I disagree with Salituro that it's only about two reporters getting the same quote. Why would McMurphy call the Aggies' Cook in the first place if he hadn't been alerted by Zwerneman's reporting?" McMurphy "might have slightly advanced the story by confirming it and adding some background of his own, but a tip of his hat would have been ethically proper" (ESPN.com, 11/22).
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