Poynter Review: ESPN’s early coverage of Penn State sexual abuse scandal slow, ‘tone-deaf’

ESPN
Kelly McBride and Jason Fry, writing for the Poynter Review, criticize ESPN for being slow to cover the Penn State sexual abuse story with the gravity it deserved. “ESPN should have been leading the charge to ask tough questions and shed light on this scandal. Instead, it was the tiny Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. out in front of the journalism pack,” they write. “It wasn’t until mid-afternoon Tuesday that ESPN finally seemed consistently to ask the right questions and find the appropriate moral outrage. That’s 72 hours after the story first broke.” Particularly galling: A post, published Monday, about how the scandal would affect recruiting. || Who are you calling tiny? The Patriot-News has a Sunday circulation of 113,000, says Daniel Victor: “Hardly tiny.” || 10 questions: Some of the questions journalists should ask Paterno (MarketWatch) || Related: Charles Apple critiques front pages reporting Joe Paterno’s firing, complimenting the The Times-Tribune in Scranton “for resisting the temptation to go with a nice, reflective file shot and instead focus on news pictures, shot on deadline last night.” | Crowd tips over news van during riot (Mediaite) || Time to start over: Joe Posnanski should scrap the “simple, unambiguous” biography he is writing about Paterno (Deadspin) || Earlier: Sports Illustrated writer haunted by favorable profile of Jerry Sandusky (Poynter)

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  • Anonymous

    In fact, anyone who read the Patriot-News’ coverage shouldn’t have been surprised by the charges last week. Sara Ganim broke the news of the investigation in March and has advanced the story beyond all other media ever since. Even the indictment she broke before anyone else and played up much bigger than the others.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_A647F4ATLBSESDPCN2GYQSYOMY Barry Jones

    I wish ESPN would cover sports and leave crime stories to the news networks. Granted, the Penn St story is disturbing and serious-  and if I want to hear more about it, I’ll turn on a news channel. When I turn on ESPN, I want football football and more football.

  • Anonymous

    I would say that Sandusky’s actions in the shower are the quintessence of “Sports Illustrated”.

  • http://twitter.com/kellymcb Kelly McBride

    Hi Daniel,

    When we compared ESPN to the Patriot-News, we were struck not only by the editorial choices, but the difference in leadership. And we’re not suggesting ESPN should have been ahead of the local paper. But they should have been working to turn up some new information and new discussion about this massive system failure. And we didn’t see that at all. In my experience, the local organization is often ahead on the facts, but struggling to see the big picture. In this case, the Patriot-News was spot on in both areas, which is remarkable considering the weakened state of newspaper newsrooms these days.

  • Anonymous

    As of Thursday, November 10, ESPN radio has taken a new tack. Now they are conducting an on-air trial of Penn State asst. coach Mike McQueary, presumably in the court of public opinion. 

    What’s missing is any authentic fact-finding and/or any testimony from coach McQueary. 

    This seems doubly ironic since Mr, McQueary seems to be the only witness who reported the alleged activities of coach Sandusky both to his boss, Joe Paterno, and to the university authorities, and later before a grand jury. Still ESPN is promoting the notion he is guilty of negligence and needs to be dismissed. 

    Am I missing something? Is this the appropriate role for a news network? 

  • Anonymous

    As of Thursday, November 10, ESPN radio has taken a new tack. Now they are conducting an on-air trial of Penn State asst. coach Mike McQueary, presumably in the court of public opinion. 

    What’s missing is any authentic fact-finding and/or any testimony from coach McQueary. 

    This seems doubly ironic since Mr, McQueary seems to be the only witness who reported the alleged activities of coach Sandusky both to his boss, Joe Paterno, and to the university authorities, and later before a grand jury. Still ESPN is promoting the notion he is guilty of negligence and needs to be dismissed. 

    Am I missing something? Is this the appropriate role for a news network? 

  • Jamie Loo

    I’m glad Daniel Victor spoke up and said something about the reference to the Patriot-News as a “tiny” newspaper. When I first saw that in the Poynter Review post, I was personally offended (and a reporter with tough skin that’s pretty hard to do). I understand that McBride and Fry were talking about ESPN as a large news organization that is focused on sports missing the story and big picture involved. However to insinuate that ESPN should’ve been ahead of the Patriot-News on this story is ridiculous. In the journalism ecosystem the Patriot-News should be first with this story. It’s their local coverage area and they are rightfully outraged at what has happened in their community. Should ESPN have jumped in more quickly too, sure, but they shouldn’t be “leading the pack.” It’s already a slap in the face to call the Patriot-News “tiny” when they’re a well-respected mid-size newspaper. As a journalist who has worked at mid-sized newspapers I’m disturbed that Poynter would minimize the power of a local newspaper. If an ESPN or wire service scooped me on a local story I would be personally embarassed and appalled. It’s my job to be my community’s watchdog. The Patriot-News broke this story last March before anyone else. They may not be a large news org. like ESPN but that doesn’t mean their value as a news organization is less. I really respect Poynter and I’m sure this wasn’t Poynter’s intent. I just hope more care will be taken in the future when comparisons are made between small and large news organizations.