Chat with ESPN Exec. VP 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 is a part of regular ESPN.com chats with editorial decision-makers at ESPN. 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 10 a.m. ET!
John Walsh (10:06 AM)
Good morning everyone, let's get to your questions.
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?
John Walsh (10:19 AM)
We have continued to talk about the consequences of what occurreed and cautioned key personnel to take heed of memos on potentially controversial topics (we did anticipate the potential in the Lin situation, and published guidance company wide and held meeetings to discuss the dangers inherent in this case). At ESPN.com, we merged our mobile news operation with our universal copy desk to ensure more dedicated and proper vetting of what we publish.
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?
John Walsh (10:22 AM)
While John Sawatsky was teaching Carlton University in Ottawa more than a decade ago, he had a world-wide reputation for teaching interview skills to TV newsrooms. He was profiled in the American Journalism Review, published by the University of Maryland. I saw the article and recommended that we comission John to hold seminars in Bristol on interviewing. The seminars were so successful that many of our colleagues commended them to Mark Shapiro, then running the production and programming departments. Mark came to me and said why don't we become the first and only media company to hire an interview coach.
John Walsh (10:24 AM)
So eight or nine years ago, we approach John, who accepted our offer. He's been an incredible resource with his seminars, assistance in preparing people to conduct interviews and his assessments of the performance and execution of interviews. 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.
Rand Copper (Boston)
Have noticed A LOT more NHL playoff coverage on ESPN this year, especially on SportsCenter and ESPN.com. What finally made you pay attention?
John Walsh (10:33 AM)
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. We have attempted to ask our decision makers and managers to pay attention. Every year, there seems to be opinions on all sides of the issues about the NHL. 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. So when we are dealing with Junior Seau's tragic death or Roger Goodell's bounty discipline, highlights of NHL playoffs and all other sports become part of the decision-making process.
Just how disappointed were you and your colleagues when ESPN was unable to secure the television rights to NHL, FIFA, and Olympic telecasts?
John Walsh (10:34 AM)
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?
John Walsh (10:37 AM)
We did not view it as a political statement. We spoke with our employees and were convinced that what they were saying is that they were showing support on a human level to the grieving family. This was not political. It was personal. And it was a forum for individuals to offer their condolences for a life tragically taking. I would direct you to the Poynter Project's coverage of ESPN's coverage of Trayvon Martin. It was both insightful and instructional -- and we did share that point of view with the employees who chose to make statements.
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.
John Walsh (10:38 AM)
You and your friends should call your cable distributor. The programming and producing are superb.
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. As a long-time journalist, I applaud your efforts in this area, especially when you don't have to take on this self-examination. Why haven't others followed your lead, and what do you see as the big wins for ESPN in having an ombudsman?
John Walsh (10:40 AM)
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. I cannot speak for other companies, but I do admire newspapers with ombudsmen or public editors, and now that I have seen NPR willingly step into this place, I'm hopeful that the trend will grown.
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.
John Walsh (10:43 AM)
We have always been an aggressive, competitive company. We have always felt that other media organizations who step into the coverage of sports, from time to time, help to inspire us and make us better. We're happy for all of the job applicants and people who may be leaving sports media organizations that there are more job created by these sports networks. We wish our new competitors well. We've been at this game for 31 and a half years and we will be more competitive than we have been because we see people who have decided that there is value in 24/7 cable network, Web site or radio network.
Interested reader (USA)
Why have ESPNW? Shouldn't ESPN.com cover women's sports?
John Walsh (10:45 AM)
ESPN.com has, and will continue, to cover women's sports. We felt that the time had come for us to designate this as a priority. The future of sports in the 21st century will see women playing vital and important roles. We thought being first in with such a venture is a good decision, and the audience growth in the first year of espnW seems to affirm our decision. In our second year, espnW is blazing a trail for the 40th anniversary of Title IX. We even put together a microsite to take advantage of the fantastic stories and history of women athletes over the last 40 years.
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".
John Walsh (10:50 AM)
The relationship between athletes and any media organization covering events is a complex one. We ask for access, cooperation and information, but we cannot shy away from covering the difficulties and the obstacles and the trials and tribulations of the same athletes. It is instructive that Roger Clemens was in a "This is SportsCenter" commercial years ago, and now SportsCenter, Outside the Lines and ESPN.com have devoted resources -- including investigative reporters -- to look into allegations against Clemens. There are many examples of the perception of a conflict, but it is a perception. We cover what we see, we investigate what many people don't see and we are here to illuminate our audiences to the real lives of people in the sports industry.
Steven Beach (NY)
Mr. Walsh: Who is on you rock and roll Mt. Rushmore?
John Walsh (10:53 AM)
Levon Helm and the Band, Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Bruce, U2, Smokey Robinson, Kinky Friedman and the latest addition, Sixto Rodriguez. That's more than four, but my head is ajar with far too many Rushmores.
Steven Beach (NY)
And then, who is on your all-time athlete Mt. Rushmore?
John Walsh (10:54 AM)
Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Jessie Owens, Billie Jean King, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Henry Aaron, Johnny Unitas. They made a difference on the field and off.
Deven (Los Angeles, CA)
What would you say was the last mistake ESPN made, editorially, that they have learned from?
John Walsh (10:57 AM)
We take risks, both editorially and in business, so much of the time at ESPN, that we make all kinds of mistakes. Some mistakes inspire us to develop or change policy, some mistakes have an effect on an ongoing decision where we will change our minds or tweak content and other mistakes are flat-out bad or wrong decisions, which we try to apologize for and be transparent about. Citing any one of our mistakes is a disservice to the blogosphere because we realize our mistakes are their red meat.
Spike's Place (USA)
Is Twitter the new scoreboard for who breaks news? Some sites seem to think that. Do you?
John Walsh (11:00 AM)
Twitter is in the scoreboard game, and is also in the rumor, speculation, innuendo and false news games. My advice: be careful and cautious in your judgement in what you tweet and what you read.
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?
John Walsh (1:02 PM)
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. For those unaware, there is a big difference in these job descriptions. As the name implies, freelancers without contracts are free to work anywhere, for anybody. There is no obligation on the part of the individual or the company to continue the working relationship. When she first started, she provided the information necessary to contribute to us (obviously, since then we were aware only of the contributions she was making to ESPN). This week, when we became aware of other information, we promptly ended our per-piece relationship with her. We are continuing to review this instance and examining our process for potential changes.
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?
John Walsh (1:03 PM)
Caution wins the day when it comes to reporting deaths. In the early days of ESPN Radio, we had a scoop about the death of HOF pitcher Don Drysdale in a Montreal hotel room. His wife, Annie, covers women's college basketball for us. Annie and the Drysdale family had not been notified of Don's death prior to the ESPN Radio report. We have long regretted this. In the instances of Joe Paterno and John Wooden, we have all learned the dangers of premature social media reporting of deaths. We take pride in verifying reports of deaths and we have no guilt in not being first (or second or third) to report a tragic death.
John Walsh (1:03 PM)
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.
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