ESPN's relationship with the Poynter Institute is back in the spotlight thanks to a letter to the Editor column on the Sports Business Journal by Patrick Steigman, ESPN.com's Editor-in-Chief. The letter is a response to another takedown of ESPN's lack of transparency, perceived conflict of interest, and Poynter's role as watchdog by Auburn professor John Carvalho, also on SBJ's website. If you're interested in this sort of big picture ethics-type stuff (and I assume you're at least a little interested) take the time to read both the initial letter and ESPN's response.
Aside from the actual details in ESPN's response, it's fascinating that someone from the WWL felt the need to respond so strongly to a critique of their perceived conflict of interest and their much debated relationship with Poynter. For so long, ESPN has ignored cries that they've lost their journalistic integrity because they can basically print their own money while dominating the sports landscape. With that being said, let's distill the important points that are debated by the two regarding the Poynter Institute and ESPN's transparency initiative. And no, this won't be as simple as juding a classic Deitsch/Rovell Twitter War.
(1) The Poynter Review Project is hidden on ESPN.com
"First, have you ever tried finding these essays? You’ll need help, and here it is: On the entry page, scroll down almost to the bottom. Under “Feedback” is a link to “Poynter Review Project.” The name “Poynter” is meaningless to most outside of the journalism industry. You’ll have to ask ESPN why they don’t put the word “ethics” there." -Carvalho
There is also an assertion that the Poynter commentaries are difficult to find on ESPN.com. That is a prima facie example of the absence of fact finding. We post every ombudsman column prominently on the ESPN.com home page, they remain easily discoverable for at least 48 hours, and all are searchable. And readers are aware: Ombudsman columns regularly generate hundreds of thousands of page views, some exceeding 500,000. -Steigman
There is some truth to what each claims in this case. To support Carvalho's critique, here's a screen cap of where to find the "Poynter Review Project" on the ESPN main page. Nowhere are the words ombudsman, ethics, or journalism to be found in association with Poynter, only the generic "ESPN Feedback." Its location is well near the bottom of the page.
Carvalho is correct that anyone without prior knowledge of the goals of Poynter and the role they serve at ESPN would be left wondering about the purpose of Poynter. However, Steigman is correct that some Poynter articles have received headline treatment, although most of the time they remain buried beneath the virtual fold on ESPN's front page. Overall, this one's not a big deal. Those who want to find Poynter's articles usually can, but it's not like ESPN is promoting Poynter with the fervor of their other endeavors.