But his emails.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden resigned in the wake of a whopping 650,000 emails generated by an investigation into the Washington Football Team, which included racist, homophobic and sexist remarks.
The emails, though, wouldn’t end with Gruden’s controversial words: On Tuesday, it was revealed that ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter is latest to be in the spotlight of controversy, as he reportedly sent an unpublished story to a former Washington Football Team executive, which is a very big and bad breach of journalism ethics.
Here’s what happened:
What did Adam Schefter do?
According to the LA Times, ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter reportedly sent an unpublished story surrounding the 2011 NFL lockout to former Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen. The emails were uncovered as part of an ongoing defamation lawsuit between Allen and Washington owner Dan Snyder, and led to the reisgning of Jon Gruden as head coach of the Raiders.
Schefter reportedly emailed an upublished story to Allen asking if there was anything in his unpublished story that needed changing. Schefter also called Allen “Mr. Editor.”
“Please let me know if you see anything that should be added, changed, tweaked,” Schefter reportedly wrote. “Thanks, Mr. Editor, for that and the trust. Plan to file this to espn about 6 am…”
ESPN brass responded to the story with a statement:
“Without sharing all the specifics of the reporter’s process for a story from 10 years ago during the NFL lockout, we believe that nothing is more important to Adam and ESPN than providing fans the most accurate, fair and complete story.”
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk adds that the emails became relevant because Allen said he “maintained a low profile with respect to the media” and that he “never served as an anonymous source for any news or media reports.”
I’ve learned for a long time in this business not to discuss sources, or the process, or how stories are done. But I would just say that its a common practice to run information past sources. And in this particular case, during a labor intensive lockout that was a complicated subject that was new to understand. I took the extra rare step to run information past one of the people that I was talking to. You know, it was an important story to fans; a host of others, and that’s the situation.
Running information by a source for veracity is, in fact, common practice (more on that later), but sending an entire story, unpublished and raw, to a source, is not.
Why Adam Schefter’s emails are actually a big deal
For the untrained eye, Schefter’s process might seem like a non-issue. In reality, though, it’s a major breach of journalism processes and independent reporting.
Journalism, contrary to recent popular belief, is actually upheld by serious ethical standards that journalism students spend tens of thousands of dollars (or more) on to learn. Professors spend hours ad nauseum explaining the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics to students looking to break into the world of journalism, while most journalists, insiders and reporters follow these rules to a T.
In common sense, layman’s terms: Sending an unpublished story to a source is a major, major no-no in the journalism field. This allows the source or sources to shift a story, potentially adds bias and most importantly takes the “independent” out of “independent reporting.”
There’s also the added issue that Schefter is asking executives and management for feedback, which, in a labor dispute story against players, is not fair, balanced or unbiased.
While Schefter doesn’t inherently have to accept the “edits” made by Allen (or any source), asking the source for “tweaks” is already a breach of the journalistic process. There’s nothing wrong with checking back with a source for affirmation on a quote or the accuracy of a passage — in fact, that’s encouraged. Trust but verify, and all.
Asking a source for edits or approval on a story flies directly in the face of the idea of “special interests” and acting independently and without favor as a journalist. This causes issues when it comes to credibility of a journalist or writer, and raises questions of agenda, when in reality, journalists should (key operating word here is “should”) be playing stories down the middle.
To make matters worse, the story reportedly surrounded the 2011 NFL lockout, which is a little bit bigger of a deal than trying to get the scoop on a player’s injured hamstring entering a benign Week 7 game.
Full disclosure (as is one of the guidelines of the SPJ Code of Ethics): As a graduate of Rutgers University’s School of Journalism and Information and a part-time lecturer at the school, this is something that is explicitly taught to students en route to receiving degrees, and something that journalists follow throughout their careers.
The first lesson is free, folks.