New policies at ESPN are aimed at eliminating, in its own house, a media industry-wide trend of conflating news and opinion journalism.
ESPN employees who work on the news side now cannot comment in public on “political or social issues, candidates or office holders.” Therefore, reporters who tweet opinions about politics “would technically violate this policy,” ESPN public editor Jim Brady explained.
ESPN released new guidelines earlier this month addressing politics and elections. They are available here. The guidelines apply to “ESPN, Twitter, Facebook and other media.”
Brady noted the timing was “a bit unusual” since we just had a political election, but the chairman of ESPN’s internal Editorial Board, Patrick Stiegman, said ESPN needed to “review our guidelines” after President Trump’s election and ensure the guidelines apply to all political elections.
The new guidelines permit “increased political discussion” at ESPN if it is linked to sports, Brady notes, but limit the leeway news reporters have in terms of commenting on politics or social issues. However, Brady noted that in terms of the social media policy, given the number of ESPN reporters, “how effective this policy is will depend on how hard executives choose to look at social media.”
iMediaEthics wrote to ESPN to ask about enforcement, what elements of the guidelines are new, and if a specific incident or complaint prompted the new guidelines. An ESPN spokesperson pointed to the guidelines, which are published here.
Despite the limits on news reporters, commentary writers, commentators, and ESPN staff allowed to share opinion can comment on air or online about politics and social issues, the guidelines state.
However, ESPN advises that any opinions on politics and social issues be linked to sports matters or on a platform that has “broader editorial missions” like polling site FiveThirtyEight.
Any commentary, though, “should be thoughtful and respectful” as well as balanced and civil, the guidelines dictate. And, commentary on political or social issues should be run by superiors beforehand.
“We wanted to err on the side of transparency and trust with our reporting,” Stiegman told Brady, “but also give our columnists and commentators the freedom to discuss topics relevant to those sports fans who visit our platforms, even if the issues are political or social in nature.”
Brady broke down other key parts of the updates, including ensuring ESPN news stories don’t endorse or oppose issues or candidates. Interviews or stories on political candidates have to be vetted by senior management for balance issues, the guidelines add.
Hat Tip: Mediaite/Steve Bien-Aime