Behind The Scenes

Full day of breaking news highlights versatility of ESPN’s deep and talented newsgathering unit

Jeff Cameron and Shelley Smith cover the Jameis Winston investigation. (ESPN)
Jeff Cameron and Shelley Smith cover the Jameis Winston investigation. (ESPN)

Thursday’s 10 a.m. ET planning meeting in the basement conference room of Building 4 on ESPN’s main campus in Bristol, Conn. included about 40 people from all across the company and focused on how the news gathering unit would cover the findings of the Jameis Winston investigation.

What reporters were where? How many cameras were on the ground in Tallahassee? Were satellite trucks in place? What analysts were available for reaction? Could programming accommodate some shuffling of shows across networks in the afternoon?

click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

For 40 minutes, Senior Vice President and Director of News Vince Doria led the group in a discussion of what had already been put in motion by a host of behind-the-scenes people once the State Attorney’s press conference was announced Wednesday afternoon. Coordination had been ongoing between the news and assignment desks; the bureau reporters and planning group; digital editors; show producers; programming teams; and a myriad array of some of the hardest working people in the business.

Planning, preparation and foresight were also key elements later in the day when confirmation came in the 4 p.m. ET hour that former South African leader Nelson Mandela had passed away at the age of 95. Like most news organizations, ESPN was aware of Mr. Mandela’s condition and a 23-page planning document – prepared months in advance and including scripts and suggested “readers” – was put into action, allowing for immediate, on-air reaction and retrospectives on the world leader’s impact on sports in society.

A prepared Mandela tribute, written and voiced by Jeremy Schaap, ran on SportsCenter (which was shifted from ESPNEWS to ESPN) and anchor Bob Ley, who had been in World Cup Draw rehearsals all day, volunteered to jump on-set to contribute to the Mandela coverage.

“This is what we do,” Doria said. “We had been preparing for the Winston story for about 18 hours and had a good handle on that, but the timing of Mr. Mandela’s passing, obviously, we couldn’t plan for. To have a thorough roadmap already in place significantly helped our reaction time.

“The power of planning, communication and organization allowed us to thoroughly cover both stories and deliver reporting and analysis that fans expect of us.”

Here is a sampling of the content that was produced on Thursday and served to fans across ESPN platforms:

• Shelley Smith with ESPN Radio Tallahassee’s Jeff Cameron, breaking the news that Winston would not be charged.

• Heather Dinich, – “If the legal system isn’t going to derail Jameis Winston this season, it’s quite possible nothing will.”

• Bob Ley and Michael Kim on SportsCenter:


• Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer and David Pollack – Heisman chances of Winston and what to expect from Florida State in Saturday’s ACC Championship (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).

• Mark Schlabach’s one-on-one interview with State Attorney Willie Meggs – Why charges were not brought against Winston.

Mark Schwarz with FSU student reaction.

• ESPN legal analyst Roger CossackExplains the decision not to file charges and what it means.

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