Behind The Scenes

Straight facts about ESPN’s journalism

ESPN's commitment to sports fans. (ESPN Images)
ESPN’s new Digital Center 2 (Rich Arden/ESPN Images)

Having been honored with three of the most prestigious journalism awards over the course of the last year (the Peabody Award; the 2014 Alfred I. duPont Columbia University Award; and the Edward R. Murrow Award), it would be wrong to suggest ESPN’s commitment to journalism is compromised in any way.

Yet that is exactly the often-repeated narrative.

In recent weeks, ESPN has once again distinguished itself in its reporting on issues that have dominated national headlines.

To help offer perspective on ESPN’s work, Front Row spoke with Senior Vice President, SportsCenter and News/Information Rob King:

Assess ESPN’s news coverage over the past few weeks.
We should all be really proud of the terrific work all our reporters, across the board, have done to bring to light some of the issues concerning domestic violence and child abuse as it pertains to the NFL. Our reporters and analysts have been thoughtful in their coverage and discussions, and we’ve been aggressive in covering all these stories and more, from our detailed reporting on the Greg Hardy case to our recent coverage of US Soccer’s handling of Hope Solo. Over the summer we have also continued our comprehensive coverage of Tony Bosch; inaction on Title IX issues and other important stories.

We have clearly put our shoulders to the task so that we can get to some of the hard truths surrounding these issues, and we will continue to do that.

What have you been particularly proud of in terms of coverage?
Clearly the story on Sept. 19 from Don Van Natta Jr. and Kevin Van Valkenburg – with assists from John Barr, Paula Lavigne and Wright Thompson – was exceptionally well-reported, which is evidenced by the depth of its detail and its wide array of sources from within the team, the league, law enforcement and others.

We have clearly put our shoulders to the task so that we can get to some of the hard truths surrounding these issues, and we will continue to do that.
ESPN Sr. VP Rob King

The two hour espnW roundtable on ESPN Radio featuring Jemele Hill, Cari Champion, Jane McManus, Kate Fagan and Sarah Spain was another deep, intelligent discussion. I also liked seeing these brilliant women featured on SportsCenter that afternoon and frequently throughout our coverage of this story.

I’m especially proud of the terrific job we’ve done of inviting a diverse array of people to discuss all angles of the developments. From the reporting of Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter to the newer voices of Jim Trotter, Louis Riddick and others, we are able to put forth people who have been working in and around the game for a long time.

How do you respond to outsiders who claim ESPN has not covered the issue with a critical eye due to business relationships with the league?
I think anyone who would take the time to do a critical assessment – not only of our coverage these past few weeks, but over many years – they would see our people reporting and occasionally casting a harsh spotlight on topics that might be difficult for the league partners. They would also see countless features that shine a positive light on the sports world. The leagues may not love all our coverage, but these issues are important to fans.

Look at the reporting we did on Monday regarding former Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher. That’s just another example of our journalists digging at stories that might not please those who we cover.

I’ll say it again, I’ve never received a phone call from my bosses or from colleagues in Programming asking us to not do a story. These can be difficult stories for leagues to see but it’s important we do them and thoroughly report the stories in a balanced manner for our fans.

How would you characterize the female voices who have been prominent on ESPN in these discussions?
Someone like Jemele Hill, an extraordinary versatile performer and journalist, is correctly perceived as one of the best at what she does. When something like this story develops, Jemele becomes central to how we serve the fan with informed, insightful opinions. Sarah Spain and Jane McManus have been important voices for espnW since its beginning and they offer smart expertise and also provide true fan engagement in not just the stick and ball sports but in society as a whole. It’s been great to see and hear a pro like Melissa Isaacson on our air; same for Kate Fagan, a smart, talented, committed journalist.

Look at Hannah Storm’s electrifying commentary from Sept. 14 pertaining to the NFL and its importance and resonance in society. She worked hard on that piece, took a very thoughtful, sincere approach and asked questions that really needed to be asked.

They’ve all made us proud, but the important thing to remember is that these women do terrific work well beyond domestic issues. They do great work every day, every season and all year long, and they just make us better. Additionally, our newsroom is filled with some of the best and brightest female journalists in the field, who have been integral in shaping and presenting our coverage.

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