Chronically distracted ESPN reporter Chris Broussard didn't have the best day earlier this month when he bungled reporting on not one but two developments on the NBA free agent front. First, he became the basketball media community's resident Mr. Magoo, turning a blind eye to Deron Williams agreeing to an extension with Brooklyn even as Deron Williams himself announced the news. Later that night, Broussard tried to pass off a public statement Eric Gordon made as some sort of personal communiqué that he'd signed an offer sheet with Phoenix.
Broussard came out looking less than stellar, more indicative of a chronic, institutional problem ESPN has with crediting other organizations that report news before them. In fact, Broussard's actions proved so disconcerting that it prompted Jason Fry of the Poynter Review Project, which acts as the official "ombudsman" overseeing and evaluating ESPN's reporting and best practices, to contact him, as well as ESPN executives, to see exactly what transpired that July 3 night.
Here's what happened with the Deron Williams/Twitter story, according to Fry's findings:
Broussard said he had been working on the Williams and Gordon stories up until the night of July 3. That day he had tweeted that Williams was working out at the Nets' practice facility, and the day before he had tweeted that Williams and the Nets were meeting and that Gordon was having dinner with the Suns and an offer might be forthcoming.
Broussard told The Poynter Review Project that he was busy with TV and radio on the evening of July 3 and was alerted to Williams' tweet by the ESPN news desk. He said he saw the tweet but couldn't access the Lockerz image. So he texted a couple of sources, who told him Williams was staying with the Nets, and got confirmation of that in a text exchange with Williams himself.
"I had been texting with him throughout the process," Broussard said.
So, Broussard is blaming his iPad? That night, he was using Twitter's official app for the iPad, the one client that you would think would be able to open any legitimate photo on Twitter. And then to compensate for this incredibly ill-timed inconvenience, he just happened to put in some extra due diligence to report something that had quickly become commonplace knowledge? That must've been quite the scene, you know, between all the TV and radio he was doing at that hour. (Also, anyone who has any experience typing out tweets on an iPad knows it's a goddamn pain in the ass and takes forever. Not the best tool for spreading "breaking" news, to be sure.)
Here's what Broussard had to say regarding the Eric Gordon/text message fiasco:
As for Gordon, Broussard said he learned shortly after 10 p.m. that Gordon had committed to Phoenix's offer and got a quote from [Gordon's agent Rob] Pelinka that was attributable to Gordon. He worked up the story and sent it to the news desk, thinking he was the only one with the quote, then tweeted the news. It wasn't until after that, Broussard said, that he saw The Arizona Republic also had the quote.
"I thought it was an exclusive," Broussard said.
Why did he attribute the quote directly to Gordon instead of noting it came through his agent? Because, Broussard said, he viewed Pelinka as a source he didn't want to reveal -– which a full attribution would have done. The Arizona Republic's Coro told us that Pelinka texted him, adding that "I don't know for sure, but my impression is that the agent called to tell the news to me and Chris." Coro couldn't say who else got the quote, but he added that he knows it didn't go out in a mass email because other reporters asked him how he got it. (Pelinka didn't return messages we left at his agency.)
So it wasn't OK to out Pelinka as his "source" then, but it's fine now that Poynter is asking questions? Here, Broussard is just going to plead ignorance. His reporting wasn't lazy. It was actual pretty good. It was also relayed in an incredibly presumptuous way. And Broussard not only assumed it was an exclusive, he tried to pass it off as something that elevated his own stature, that personalized "told me this." It would've taken Broussard all of five seconds to ask Pelinka who else had this info. And now he's blaming it all on some warped sense of journalistic duty. Instead of taking responsibility, he's blaming the game.
Fry ultimately concludes that while Broussard's actions weren't the most egregious examples of reporter misconduct, "a small falsehood is still a falsehood," at least with regards to the Gordon statement/quote. With regards to ESPN's chronic "sourcing" issue, which is more applicable to the Williams story, Fry managed to get some comment from ESPN news honcho Vince Doria:
This story caught fire because it fit with an oft-heard perception among other media members and readers that ESPN routinely steals other organizations' scoops. It's an accusation not limited to media rivals, either: In September 2011, former "SportsCenter" anchor Josh Elliott made waves when he told the Blogs With Balls conference that "they just started stealing scoops. … I felt horrible."
Vince Doria, ESPN's senior vice president and director of news, disputed that, telling Poynter Review in an email "I'm not sure why or how Josh came to that conclusion," and adding that ESPN credits many other news organizations and sources on "SportsCenter," The Bottom Line and elsewhere.
Sometimes, Doria said, others report stories using anonymous sources, and ESPN then learns the same information through its own anonymous sources that it deems trustworthy. In such cases, he said, "We will often report that ESPN has 'confirmed' a story that was reported earlier. At times, people have viewed this as us taking credit. We see it instead as taking responsibility for reporting; we are telling viewers that we now have sources that we know telling us something and we feel more strongly about its credibility."
And if there's one thing ESPN loves, it's someone who's willing to do anything to "confirm" someone else's reporting.
Bottom line: If Broussard is too busy with TV and radio to do his job as a reporter, he should stick to being a talking head on TV and radio and let the reporters report. Masquerading as someone who's expecting to break news and inform readers in a timely fashion should be left to those dedicated to the craft. Twitter, like it or not, has become an indispensable part of how news travels these days, and anyone not savvy enough to use it as either a tool for information dissemination or a way to augment and strengthen their own stories just looks silly and out of touch, much like Broussard did that night. Following up with sources on a story's exclusivity is just a necessary part of the job. Screw that up and, well, you see what happens.
Broussard, to this credit, told Fry that he'll "need to start following Twitter more closely" to stay ahead of the news curve. That would be a great start.
Reporter in the eye of a Twitter storm [ESPN/Poynter]