ESPN tries to balance reporting, business with LeBron special
The show comes with a title befitting Election Day or something equally presidential: "The Decision." It will be preceded by three hours of Super Bowl-style hype and followed by two hours of post-decision analysis. As of now, there is no word whether
James's representatives brought the idea of a primetime special to ESPN late last week, with
As for the perception that the network is giving up advertising inventory in exchange for an interview, not to mention the journalistically troubling arranged marriage between James and a network that employs dozens of news-gatherers, ESPN's executives defended the decision Wednesday. "We have complete editorial control and direction with the exception of what will come out of his mouth," said ESPN executive vice president of production
Well, not exactly. James hand-picked his interviewer (more on that later). He chose the setting. He also determined the business plan of the show. Williamson said part of the network's rationale to accept the agreement was to gain the exclusivity of the news, not unlike its decision to play ball with
Said Williamson: "Are we comfortable with the parameters that have been laid out? If we had a blank sheet of paper, maybe we don't draw it up exactly like this. But I am telling you that I, and ESPN as an entity, are comfortable where we ended up."
James's camp requested that veteran interviewer
Despite his coziness to superstars (See
Of course the existence of the show puts ESPN's NBA reporters in a surreal position. On Wednesday
"The problem facing ESPN's reporters: If they scoop the network, they're in trouble," said Times investigative reporter
SI.com independently confirmed that ESPN's NBA staffers are free to report whatever they find in advance of the program and, after it was first tweeted out by
Still, there are journalism watchdogs who believe this is simply business in 2010. "We're now in a new media world -- and an economy -- in which we're often in uncharted waters and old conventions are being tested," said
Williamson said James's group did not buy time on ESPN's air, nor was any payment made to LeBron's camp. In one of the more remarkable exchanges during a 44-minute briefing with reporters, the ESPN executive admitted to knowing the location of where James would announce his decision (he said he did not know the team), yet would not give up that information to ESPN reporters."We let the news operation and the people chasing the news do what they do, and yet we are still running a business and we have business arrangements," said Williamson. "We're not going to cook the books. We pay people to be news-gatherers. That's their job. Church and state go both ways. It can't be when it's convenient. It has to be all the time and it has to go both ways. There's got to be a separation from the business side to journalism, and the people in journalism, the news-gatherers, can't expect to get added benefit because of the business operation."
In an effort to gain some added wisdom on ESPN's decision, I tracked down
If only the rest of us were as lucky.