Morning MediaWire: ESPN cuts public editor; an alt-weekly’s national scoop over a rap flap

May 10, 2018
Category: Newsletters

One fewer public editor: Not needed anymore, or needed more than ever?

In the past, even ESPN executives would refer to the multi-platform sports news network as “a walking conflict of interest.” On Wednesday, ESPN announced it cut its public editor position, explaining that real-time social feedback has reduced the need for a separate ombudsman-style internal checker and explainer to the public.

The Undefeated’s editor-in-chief, Kevin Merida, an ESPN senior vice president and chair of its editorial board, noted the elimination of the New York Times and Washington Post public editors preceded ESPN’s move. NPR and PBS are among the shrinking ranks of news organizations with outside public editors.

Merida said his editorial board meets regularly on the kinds of current journalistic issues and best practices a public editor might handle. “No one holds our journalists to higher standards than we do,” Merida wrote in a statement.

Margaret Sullivan, a former New York Times public editor and now a Washington Post media reporter, said "the rise of social media" is a poor reason to cut the job. "A Twitter mob is not an independent internal watchdog with the authority to get answers, thoughtfully analyze them, and present them to the public," Sullivan tweeted Thursday. "And please understand, I like a good Twitter mob."

The ESPN position, created in 2005, was last held by Jim Brady, former Washington Post digital chief and CEO of Spirited Media. Brady, whose two-plus-year term ended in March, was unsurprised. “Sorry to see this,” he tweeted Wednesday morning, “though when my term ended, it felt like continuing to have the position was a 50-50 proposition at best.”

In his final column, Brady questioned whether new president James Pitaro would show the same commitment to journalism as his predecessor, John Skipper.

Another point: “Transparency: ESPN needs to make this a higher priority,” wrote Brady, who advocated for another public editor. “No one expects the network to openly discuss everything inside its walls, but there are times when ESPN has hurt itself publicly by not explaining decisions or failing to make important corrections in a timely manner.”

Poynter Institute Vice President Kelly McBride, who headed a Poynter public editor unit for ESPN in 2011 and 2012, reinforced Brady’s comments, noting the network both covers and pays for the rights to coverage in many sports.

“Any news organization could use a public-facing accountability figure,” McBride said. “ESPN, in particular, needs one if it wants its journalism to be taken seriously, because it has so many conflicts of interest.”

A scoop from the ‘barista whisper network’: Alt-weekly turns tip into national story

The abrupt firing of two baristas for a rap song playing in a Duke University coffeehouse has morphed into a national story with questions of race, justice, culture and even technological literacy.

Behind it is the IndyWeek alternative weekly for Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, and a freelance reporter, Katie Jean Fernelius, who heard something from baristas — what she called the “barista whisper network” — on Monday night.

By Wednesday, she had confirmed it: A Duke vice president, Larry Moneta, who is white, said he was offended by the rap song, Young Dolph’s “Get Paid,” that was playing when he entered the Joe Van Gogh shop during a Friday afternoon rush. Barista Britni Brown, who is African-American, apologized, immediately switched off the song and offered to comp his usual vegan muffin for inconveniencing him. Nope, he said.

Ten minutes later, the owner of the coffee chain called Brown, who said her smartphone was connected to a Spotify channel that played that song. On Monday, the two baristas, contract employees with good work records, were fired. Brown told Fernelius the other barista had nothing to do with the dispute, but he was white and the dismissal of both would make it seem not racially discriminatory.

A human resources official for Joe Van Gogh, which has a contract with Duke, was reluctant to give them a job in another location for fear that the Duke official might see them there, Fernelius said in an interview, citing an audiotape of the employees’ firing on Monday. Supporters of the fired baristas have asked other coffee shops to hire them, Fernelius said.

A technological gulf might have contributed to the disagreement. The older Duke official may have been unfamiliar with Spotify, thinking every song was contributed by an employee, like a mixtape, which is sometimes but not always the case. The cashier told Fernelius that she had been busy and wasn't paying attention to the song, which includes the N-word and F-bombs.

Nationally, activists such as Deray McKesson and Shaun King shared the story with their social audiences, some of whom urged the firing of the Duke official. Young Dolph tweeted the story to his 517,000 followers, one of whom responded, “Get them a lawyer Dolph, beat the case so everyday we celebrate.”

Moneta, the Duke vice president, came under fire last month after sending out a student-wide email with the topic “Good Sex.” The April 18 message was about a campus-wide survey on sexual harassment and assault. In the email, Moneta encouraged greater survey participation by male students, saying “step up guys!”

Quick hits

RONAN FARROW TO GRADUATES: Don’t take the easy way out, the Pulitzer-winning New Yorker reporter told graduates of Loyola Marymount College in a commencement address. He said that a year ago, his then-news organization had lost confidence in him. He was tearful, fearful, unconfident, questioning whether his long investigation into Harvey Weinstein and sexual harassment in Hollywood would pay off. He was intimidated by lawyers and “moved out of my home because I was being followed and threatened.” He told graduates he’s heartened by those who listen to their inner voice telling them to do the right thing, even if it doesn’t seem the smart or strategic move.

RELATED: “Americans rarely appreciate imperfect solutions, at least until they’re gone.” That’s from a positive New York Times review of Farrow’s just-published first book, on the decline of diplomacy.

RESIGNED: The managing editor for news of the Berkshire Eagle quit over what she called ethics violations by the Massachusetts newspaper’s editorial board. Samantha Wood said a recent member of the editorial board, Oren Cass, a fellow with the center-right Manhattan Institute, remained attending board meetings even while he was running for school board. Executive editor Kevin Moran said Cass was a non-voting member of the five-person board, which meets twice monthly, and does not write editorials. He told WAMC’s Josh Landes that Cass came aboard at the request of the owners.

WE KNEW NOTHING: NBC News’ probe into Matt Lauer concluded the network did not know of misconduct by the former “Today” show anchor until last November, It also said the infamous button that closed his office door was a standard feature for some executive offices.

CAN THE NATIONAL REVIEW FIND A NEW AUDIENCE?: Membership, not subscription, is the byword at the conservative publication these days. A little less speaking at, a little more engaging with, says its new publisher, E. Garrett Bewkes IV, to CJR’s Danny Funt. CJR asks: With barbarians outnumbering Buckleyites, can this stalwart outlet save the conservative movement?

A SEA CHANGE: Montreal's 134-year-old La Presse is going nonprofit, the CBC reported. The family that has owned it for a half century is contributing $50 million before departing.

NYT ON FX, HULU: Hoping to replicate the podcast and radio success of “The Daily,”  the New York Times is co-producing a TV news show called “The Weekly,” which will be broadcast on FX and streamed a day later on Hulu. FX, in its first news foray, has committed to 30 episodes, beginning later this year. "The Weekly" promises to “find the stories behind the headlines that would otherwise be left on the cutting room floor.”

WILL RUSSIA INFLUENCE NOVEMBER’S VOTE?: 3 of 4 millennial women surveyed say yes — and 7 of every 10 say the Trump administration isn’t doing much to prevent it. The findings are part of a yearlong look by theSkimm, Vanity Fair’s The Hive and Survey Monkey on millennial views and behavior. Said one respondent: “Until people learn to start discerning what news sources are fake … I think Russia is going to have a pretty easy time of it.” Interested in localizing this? Here are survey details and methodology.

THE BIG FLUFFY DOG THAT INTERRUPTED THE WEATHER REPORT: Surprised, WMUR meteorologist Josh Judge hadn’t forecast the Newfie that ambled through his set on air. Vamping for a transition, Judge said it was a little early for the dog days of summer. Here’s the story. Related: A video on why these canine “gentle giants” are so friendly.

What we’re reading

THE BIG IDEA: Booming California, which just passed Britain to become the world’s fifth biggest economy, moved toward requiring solar panels for all new homes and low-rise apartment buildings, beginning in 2020, the AP reports.

IS TORTURE IMMORAL?: The Trump administration nominee to head the CIA won’t say. The nominee, Gina Haspel, pledged, however, not to allow torture if she is confirmed for the job.

INSPIRING SPIELBERG: A single edit in "Lawrence of Arabia" was done so flawlessly that Steven Spielberg said it prompted him to go into films. Anne V. Coates made that edit, as well as cuts to 33 miles of raw footage to shape a nearly four-hour Academy Award winner. Coates, who edited from 1952 until 2015's "Fifty Shades of Grey," died Sunday at age 92. “There are lots of really good editors,” director Sir Carol Reed said of Coates, “but I have never had one with so much heart.” By the Washington Post's Matt Schudel.

PRESIDENT NON GRATA: Barring Donald Trump from a funeral is a last stand for Americans such as Barbara Bush or John McCain who find the 45th POTUS gratuitously cruel, writes Frank Bruni.

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THANKS FOR PLAYING: Mitch McConnell — and the Netflix “Narcos” series — had a little fun at a failed West Virginia GOP pol’s expense. The twitter account from the team of the Senate GOP leader, who was called “Cocaine Mitch” by coal baron and Senate hopeful Don Blankenship, sent the West Virginian a powdery, “thanks for playing” message after Blankenship’s loss Tuesday night. Compare and contrast the image with the Netflix promo of the Pablo Escobar character in “Narcos.” (The show, slyly, called it “a low blow.”) Blankenship also had insulted McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and used the phrase “wealthy China-person” to describe her father.

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