ESPN is ending its public editor role. ESPN announced the decision in a post by Kevin Merida, Senior Vice President, Editor-in-Chief for the Undefeated and chair of the ESPN editorial board.
According to Merida, the ESPN editorial board “recommended” the position be axed. He explained: “While ESPN has valued the input and dedication shown by everyone who held the position, we too have seen how access to the Internet and its social platforms has created a horde of watchdogs who communicate directly with us to share observations and questions.” Merida noted that the Washington Post and New York Times no longer have ombudsmen or public editors.
Jim Brady, ESPN’s final public editor, told iMediaEthics by e-mail today, “I’m sorry they’re ending the position. I think it’s a good role for media companies to have, but especially for one like ESPN, which has a complex web of business deals with the entities it covers. I also understand the role flourished at a time when newsrooms could afford it, and that those days are over for many media companies. But ESPN, despite its business model challenges, could surely afford the role, so I was disappointed to hear the news…”
ESPN spokesperson Josh Krulewitz pointed iMediaEthics to the ESPN statement about the position ending, and noted that each public editor “has been invited to speak to the editorial board at the end of their tenure.”
In March, Brady’s term ended. Brady told iMediaEthics at the time he recommended ESPN continue the position; ESPN said it was reviewing whether to continue the position. From our March report:
In a phone interview with iMediaEthics, Brady recommended that ESPN keeps the public editor job because the sports network has “such a web of business interests that conflict directly with the journalists.”
“You have [a public editor] because you have a unique set of circumstances that really behooves you to have one,” he explained. While Brady noted other sites like Deadspin and Bleacher Report will call out ESPN when there are problems, he emphasized the benefit of the public editor’s access in addressing and investigating issues.