Thursday, May 10, 2012

2 comments ESPN Shows Transparency by Answering Softball Questions; Creating Their Own Questions to Answer

John Walsh is ESPN's executive vice president and executive editor. He also looks like your grandfather or the type of guy who would build a park full of extinct dinosaurs brought to life by genetic engineering and then attempt to sell this park as an attraction for families. Fortunately, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum were able to contain the dinosaurs that escaped from their cages and get off the island alive. So after building and presiding over the disaster that was Jurassic Park, John Walsh went to work for ESPN. He is kind of a big deal at ESPN and he had a chat recently to allow for more transparency and answer questions about the editorial decisions ESPN makes. Unfortunately, he only fields the softball questions and he answered a question every 4-5 minutes. This tells me there were tough questions not fielded by Walsh. Why have a chat to show transparency if you only answer the softball questions?

John Walsh (11:06am)

Good morning everyone, let's get to your questions.

John Walsh wrote this at 11:06am. The first question will be answered at 11:19am. I would love to know what questions were not answered during this time. I'm betting there was a lot of Mark Schwarz/Bernie Fine questions, questions about the insane amount of coverage of QB Jets by ESPN, or questions about how ESPN can have an "analyst" in the form of Skip Bayless be the leading proponent of an NFL player without this affecting credibility as an unbiased journalist. None of these questions got answered. More importantly we didn't questions answered about why ESPN's ombudsman still hasn't addressed Craig James' role as an ESPN employee while being involved with Mike Leach's firing. I'm sure they are getting to it though. They just haven't had time...right?

Let's prepare for some softball questions to get answered.

Randy Rubin (Phoenix)

After the Jeremy Lin situations on ESPN TV and your mobile site, the network pledged changes to prevent future occurances. What have you done in these arenas?

First, off there is no Randy Rubin who lives in Phoenix, Arizona according to The names go from Mitchell Rubin to Richard Rubin. A very preliminary Google search shows no Randall Rubin nor a Randy Rubin in the Phoenix, Arizona area. This doesn't mean there is no Randy Rubin that lives in Phoenix, Arizona. He may not own a house or have a phone number listed. This called also be a nickname this person specifically used for this chat. As I was reviewing this chat, I noticed a lot of the questions came from people put their location as "USA," and "NY." More than I usually see in a chat.

It may not mean anything, but after randomly choosing two other chats, a Mike Wilbon chat and a Matt Williamson chat, I couldn't help but notice there was slightly more specificity and diversity in the location of people asking the questions. This could all be a product of the fact John Walsh answered fewer questions than any of these other writers and a few of the questions Walsh was asked came from the same person. I don't think ESPN made up the chat questions, but I also wouldn't put it past them.

Andrew Colburne (Tampa, FL)

I recently read a fascinating article by Poynter about an interviewing guru at ESPN. Why did the network hire him? Do you see any tangible results from his teachings?

For the record, there is an Andrew Colburne in Tampa, Florida. John Walsh answered this question three minutes after he answered the last one. Guess he found two softball questions in a row he felt like answering.

John Walsh: I saw the article and recommended that we comission John to hold seminars in Bristol on interviewing.

Perhaps we could also have someone come into Bristol and hold a seminar on how to spell the word "commission" or "occurred," both words John Walsh has misspelled so far in the first two questions.

Mark came to me and said why don't we become the first and only media company to hire an interview coach.

Great question, Andrew! It gives John Walsh a chance to talk about what a forward-thinking company ESPN is and then mention they are the only media company to hire an interview coach. Why answer tough questions when you can use the chat as a way of pumping up your own company?

If you watch ESPN's interviews, whether sideline, sitdown or even press conference, it is obvious that John's techniques have elicited more revealing and explicative answers.

(ESPN reporter) "Why are so awesome Tim Tebow? Tell me more about your awesomeness."

(Tim Tebow) "Because of my parents and the way I was brought up. Because of Jesus and my parents. Really that's the source of my awesomeness."

(ESPN reporter) "Now, that's revealing. So Jesus and your parents made you the person you are. Do you think you would be the awesome person you are with them?"

(Tim Tebow laughs) "Definitely not. It's the basis of who I am as a person and Christian. Without both of these things, I am nothing."

(ESPN reporter) "Provocative. Hard hitting."

Rand Copper (Boston)

Have noticed A LOT more NHL playoff coverage on ESPN this year, especially on SportsCenter and What finally made you pay attention?

What a softball question. Not only is this not even a question, in reality it is a tickling of ESPN's balls with a feather, but this question is also incredibly inaccurate. ESPN's coverage of hockey isn't non-existent, but there is very, very little hockey coverage on SportsCenter.

Awful Announcing has repeatedly made mention of how SportsCenter doesn't cover hockey. Awful Announcing isn't the only site that has noticed this. In fact, ESPN has explicitly said hockey doesn't translate to the national discussion. So it's clear there isn't a commitment to covering hockey by ESPN. So why would this questioner act like ESPN's coverage is sufficient and why would John Walsh pretend ESPN cares about hockey in his answer?

But in a fictional world, where ESPN is showing more coverage of hockey (by going from 30 seconds of highlights on SportsCenter to 1 full minute of highlights), let's see what John Walsh's answer is for this question would be.

JW: We have many dedicated, die-hard NHL fans who are intricately involved in the decision making and execution of our highlight shows and Web site. Their voices are always loud, strong and passionate.

"Which is why we don't give these people airtime to talk about hockey. We don't have the rights to the NHL games, so we don't give a shit about the NHL. If diehard hockey fans talk about hockey, it only serves to tell our viewers another channel has the rights to those games and we refuse to give free advertising for our competitors. Stay tuned for a 5 minute breakdown of the Women's Basketball NCAA Tournament and then a hard-hitting debate between Skip Bayless and a sign language monkey on whether Tim Tebow will be the starter for the Jets this year."

By the way, John Walsh answered this question nine minutes after he answered the last question. Nine minutes. Took him a while to find a softball question.

You must consider that there are many factors in determining how we handle NHL highlights. They are: the size of the audience interested in the results; the drama of the event -- championships and six-OT games pretty much make the decisions for you; there is the individual spectacular performance by world-class players; finally, there is the other news of the day.

"Even when there isn't news, we create the news ourselves. So if we run the risk of having hockey lead off SportsCenter then we catch up with Tim Tebow in New York or manufacture an argument about the NBA. Really, in between manufacturing arguments and talking about Tim Tebow, we barely even have time to cover sports."

aroznowski (USA)

Just how disappointed were you and your colleagues when ESPN was unable to secure the television rights to NHL, FIFA, and Olympic telecasts?

JW: Very.

Clearly, that new interviewing guru at ESPN doesn't help ESPN employees GIVE more revealing and explicative answers.

Patty Shields (Philadelphia)

Hi John, thanks for chatting with us. ESPN seemed all over the board on recently on whether announcers could support Trayvon Martin on twitter (hoodie images, tweets, that sort of thing). While the inconsistency bothered me, to me, allowing them to put a hoodie on Twitter was an overt poltical statement. Why did you allow it?

This is about as close as we get to a tough question and it wasn't really a tough question.

Eric Kudrow (Austin)

What's happening with the Longhorn Network? I really want to see it, but don't have access yet. I need my Horns fix.

So instead of answering a question about WHY ESPN is in bed with a specific college and how this affects ESPN's coverage of the University of Texas since the success of the network is indelibly tied to the success of the football team...we get a question of "Derp. I want Longhorn Network, but I don't have it. How do I get new cable channels that I don't have? WHO IS IN CHARGE OF DECIDING MY CABLE CHANNELS?"

By the way, I can't find an Eric Kudrow in Austin, Texas. I also did a Google search and couldn't find one there either. It's kind of weird in the age of Facebook. Again, I'm not saying Eric Kudrow doesn't exist, but this seems like a pretty stupid question that coincidentally also serves as a reminder of how ESPN viewers can get the Longhorn Network if they choose to. What a great accidental advertisement/reminder to be found in a chat question!

JW: You and your friends should call your cable distributor. The programming and producing are superb.

Actually, Eric never said anything about his friends wanting the channel. I'm not going to beat around the bush now. I think ESPN made this question up because it seems like a very convenient advertisement for the Longhorn Network.

Mike D. (New York)

John, I saw that ESPN recently responded to a Sports Business Journal column with an excellent op-ed about the value of the ombudsman at ESPN.

Come on. You can't be serious with the beginning of this question. I see one of two issues at hand here. Either Mike D. from New York is tickling ESPN's balls with his question and John Walsh thought it was the perfect softball question to answer or ESPN made this question up. By the way, one of the Beastie Boys goes by Mike D and he is from New York. Either the questioner is making this inside joke or ESPN's question creators have a sense of humor.

As a long-time journalist, I applaud your efforts in this area, especially when you don't have to take on this self-examination.

I mean...for fucking real? There is no way this is a real question. Even the biggest fan of ESPN would have to question whether a person would really be this complimentary of the network. It doesn't end here though. The questioner goes on...

Why haven't others followed your lead, and what do you see as the big wins for ESPN in having an ombudsman?

Again, John Walsh picked the questions that were the most complimentary to ESPN or they are creating their own questions to answer. Either way, ESPN and John Walsh have done a disservice by not answering the tough questions that viewers of ESPN want to know the answers to. I wouldn't be surprised if ESPN made this question up because it is overly complimentary about ESPN, to the point it has to come from someone who has a vested interest in the company.

JW: Our biggest advantage is that our four ombudsmen have made us better, have inspired animated discussions in the workplace, have affected our policy and decision making and made us more self-aware of the issues in the sports media space.

ESPN has become more self-aware of the issues in the sports media space...other than the fact the ombudsman doesn't answer any questions about Craig James or address his role in the Mike Leach firing at all. The ombudsman has created animated discussions about ESPN's role in keeping Craig James employed and they created these animated discussions by not sufficiently addressing the topic.

aroznowski (USA)

How concerned and worried are you and your colleagues at ESPN about the NBC Sports Network, CBS Sports Network, and possibly a national sports network owned by FOX? I would guess that the concern isn't all that extreme since ESPN is a mogul and the worldwide leader in sports.

What a ridiculous question to answer. It isn't even really a question. It asks how concerned ESPN is about competition and then answers the question for John Walsh, while acknowledging how all-powerful and large the ESPN family of networks truly is. Ridiculous. You can't tell me there weren't more interesting and discussion-worthy questions posed.

Interested reader (USA)

Why have ESPNW? Shouldn't cover women's sports?

What do you know? It is a softball question from an "Interested reader" from the "USA" who just happens to remind everyone that also has an ESPNW. Yet another convenient advertisement for a less broadly known ESPN format. These readers keep setting up John Walsh with these questions and he keeps knocking the answers out of the park. It's fun to read chats about ESPN editorial coverage that can also serve as a way to advertise for ESPN's lesser known channels and sites.

Robert Cheatham (SLC, UT)

What is the position of ESPN in regards to employee relationships with athletes. Specifically friendships, intimate relationships, joint business ventures, etc. I often wonder if many of your staff temper their remarks and opinions for fear of personal retribution from the athlete. I have an impression, maybe wrongly, that so much milquetoast comes from ESPN I have to Google for the "real story".

What? A semi-tough question?

JW: It is instructive that Roger Clemens was in a "This is SportsCenter" commercial years ago, and now SportsCenter, Outside the Lines and have devoted resources -- including investigative reporters -- to look into allegations against Clemens.

Oh yeah, ESPN really went out on a limb here. I don't see how this is instructive. Clemens was in a "This is SportsCenter" commercial a few years ago and John Walsh wants credit for ESPN covering an ongoing trial that Clemens is involved with and to look into whether the allegations are true or not? This is sports news. ESPN shouldn't get credit for covering sports news. I don't think this is instructive at all, other than to show ESPN covers news stories about sports. It's not like ESPN originated the allegations against Clemens. Maybe I'm being hard on them, but to me this just seems like Walsh wants credit for ESPN performing the job they claim to their viewers they perform.

Deven (Los Angeles, CA)

What would you say was the last mistake ESPN made, editorially, that they have learned from?

You won't get an answer to this question. ESPN has to first acknowledge a mistake, which they don't prefer to do.

JW: We take risks, both editorially and in business, so much of the time at ESPN, that we make all kinds of mistakes.

And yet, we don't get a specific example of one of these mistakes. Why? Well, it turns out ESPN doesn't want to open itself up to criticism they can't control. See, when the ombudsman criticizes ESPN, they can control the message they want to send out, but if John Walsh makes a mistake the blogosphere will go bananas, do research into the mistake and not even give ESPN a chance to spin the mistake favorably! How unfair is that?

Citing any one of our mistakes is a disservice to the blogosphere because we realize our mistakes are their red meat.

How is the blogosphere done a disservice by hearing ESPN acknowledge a mistake? If anything, ESPN not admitting a mistake does a disservice to the blogosphere. In reality, ESPN does not want to admit mistakes because it gives other sites a chance to hold these mistakes against ESPN. ESPN doesn't like having other people acknowledge their mistakes because they want to spin it and control the message. They prefer to control the message when it comes to mistakes, which is why they hired an ombudsman.

Robbie Crowley (Anaheim, CA)

Given the dustup over Sarah Phillips, what is ESPN's policy as it relates to hiring prospective workers? And what's the difference at ESPN between a freelancer and a fulltime columnist?

JW: We need to remember she was a freelance contributor, not an employee or full-time staffer, or part-time staffer, or contractual contributor. As such, she was properly vetted for the normal hiring standards for per-piece contributors, which is common not just at ESPN, but throughout the media industry.

Don't blame ESPN for this issue. Though they pride themselves on being better than the competition and being the worldwide leader in sports, they are perfectly content to lower their standard down to the standard throughout the media industry when it comes to explaining a mistake. Again, they believe themselves to have higher standards, the best talent, and the most interesting and creative content...unless something goes wrong, in which case they want to lower their standard to the "industry standard."

I don't think ESPN handled this situation poorly, but I always find it interesting when a company falls back on the "industry standard" to excuse a mistake, but otherwise considers themselves above the "industry standard" when bragging about their accomplishments. This doesn't go just for ESPN, but it is funny how a company will lower the expectations for themselves to explain a mistake.

Orrin Reischl (Chicago)

I saw a lot of criticism of ESPN for not being the first to report the tragic passing of Junior Seau this week, even though ti was on Twitter. I also saw some people defend ESPN for being appropriately cautious. What's your take?

Just to beat a dead horse, I couldn't find an Orrin Reischl in Chicago, Illinois. That doesn't mean this isn't a nickname he is using for this chat or something like that of course.

This just another softball question posed, which helps to avoid John Walsh from having to answer the tougher questions that readers/viewers of ESPN really care about.

JW: Thanks for your questions. I'm always happy to be thinking rock and roll and explaining what happens at ESPN. Please add Kenny Chesney, Jimmy Buffett, Nils Lofgren, Steven Van Zandt to my rock Mt. Rushmore.

I'm not sure you can trust anyone who wants to put Kenny Chesney on the Mount Rushmore of rock 'n roll.


rich said...

After the Jeremy Lin situations on ESPN TV and your mobile site, the network pledged changes to prevent future occurances.

I agree, I'm sick of ESPN blowing their load for guys with subpar abilities who manage to play well for a week or two at a time.

What have you done to fix this ESPN.

::sees article on Tebow changing his dog's name::


Have noticed A LOT more NHL playoff coverage on ESPN this year

Huh? What? There has?

ESPN's hockey coverage has been fucking awful. Burnside is still writing articles mentioning Crosby despite the fact Crosby hasn't played in three weeks. I'm not joking, after game three of Philly-NJ, Burnside was still writing about Crosby.

Nvm that I'm currently picking playoff series better than any of ESPN's hockey "experts," and I'm 0 for 3 in the second round (Come on Washington!)

Their voices are always loud, strong and passionate.

Cool, then explain how an ESPN exec was inferred recently that hockey got less coverage because NBC owned the rights.

finally, there is the other news of the day.

There are 0 hockey posts on ESPN's homepage right now.

There is:

1 article on "bounty gate"
1 article on Tebow's dog
2 articles on the Viking's stadium
1 article on the Heat PA guy apologizing for a joke
0 articles on hockey.

I need my Horns fix.

The same thing you were doing last year?

It's amazing in an era where there exists technology to spread information to anywhere in the world in a moments notice that this guy can't get his "fix" of UT football.

our four ombudsmen have made us better

Which is why more people than ever are avoiding ESPN and going to places like Yahoo Sports for their news.

I also saw some people defend ESPN for being appropriately cautious.

The problem with ESPN is that it's like Apple. They have a higher budget than a lot of other companies, but spend it on things that don't improve their products, rather they spend it on their "image."

For such a "world wide leader," I honestly can't remember the last big story ESPN actually broke or even the last big story to happen where they didn't link to the AP before one of their people had a write up.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, I was shocked and absolutely riveted that Tebow changed his dog's name. This has to be one of the biggest stories in sports today. I wonder if ESPNW is reporting that Hope Solo has her period?

I think they created that hockey question, or ignored all of the insulting hockey-related questions. There isn't more hockey on ESPN. That's a bold-faced lie. It's pathetic they have these chats and don't answer the questions we really want answered.

See, I think that guy can get his Longhorns fix. It's just ESPN created that question to advertise for the Longhorn network. I believe this whole chat was an advertisement for ESPN's family of networks. It hit ESPNW and Longhorn Network. If you can't find info on the Longhorns, you are too lazy and need to learn to use the Internet.

ESPN is the worldwide leader in sports mostly because they are the biggest. The same way we could believe Wal-Mart sells the best product because the most people shop there. ESPN is the WWL in size, not in content or reporting.

I think 1/3 of these questions are made up. If not, they did a great job cherry-picking the questions in this softball-question throwing experiment.