Ed Note: This article written by Allen Kenney first appeared on Bloguin.com's college football blog Crystal Ball Run. AA has been quite critical of Poynter's missed opportunities as ESPN ombud and their newest installment on ESPN's role in realignment is no different. The following article puts their latest effort in the context of ESPN as a larger corporate entity heavily involved with college realignment. As in the picture above from ESPN.com, if ESPN can hype their own conflicts of interest while promoting Poynter's viewpoint of ESPN "staying loyal to its audience" and Longhorn Network in one stroke, serious questions need to be asked of the ombudsman's role. (-MY)
The Poynter Institute, currently serving as ESPN’s ombudsman, yesterday released its analysis of the World Wide Leader’s role in reshaping the landscape of college athletics and the effect on its news coverage, a critique hotly anticipated by passionate sports fans and media wonks.
As one would expect when dealing with such complicated subject matter, Kelly McBride’s report is broad and winding, touching on a number of moving parts involved in realignment. Early on in the 2,300-word article, however, she lays out the heart of the matter:
“After interviewing executives who negotiate these growing contracts for ESPN, key officials of athletic conferences, NCAA officials and outside analysts, this much is clear: ESPN is acting like the big business it is, strategically locking up its market whenever it makes financial sense. Could that be a problem for the network's credibility as its reporters independently gather information about schools and conferences? Yes.”
In other words, one side of ESPN’s house - the business side seeking to maximize its profits through broadcasting relationships with colleges and the conferences - is creating a problem for the news side charged with practicing objective journalism. So, here comes a lesson in ethics and reporting in the face of a glaring conflict of interest, right?
Before delving into the journalistic bugaboos presented by realignment, McBride takes great pains to not only rehash the events that led up to the current situations, but to assess ESPN’s involvement. McBride seemingly goes above and beyond the call of duty in attempting to absolve ESPN of blame in all the conference-swapping and bitter break-ups witnessed in the last two years.
Rightfully so. The truth is that while ESPN gives bitter fans a convenient bogeyman when their favorite team ends up on the short end of the realignment stick, ESPN’s role in the neverending realignment drama wouldn’t exist if the universities themselves weren’t tripping over themselves to mine every dollar possible out of college athletics. ESPN may act as a catalyst in realignment, but as McBride notes:
“The increasingly huge amounts of money the network spends on college rights are a primary driver of the domino effect in conference realignment. Is that inappropriate? Only if you think ESPN should be responsible for preserving the traditional values of collegiate athletics.
We'd suggest there should be a lot of other defenders of student athletes in line to do this work before ESPN, starting with college presidents.”
So, in some way, shape or fashion, ESPN is helping fuel realignment. I think we can all agree on that to some degree. Not really news, but it’s great that we’re on the same page.
Now about that credibility issue you mentioned...