ESPN Issues Bizarre New Social Media Policy

ESPN Logo (Credit: Getty Images/Robin Marchant)

Jena Greene Reporter
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ESPN issued a string of new policies for its employees Thursday, and some of the rules are pretty shocking.

They kick it off with a hilarious foreword.

“Our engagement on social platforms … should be civil, responsible, and without overt political or other biases that would threaten our or your credibility with the public.”

The new policy, which has been dubbed the “Jemele Rules” by critics, mostly addresses social media issues and political commentary by employees. Hill was suspended for two weeks in October for calling Trump a white supremacist and suggesting viewers boycott the Cowboys.

ESPN has increasingly come under fire for allowing politics to into its reporting. It changed its social media policies in 2011, then 2012, then again in 2016. But nothing has seemed to work, and its ratings continue to slip.

This week’s change seems to be the most stringent. It looks like ESPN is trying to curb their employees’ use of social media altogether, going as far as barring them from breaking news on social platforms.

“Do not break news on social platforms. 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 Universal News Desk. Once reported on an ESPN platform, that news can (and should) be distributed on social platforms.”

I get that ESPN wants to curb inflammatory language on social media, but barring your employees from breaking news online seems way overboard. The whole point of having a news organization is to break news as fast as possible. If you don’t let reporters get the word out quick, what’s the point of having a company?

It’s way easier to break a story first in a 140-character tweet, then follow it up with a story. This new mandate is likely going to hurt some of its prominent inside reporters like Adam Schefter, who routinely uses Twitter to break stories.

ESPN is also issuing an approval-before-posting mandate, which basically means that all employees must clear it with their supervisor before posting anything remotely related to politics.

“Communication with producers and editors must take place prior to commentary on any political or social issues to manage volume and ensure a fair and effective presentation.”

Given ESPN’s history with politically inflammatory employees, this part makes sense. And while this policy change is probably sensible and necessary, it doesn’t change the fact that their employees now look like a bunch of children who need babysitting, rather than professional journalists.

In a note obtained by Sports Illustrated, ESPN’s president John Skipper urged employees to adhere to the policy. “I ask that we all work together to ensure that we produce the highest quality sports content for fans, and to assure that we do so in an environment of uncompromised journalistic standards.”

It seems counterintuitive for a news organization to censor everything their employees say. If the company is that afraid of reporters misspeaking, maybe just hire better reporters.