Yes, a living document is good. It will never be finished and must always be adapted to meet new realities and challenges. And, yes, making it easily available to all relevant employees is essential. Too many news organizations leave their guidelines to gather dust in a drawer. Standards and guidelines are empty words if they aren’t integrated into the internal culture and processes of an organization.
External concerns, however, are just as important. That’s acknowledged in the section about transparency, and it’s also the source of my initial concern after learning about the document. I’m referring to the fact that ESPN won’t be making the Guidelines public. Simply put, it’s hard to judge if an organization is living up to its standards if you don’t know what the standards are.
My other reason to advocate for public release is that doing so will send a strong message to other news and information organizations. ESPN is not a hard news organization, and yet it has the best cross-platform corrections policy of any I’ve seen. It also has an ombudsman—and now it has a comprehensive and up-to-date set of standards and guidelines. ESPN is ahead of many so-called serious news organizations. I’d also like to see it meet the standard of disclosure set by Reuters and put its Guidelines online.
“There’s nothing in [the guidelines] that any of us would be concerned about having as a public element, but at the same time I want people to be able to treat it within context,” Stiegman told me. “You don’t want to just dump 200 pages worth of policy into the open arena—we want this to be reference guide for our internal editorial decision making.”
Stiegman also said that individual policies will make their way into the public realm. When specific issues crop up, ESPN will address them in the radio and online forums noted above, and that could include sharing relevant passages from the Guidelines.
“We’re happy to reference—and I’m sure we will—certain elements or passages or policies as warranted in public discussions about how we came to our decisions,” Stiegman said. “But this is an internal document. The transparency will flow through a free and open discussion with our fans when the topics arise.”
Aside from that issue, I also couldn’t help wondering if Keyshawn Johnson or, say, Mike Ditka will take the time to go through the relevant sections of the Guidelines when the document is released internally next week. How will they get Mike Ditka to go through the document?
“Without referencing Mike specifically, in general we’ll have versions of the [document] condensed so they focus on issues we think are pertinent to talent,” Stiegman said. “Also, each producer and editor who is responsible for working with the talent and contributors will be responsible for walking them through the key points of the Guidelines.”
Meanwhile, the fan in me is picturing Johnson’s reaction to the Guidelines: “C’Mon man!”
Correction of the Week
“In yesterday’s Independent, Ian Herbert attributed quotes to the ITV football analyst Andy Townsend which suggested that he had made sexist comments on Twitter as part of the Andy Gray/Richard Keys story.
“Those quotes originated from a spoof Twitter account. We apologise for any embarrassment caused to Mr Townsend, who has no connection to the @AndyDTownsend account.” - The Independent (U.K.)