Chat with John Walsh
John Walsh, ESPN's executive vice president and executive editor, will stop by Thursday to take your questions.
Walsh will discuss the network's approach to editorial coverage and take your questions about specific content topics. This will be the first of regular ESPN.com chats with editorial decision-makers at ESPN, and coincides with the introduction of formalized Editorial Guidelines for Standards and Practices at the network. These chats offer viewers and readers the chance to connect directly with those involved in ESPN's coverage.
Send your questions now and join Walsh Thursday at 1 p.m. ET!
John Walsh (12:58 PM)
Hello everyone. Ready to take your questions.
Eric Aspen (Seattle)
Hi John, thanks for the chat. I'm an aspiring sports journalist. What do you think of the state of journalism in the Internet age? What is the future of newspapers?
John Walsh (1:03 PM)
We are in the most interesting age of media because it is a time of transition. I wonder how the public reacted to the Gutenberg Press? We have new medium (in the last 15 years) which is challenging us on many fronts including journalism. What's more important -- be fast and first, or accurate and thoughtful? How do we cope with the opinion universe that is sometimes based on conditional statements rather than facts? What's the true perspective we should take on verbal outrage? These are just a few questions this transitional period brings to the forefront.
John Walsh (1:05 PM)
As to the future of newspapers, it seems to me that the paradigm has to change more expeditiously than it has. Newspapers have to give some concern to frequency and the viability of what sustains with ink on paper. This deals with news stories, relevant topics, graphics, pictures and features. Newspapers have to learn more about the Internet is and the proper context for their participation with the traditions of newsgathering, editorial writing, etc.
richard (dallas, tx)
What are the key points of these editorial standards? Similar to what newspapers have tended to use?
John Walsh (1:08 PM)
In many ways, there are similarities. In a multi-platform media company, there are some differences. The main goal is for the standards to act as aspiratinoal touchstones for all of our content contributors to do their best possible work. We address some issues that are by nature controversial, including commentary, coverage of civil lawsuits, etc. Another key element is transparency, because we do want people to know how we do what we do, and why we do so, when appropriate. We also have for a number of years had a corrections policy so people do realize that we're human, make mistakes, and are willing to correct them.
How does ESPN decide what topics go on at the beginning of SportsCenter each night?
John Walsh (1:11 PM)
Our goal with all of our SportCenter programs is to get the largest possible audience to view the show for the longest possible time. If we're coming off a Monday Night Football game with our largest audiences, for example, we would probably lead with the game results or the best NFL story in order to maintain that audience. In most cases, we take whatever the producers judge to be the most important story, highlight or issue of the day that will be of interest to the largest possible audience. The first segment of the show is designed for multiple stories from a variety of sources and sports so that as many people as possible have an interest in staying with the show.
Did ESPN know that Erin Andrews had signed a deal with Reebok when she dissed the Nike shoes the TCU players were wearing during the Rose Bowl?
John Walsh (1:15 PM)
First to set the record straight. Erin was reporting what she saw on the field, which her boothmates also observed -- the players were slipping and having difficulty getting traction with their shoes. As for the Reebok deal, we discussed that with her representatives later that month.
edgar doolittle (Mars, Pa.)
Do you think having ESPN personalities/journalists do commercials compromises their journalistic integrity?
John Walsh (1:19 PM)
We have from time to time adopted policies to prevent this from occurring. I can't think of an instance in which I really believe someone consciously thought of their participation in a commercial endorsement that influenced their news coverage, in any way shape or form. I can assure you that we are very vigilant and have made alterations to our policy to ensure that it does not compromise our journalism. We will review the policy again early this year.
sir is really plesure to have you in here, i have the impression that the nfl treats espn like a second class citizen, no sb, no playoffs, they have the draft , no flex schedule, and the games awarded to mnf does not have the same a-list status that snf have or even whwn mnf was in abc, is this perception wrong ? are not you guys the top payers in tv rigths ?
John Walsh (1:22 PM)
These are programming decisions made by our business side, which has a 31-year history of making pretty good business calls. On the editorial side, we have no influence over the business decision. We cover the sports and leagues independent of our business interests. And we've had some very successful hours of programming dealing with the NFL that other networks have not.
Mr. Walsh: Thanks for chatting. To what extent, if any, does the on-field success of former coaches, GMs and/or players factor into whether ESPN hires them as analysts? Is it a significant factor?Thanks.
John Walsh (1:27 PM)
We look for analysts who have expertise about the contemporary game, who can articulate their thoughts clearly for a mass audience and who may add insight to make our fans smarter about the games that they are watching. Sometimes we hire fired coaches (like John Gruden), GMs who have had less than a huge run of success (like Matt Millen) and some players who were not perennial all-stars (like Jon Barry). All of these people bring our audiences better information, insightful analysis and entertaining communication. Don't get me wrong, though, we're not against success ... and all of these people did have a fair amount of success in their professional careers.
Jason (Topeka, KS)
The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?
John Walsh (1:28 PM)
I was always a Four Tops and Creedence Clearwater guy. If you want to dig a little deeper, I lean toward Gram Parsons, Leonard Cohen and Rita Coolidge.
David (Scranton, PA)
Will you be adding a new Ombudsman anytime soon?
John Walsh (1:31 PM)
We are in the search process, which we hope to complete expeditiously. I would be surprised if we didn't fill that position by early next month. We have had a great deal of positive feedback from our audiences about the 64 ombudsman columns from three contributors over the last five years. You all seem to taken with their straight-forward, forthcoming opinions, and their ability to dig deep into our processes and decision making. I can assure you all that these columns are widely discussed in the work place, and can have a very positive effect on future decision making.
why does ESPN publish odds? its illegal in 90% of states to wager.
John Walsh (1:33 PM)
We do not publish odds to encourage wagering. We post odds in order to inform our audiences of the perceived differences in performances for two competing teams. We frequently refer to them as the "so-called" experts so that you all know it is an expertise without certainty. This is simply a service to fans.
Timothy Jones (Chicago, IL)
While I appreciate the unique knowledge that a former professional athlete can bring to a discussion, I feel ESPN has gone a little overboard in this respect. Is there an equal desire/commitment to nurturing true journalists?
John Walsh (1:36 PM)
In a multi-platform universe, we have many diverse goals. We factor into our hiring achieving all of those goals, to the best of our ability. We have a large mass of people who are gathering news, writing features, entertaining with humor and insightful essays and opinions, along with former coaches coaches, GMs, scouts and athletes who tell us about strategies, X and O analysis and the mindsets of people who play and coach the games. The mixture is a tricky one to balance, but we are always conscious that we must serve all of these goals in order to maximize our audience and our own reputation.
Scott Larson (Seattle)
Can you state officially for the record that ESPN has a East Coast bias? The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.
John Walsh (1:38 PM)
I can state officially that the Yankees-Red Sox games rate higher in the state of California than when two California teams play each other. (Unofficially, I spent a portion of my alleged adult life in the state of California and have many leanings toward some West Coast teams and players).
Edgar (Sammamish, WA)
What was it like working with the young Hunter S. Thompson? How much of a roller-coaster ride was it to be his editor?
John Walsh (1:42 PM)
During the Rolling Stone days, there were two Hunters. There was the social Hunter who was funny, entertaining, a fan of great writing, a master of being the biggest personality in the room while mumbling very little and who reveled in interesting conversation. And then there was the second Hunter, the maniacal deadline artist who challenged your ability as an editor 24/7 in order to get his copy filed. His first filing would be marked "Insert QQ" ... which meant he written something that would be in the story somewhere, and that you would collaboratively figure it out sometime somewhere how it would fit.
John Walsh (1:43 PM)
Also with Hunter, the later era Hey Rube columns for ESPN.com showed how far we had come in knowing how to handle his Gonzo tendencies. He never got paid until he filed. So it was all on him.
You stated you have some leaning toward some west coast teams and players. Can you tell us which teams and players you like?
John Walsh (1:45 PM)
That would be like picking a favorite child. You just can't do it.
What would you say was the last mistake ESPN made, editorially, that they have learned from?
John Walsh (1:48 PM)
Certainly, we continually examine our content to see if we could have done it differently, had a better execution or made better editorial decisions. We learned from "The Decision" that we needed to be more transparent about our editorial decisions in programming. We learned from the Ben Roethlisberger story of a year and a half ago that we needed to be more urgent in the era of the Internet. As such, we've incorporated changes and nuances in these areas, among others, with our recently introduced Editorial Guidelines for Standards and Practices.
Do you face this much criticism on a daily basis? I love you guys over at ESPN. You bring me everything that I want from the sports world with a little humor and lightheartedness to go along with it. So for that I say thank you.
John Walsh (1:49 PM)
It feels good to hear someone say something positive about what we do. Mostly, we feel good about what we do. But when we don't feel that way, we beat ourselves up internally over and over, on a daily basis.
Ed Hochuli (Chat Ref)
Scott, that's a 15 yard penaly for illegal chat procedure. There is no playing of the "East Coast Bias" card here. Repeat 1st down.
How do you deal with sports that you cover that you don't have a television contract (ie NHL, MMA) with in regards to their coverage on SportsCenter and the Bottom Line? And what impact does that have on the priority in the telecast?
John Walsh (1:53 PM)
We cover those sports according to the popularity of their fan bases. When there are important developments, great achievements or events with championship implications, we try to do justice to them. We often put highlights in the Top 10 plays. At our offices, we have a broad base of people who are fanatical NHL and MMA fans, for example, and they hold us accountable for our coverage.
Any concerns about the upcoming ESPN book?
John Walsh (1:56 PM)
Sometime this spring there will be an independent book about the history of ESPN. The authors have spent 2 years interviewing more than 500 people, and they are also the authors of the book "Live from New York" published years ago on the 25th anniversary of Saturday Night Live (that book had rave reviews, a large circulation and almost all of the people interviewed thought the history was as accurate and fair as possible). So we're optimistic that this book will achieve those same goals.
Mr. Walsh: What is your take on many of ESPN's stories and breaking news being based off of "sources"?
John Walsh (2:01 PM)
This is a complicated area, and the answer depends on many factors. The relationship between the reporter and the source, and the history of that relationship, is an important factor in decision making. Also, the number of sources is a significant factor. The nature of the topic and it's relevance to our audience also comes into play. And we also monitor the competition and their reliance on unnamed sources. We spent much time and discussion and get input from anyone we think can add to the quality of the decision-making and strive to give you the most credible and best reporting we can.
John Walsh (2:02 PM)
Time is up! Thank you for being the lid-lifters on our new venture into a viral form of transparency. One of my colleagues will be back with you next month to answer more of your queries. I'm especially happy that I was able to relive my days with Hunter, my fondness with music from the '60s and a heavy dose of sports, media and journalism. Good afternoon and Happy Super Bowl Sunday!