In an interview with John Ourand of Street and Smith’s Sports Business Daily, the ESPN president reacted to mounting criticism from various outlets (Deadspin, Awful Announcing in particular) that the network’s journalistic standards have been reduced, and that its brand has been diminished by an endless array of debate shows, headed by First Take.
The always candid Skipper clearly thinks enough is enough. “The brand’s never been stronger,” he said.
We have standards of journalism that are at the highest order. There’s a separate question, which is, ‘Are we adhering to them?’ But at least our intention and what we publish is that we are going to adhere to high standards. We don’t discourage the scrutiny, we welcome it. Generally, we react to it….
We started Front Row so we could be a little more transparent. I don’t think anybody responds more or has higher standards. So I reject the overall criticism that we’re not doing this stuff.”
On whether ESPN goes soft with its league partners:
The thing that makes me angriest is that ESPN has a conflict. Give me three examples where we pulled up. I think that we did a comprehensive story on stadium and arena food standards and found about one quarter of the stadiums to be deficient in terms of their health standards. I don’t recall anyone else doing that or being in that much conflict with all of their partners. I think I remember a whole week of stories about the concussions in the NFL. But people still write it as a matter of fact, ‘Of course, ESPN’s not leading the way in writing about concussions.’ Other than the N.Y. Times, we’ve clearly been the most aggressive on that. Talk to David Stern about whether he thinks we pull up on stories.
And here’s my favorite. Regarding criticism of First Take:
It’s just another show. It’s not journalism. Nobody goes, ‘Gee, look how awful it is that CBS does these awful reality shows. Doesn’t that taint their great news organization?’ We have seven networks. There’s 8,760 hours per year. We’re programming 50-60,000 hours per year. … But people say, ‘Gee, that awful debate that you’re doing, how can the great ‘SportsCenter’ coexist with the debate of ‘First Take.’ I don’t know, how do infomercials coexist with the great journalism they’re doing someplace else? We’re not a micromanaged place. Jamie Horowitz is the producer of ‘First Take.’ He’s gone in a direction that’s working. Ratings are up.
So here’s my question: Who’s going to be the more upset? Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith over Skipper comparing them to “awful” reality shows; or with the polarizing hosts, reality shows being compared to First Take?
Given the way Skipper spoke out, I’m sure he would have no problem holding his own on First Take. Now there’s a show.