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Volume 21 No. 33
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ESPN makes tweaks in social media policy

ESPN last week released a new social media policy following several high-profile controversies that started with Twitter posts by employees.

The new policy is not much different from ESPN’s old social media policy that was developed in 2011. ESPN staffers are encouraged to be “civil, responsible and without overt political or other biases that would threaten our or your credibility with the public,” according to the lead paragraph of the policy, which was written by Kevin Merida, editor-in-chief of The Undefeated.

ESPN consulted with some of its high-profile talent, like “Outside the Lines” host Bob Ley, to draft the rules.

“It’s going to be disappointing if people are expecting some dramatic, new proclamation,” ESPN President John Skipper said. “We’re mostly going to proclaim, we examined it. We still are who we are. We still believe what we believe. We’re going to ask people to adhere to that.”

ESPN’s social media policy follows similar guidelines issued recently by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Skipper described the guidelines as “common-sense” rules that apply the same standards for publishing on social media that ESPN uses for television, print, online and radio.

“Do nothing that would undercut your colleagues’ work or embroil the company in unwanted controversy,” the guidelines read. “We reserve the right to take action for violations of these principles.”

Said Skipper: “We are an organization that when we are practicing journalism, or even when we don’t, we want to be grounded in the principles of journalism. That is a slight change in emphasis.”

Skipper said the guidelines were not created in response to recent social media controversies. Last month, ESPN suspended “SportsCenter” host Jemele Hill because of some of her tweets. “NFL Countdown” host Samantha Ponder also created a stir internally for tweets about Barstool Sports, which was launching a show on ESPN. ESPN has since canceled that show.

“It’s all intertwined with a moment in our culture and our political environment of polarization,” Skipper said. “It’s the right time to do it. We would never react to one incident or two incidents and say, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got to look.’ It’s a unique moment in time.”

Similar to its 2011 guidelines, ESPN’s new document reminds its employees that social media feeds are public. “And everything we do in public is associated with ESPN,” it says. It also emphasizes that ESPN’s focus is sports. “While we acknowledge that our employees have interests beyond sports, it is essential that we not compromise our authority as the worldwide leader in sports coverage.”