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ESPN’s new social media policy: Don’t break news on Twitter

ESPN gets flak for just about everything they do. Fair or not, the “Worldwide Leader” has their every move questioned, critiqued and analyzed, but that’s the price that comes with sitting at the top of the sports food chain.

The company’s updated social media policy is no different.

Soon after ESPN released its amended social networking policy for talent and reporters, the Twittersphere took the company to task–specifically for one guideline.

Part of policy reads:

Do not break news on Twitter. We want to serve fans in the social sphere, but the first priority is to ESPN news and information efforts. Public news (i.e. announced in news conferences) can be distributed without vetting. However, sourced or proprietary news must be vetted by the TV or Digital news desks. Once reported on an ESPN platform, that news can (and should) be distributed on Twitter and other social sites.

The reaction went something like… Don’t break news on Twitter? Isn’t that the point of Twitter?? HOW DARE YOU?!?

Settle down. The fine print in the guideline provides some clarity–and sense–to the rule.

ESPN says this only applies to certain stories, and that “breaking” public information from a press conference or team release is fine. No need to run that up the ladder.

However, exclusive sourced or proprietary information must pass through the editing process, just like a story that would get broadcast on TV or published on the website or magazine. For that content, ESPN says reporters should get editorial approval and first publish the story on (at least) one of its platforms.

That approach has two key benefits:

  1. The people ESPN pays to be editors maintain editorial control
  2. A link is created, and ESPN’ers are tweeting out a link to their story, bringing people back to the website. (Page views= $$$).

The guideline is not that unique. I think most news organizations attempt to maintain something similar and prefer tweet a link back to their story when breaking news. It makes sense, and it really does not take much more time. (At our station, creating a story and providing a link back to the website only takes about an extra 1-2 minutes. Usually we take that additional step, unless the information absolutely needs an immediate social media response).

Bringing people back your news organization’s website is the smart thing to do, and ESPN clearly understands that value.

Although ESPN just announced its new policy, don’t expect to see any big changes. The “do not break news on Twitter” rule appeared to be in place for some time, and most of ESPN’s reporters have already adopted the approach.

“We have a rule at ESPN that all breaking news must be filtered through our news desk (not tweeted),” Bill Simmons wrote on Oct. 13, 2010. “That’s why our reporters (Schefter, Stein, Bucher, whoever) tweet things like, “JUST FILED TO ESPN…”

So it looks like that specific guideline isn’t really that new. Now, it’s just more official.

The rest of the policy is fairly straightforward: Know you’re representing ESPN so don’t tweet anything really dumb. Be careful about what you re-tweet. Be respectful. Don’t air out the company’s dirty laundry. And don’t start a website or blog that has sports content competing with ESPN.


One aspect of the policy that is a little disconcerting, however, is the guideline that tells ESPN talent “Do not discuss how a story or feature was reported, written, edited or produced; stories or features in progress; interviews conducted; or any future coverage plans.”

The problem with that rule is the ban its places on discussing the process of the company’s journalism, something that can equally benefit ESPN employees and competitors.

“Being reflexive — publicly — about how any of us do our jobs helps all of us do our jobs better,” writes Timothy Burke of

For the most part the policy is a strong, appropriate set of guidelines, even if the initial reaction makes it seem crazy.

ESPN also recognizes that the policy is hardly etched in stone, saying “We realize this is a fast moving space and these guidelines will be amended as warranted.”

And even if it were a perfect set of rules, people would still find a reason to complain. After all, it is ESPN.

Category: Commentary, ESPN, Journalism thoughts, New Media Thoughts, Social Media, Sports Marketing, twitter

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