The media today: ESPN’s Skipper resigns, leaving a void in the media world

In a move that sent shock waves across the media universe, ESPN President John Skipper announced Monday morning that he was stepping down. “Today I have resigned from my duties as President of ESPN,” Skipper said in a statement. “I have struggled for many years with a substance addiction. I have decided that the most important thing I can do right now is to take care of my problem.”

Skipper, 62, was promoted to his position at the beginning of 2012, and he signed a contract extension earlier this year. ESPN announced that former president and executive chairman George Bodenheimer will serve as acting chair of the company for the next 90 days. Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch, who has a must-read on the changes, writes that Skipper “pushed ESPN to become more diverse on air and online when it came to both gender and race.” Deitsch also notes that “Skipper was a major believer in ESPN’s journalism and the company would not have expanded Outside The Lines or funded its enterprise reporting without him.”

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After several years of declining subscriptions due to cord cutting, 2017 has been an annus horribilis for ESPN. The network has been targeted by the president and slammed by conservatives. It has faced sexual harassment allegations and been accused of failing to support one of its most visible African-American female anchors. It has courted controversy by pulling an announcer off of a game because of his name and airing, then quickly cancelling, Barstool Van Talk. Despite those issues, as well as two painful rounds of layoffs, Skipper recently stood in front of an all-hands talent meeting and said, “I want you to be confident about the future of ESPN.”

Skipper’s unexpected departure is especially shocking because he had been so visible recently. In addition to last week’s talent gathering, he appeared at ESPN’s coverage of college football’s Heisman Trophy presentation and spoke at the Sports Video Group Summit. He was also set to oversee ESPN’s reach expand with the addition of 22 regional sports networks acquired through Disney’s purchase of 21st Century Fox. His decision to step down to deal with his substance addiction leaves a huge hole at the top of both the sports and media worlds. As Deitsch writes, “you cannot overstate the shock this will be to the ESPN ecosystem.”

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Below, more on Skipper’s resignation and what it means for the Worldwide Leader.

  • Who’s next?: Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand says that ESPN has always looked within the company for its leadership. He taps Exec VP/Affiliate Sales & Marketing Justin Connolly as the frontrunner to fill Skipper’s seat.
  • A different job: Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw and Eben Novy-Williams list Connolly and EVP of content Connor Schell as likely replacements. They note that “whoever gets the top job will be taking over a much different ESPN than Skipper did, with a more constrained checkbook.”
  • A crucial time for the network: Recode’s Peter Kafka writes that after an awful year, “ESPN is both one of the most important properties in the media world and one whose clout and importance—once unquestioned—is very much up for debate.”
  • Newsroom reactions: Several current and former ESPN employees took to social media to voice support for Skipper. “John Skipper is one of the finest people I’ve ever worked for,” Jemele Hill wrote. “He’s been incredibly supportive throughout my career at ESPN. This isn’t company-speak. I seriously cannot express how much respect I have for him.”

 

Other notable stories

 

  • Mary Louise Kelly, who aggressively questioned NPR CEO Jarl Mohn about his response to sexual harassment in a nationally broadcast interview last month, has been named as Robert Siegel’s replacement on All Things Considered. “It certainly won’t be lost on anyone that the female journalist who went and questioned our CEO—a move that my mother was convinced would get me fired, grilling my boss on air—that they ended up promoting that person,” Kelly tells Vogue.
  • I love when The New York Times goes all in with graphics and storytelling like this: John Branch has many thousands of words on the journey to bring home the bodies of two climbers who died near the summit of Mount Everest.
  • For CJR, Elliott Woods attempts to set the record straight regarding reports that his profile of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke resulted in Outside magazine being banned from a telephone press conference.
  • Important story from Katherine Goldstein for Vox on how harassment drives women out of journalism.
  • The rise of hyper-partisan sites that look like news, but aren’t, was a concern during last year’s presidential campaign. The Bangor Daily News’s Michael Shepherd reports how one such site may have tipped a recent local election in Maine.
  • The New Yorker’s Sarah Larson writes that “this year, podcasts continued to boom as an industry and thrive as an art form—and to push journalism into unexpected places.” Larson chooses her favorite podcasts as part of the magazine’s year in review.

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.