Jim Brady, who was appointed ESPN’s sixth public editor in November 2015, published his final column in that role this month.
Who will be the next ESPN public editor? iMediaEthics wrote to ESPN to ask about the future of the role and if the sports network is still looking for its next public editor, or if it has a date to announce the appointment of public editor #7. ESPN spokesperson Josh Krulewitz told iMediaEthics, “We follow each with a period of review and currently have no decision.”
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.
The next public editor should make a point to have face time with ESPN staff, Brady recommended. “Go up to Bristol, go to the New York office and talk to people,” Brady said to iMediaEthics. Areas that the next public editor could explore include ESPN’s business aspect and how ESPN can better engage with ESPN’s audience.
One of the bigger controversies Brady addressed most recently was then-SportsCenter host Jemele Hill’s tweets about Pres. Donald Trump. As readers may remember, Hill tweeted that Trump is a “white supremacist” and a “bigot”, prompting ESPN to distance itself from her comments. Brady called her tweets an “error in judgement” and said that the white supremacist characterization is an opinion. (ESPN later suspended her for another tweet about boycotting advertisers for the Dallas Cowboys after the team’s owner said he wouldn’t let players who protested play.)
Of that column and argument, Brady said, “The stance I took in that column I completely stand by,” explaining that he wasn’t “comfortable” with Hill’s statement and calling “for facts, not opinion.”
When Brady was appointed in 2015, ESPN changed the role’s title from ombudsman to public editor. This move was made “to better reflect the goal of transparency and advocacy for fans, especially in this increasingly multimedia world,” ESPN’s Patrick Stiegman said at the time.
In a more than 5,000-word final column, Brady reflected on his “two years and a few thousand hours consuming ESPN content via all sorts of platforms and devices.” He flagged the following issues:
- “Changing business models, shifting media distribution patterns and a plethora of new competitors have weakened a base that once seemed unassailable.”
- Significant staff changes and concerns, including the November layoffs of 150 staffers, “sexual harassment allegations were made against a few ESPN employees,” and the sudden resignation of president John Skipper to “address a substance abuse problem.”
In terms of areas of concern, Brady noted, “ESPN has struggled with the increasing collision of sports and politics.” Brady explained,
“As I’ve written in previous columns, sports, culture and politics have always overlapped, so screaming that ESPN should ‘stick to sports’ might feel good, but it’s not based in reality. That said, in these troubled political times, I suspect consumers are looking to sports for escapism more than ever. So, while ESPN will, and should, cover the overlap of sports and politics, I see no need for it to force its way into politics when the connection is not direct. Additionally, ESPN needs to do better at reflecting points of view from across the political spectrum.”
There also is a “level of animus” from some viewers toward ESPN which is a concern, Brady wrote, calling for better communication between ESPN and its audience. Further, Brady called for more transparency, especially for corrections.
Brady praised ESPN’s “impressive” journalistic work, but noted between the layoffs and the change of ESPN president, some ESPN journalists are “more than a tad nervous.” He also highlighted ESPN’s attempts to be “experimental” in coverage and programming, and thanked readers and viewers who contacted him with their feedback.
I very much enjoyed my two-year term in this role and, as I wrote in my final column, I hope ESPN continues to have a public editor.
— ESPN Public Editor (@ESPNPublicEd) March 22, 2018