He is on Twitter at @VinceDoria. However, Doria didn’t set up the account. His colleagues did it for him in the hopes that he might share some of his thoughts.
It didn’t happen. Under number of tweets for Doria, the number still says 0. Doria gets that it’s part of the job these days, but he simply is adhering to the age-old doctrine that journalists should remain objective.
“I just never felt it was good to do it in my current role,” Doria said. “No matter how you cut it, Twittter turns out to be a platform for opinion.”
And a platform full of potential landmines. Just ask Keith Olbermann, who is serving a Twitter-related suspension this week.
Doria’s views, though, go beyond Twitter. On the eve of his retirement from ESPN Friday, he is concerned the standards for journalism are eroding in the ever-changing media landscape. He maintains the old-school principles still are as essential today as they were when he broke in as a young sports reporter in Ashtabula, Ohio in the early ‘70s.
Doria is ending one of the most remarkable careers in sports journalism. As sports editor of the Boston Globe during the 1980s, he oversaw one of the greatest sports sections ever with writers such as Peter Gammons, Will McDonough, Leigh Montville, Bob Ryan and many others. Then he got to work on an even greater section as a senior editor for Frank Deford’s The National.
When the grand experiment for a national sports newspaper flamed out, Doria moved over to ESPN. When he arrived in 1992, the network’s fledgling sports news coverage consisted mainly of scores and highlights. Under Doria, the news operation has grown to what he terms as a “cross-platform behemouth” with hundreds of staffers.
“I’ve been fortunate,” Doria said. “I don’t know if anybody has gotten all the chances I have.”
Indeed, it is a short list of people who have impacted as many platforms in sports coverage as Doria. It gives him the unique perspective on where sports journalism is going and his concerns for the future.
“I’ve watched the landscape change dramatically,” Doria said. “The ability to gather and disseminate information once was held by a relatively small group: Newspaper, TV and radio. Now anybody with a handheld device can be a publisher.”
The explosion of multiple sites on the Internet does have its pluses, Doria said, such as creating more competition. A case in point was the Manti Te’o story. Deadspin beat ESPN in breaking the story about the fake girlfriend.
“Fifteen years ago, there wouldn’t have near as many people seeking that story,” Doria said. “It has allowed for a wider net for investigations. There’s more competition, especially with someone who is aggressive in trying to build their own platform. Competition generally makes everyone better.”
Doria said Deadspin did a good job with the story. He maintains ESPN had the information about the scam, but “weren’t satisfied with our sourcing” to go with the story.
That decision required considerable discipline, which often runs counter to the rush-to-be-first mantra in posting stories. The constant push for page views can result in shoddy journalism.
“The information is out there,” Doria said. “But what are the standards? How will these stories be vetted? It’s not everyone, but when you have all the information that is readily available, you are going to have some people who don’t have the [proper] standards. It’s going to be different than someone like me who is invested in vetting the material. It is dispiriting sometimes, but it’s the world we live in now.
The desire to be first also can lead to reporters taking shortcuts and even being lazy, Doria said. He points to reporters writing stories simply about athletes posting comments on social media.
He asks, where’s the substance?
“One of the things about social media is that there is the potential to make a reporter lazy,” Doria said. “I see all these stories based on tweets. The context is not fully understood. There’s no ability for follow-up questions. The current nature of media is if you have something, get it out there. It may not be fully vetted, but if it sounds interesting, let’s do a post. I’d like to see more context than here’s what an athlete tweeted last night.”
If anything, the new media landscape has changed Doria’s perspective of a scoop.
“If you grew up in my generation, being first always was the big prize,” Doria said. “There’s still some cachet in being first, but given the nature of all the platforms, it lasts about 30 seconds. Obviously, I want our people to get it first, but I want them to be thorough in their reporting. You want to get it right before you get it first.”
Doria speaks from experience about the possible pitfalls. ESPN hasn’t been perfect. Mistakes have been made as it has climbed into the new media landscape.
And even with the large news division, ESPN always will face the perception that it can’t truly cover entities like NFL because of its massive rights fee deal with the league. ESPN still is dealing with the considerable fallout from pulling out of the “League of Denial” documentary with PBS in 2013.
Doria is quick to point out that the network has done the most comprehensive coverage on the concussion issue and was extremely hard on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal, especially Olbermann.
“As long as we have these business relationships, people will raise these suspicions,” Doria said. “That’s part and parcel with what we do. You have to accept that. I just ask people to look at our track record. Whether you like us or not, you have to acknowledge we have put a lot of resources [into the news operation].”
Doria couldn’t have imagined the Internet revolution when he joined ESPN 23 years ago. So he isn’t about to forecast the future other than to say he believes the network will continue its commitment to journalism.
“Over time, you saw a need for it; you saw ways to expand,” Doria said. “I came here with an affinity for journalism. It’s embedded here. I feel comfortable we’re going to continue to do great work.”
As for Doria, he isn’t sure if he is completely going to retreat to the sidelines. He is in the process of building an office at his home and would be open to some part-time work.
Who knows? Perhaps with some time on his hands and being freed from his ESPN title, he might just tweet.
“Yeah, if I get bored,” he said with a laugh.
Several ESPN staffers share their memories of working with Doria by Josh Krulewitz at ESPN’s Front Row.
Recommended reading on sports journalism:
Richard Deitsch at SI.com gets the views of women sports journalists under the age of 30.
ESPN’s Pedro Gomez talks about his approach with Jeff Pearlman.
Carlos Beltran gets it. He says talking to the media is part of an athlete’s job.
Former Boston Red Sox beat writer says out-of-box thinking required to shake up blahs of covering spring training.
Ed Sherman writes about sports media at shermanreport.com. Follow him @Sherman_Report.