Editor’s note: I really wish I could have gotten this up earlier. I had mucho technico problemos with the audio. But I still think the discussion in San Diego, Calif., is pertinent for any and all interested parties.
There were a number of newsworthy moments at the National Association of Black Journalists convention and career fair (July 28 – Aug. 1). But none was more important to me than the discussion of “LeBronapalooza.” Also known as, “The Decision.”
NABJ compiled a stellar assortment of its own members, most of which were at the forefront of coverage and decision-making, for a panel on how the ethical quandary arose. That being how the World Wide Leader simultaneously covered LeBron James while being quasi business partners with him as he announced his decision to some 18 million viewers that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat.
At issue was ESPN’s ceding control of the advertising spots on the show, which many journalists are still outraged about. I wrote about that here.
It’s not the first time NABJ’s Sports Task Force, chaired by my colleague Greg Lee Jr., has addressed hot topics with newsmakers at NABJ conventions. (Unfortunately, Mr. Lee was unable to attend. And Mr. James was missing as well.) Michael Vick and those dogs comes to mind. But this discussion brought out all the heavy hitters. On the panel were ESPN reporters Chris Broussard and J.A. Adande, Yahoo! Sports NBA writer Marc Spears, Miami Herald Heat writer Mike Wallace, Managing Editor of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer Debra Adams-Simmons and Comcast Sportsnet New England’s NBA writer A. Sherrod Blakely.
Each had a unique take on the development and coverage of the story. But with all of these great perspectives, what really lacked was an executive’s take. You know, an editor.
Oh wait, NABJ had that too.
All of two days earlier, before this renowned panel of media starlets sat down to discuss LeBronapalooza, Editor-in-Chief of ESPN Digital, including ESPN.com, Rob King was tasked as the the keynote speaker for the NABJ Sports Task Force mentor breakfast. It was his decision to remove a sensational article about LeBron from ESPNLosAngeles.com, which he explained at the breakfast. And it was partly his planning that put “The Decision” together.
So when he told the young and old journalists alike that there was simply competing interests at ESPN, many of the folks glossed over it. I guess it was too early in the morning for people to realize that was King’s way of doling out fault.
I have some audio of King’s speech here. It begins by talking about the LeBron James article that was removed from ESPNLosAngeles.com. Warning: It’s 10 minutes and 30 seconds in length.
So fast forward to the panel, in which the question was asked, how can the ESPN reporters and editors, who had nothing to do with the planning of “The Decision,” trust their bosses when Broussard had to awkwardly break the story that his own employer was going to host this show? All eyes turned to Broussard.
I won’t quote what he said exactly, because I wasn’t taking notes and I wasn’t recording it, but he did say something to the effect that as long as they (ESPN executives) weren’t gonna tell him to stop doing his job, he was fine with it. And while confronting his bosses over the the story, he asked Vince Doria, ESPN’s senior vice president and director of news, if he knew where LeBron was going. (He did not.)
These are the most interesting points of the discussion to me. The fact that ESPN’s business side got the better of its news operation is more understandable than the horrible justifications that have been thrown around by many ESPN personalities. And the fact that Rob King, of all people, stood up and took it on the chin for his organization, was a stand-up moment. You gotta respect a guy like that. And then you gotta respect Broussard, J.A. and everyone else for having to work in that environment. Not many journalists go through the kind of hurdles they go through with the partnerships that they have on a day-to-day basis.
At the end of the day, it was a learning opportunity for ESPN and I think after having these discussions, that the WWL has learned quite a bit. It took some backlash, but it’s happened.