ESPN’s Adam Schefter is a reporter who reports on the NFL. That implies certain things, or at least it used to, namely that a reporter should not have a personal financial stake in the NFL, a business they ostensibly cover objectively, making more money. This seems uncontroversial to me, and for decades upon decades in journalism, it was uncontroversial to everyone.
Things have changed, apparently. Adam Schefter tweeted to his 7.4 million followers a commercial, featuring him, shilling a hard seltzer which is now the official hard seltzer of the NFL. The commercial is bad, even as commercials go. Why would a hard seltzer company give Adam Schefter a polygraph? But we’re not here to discuss low production values or lack of narrative sense. We’re here to put in the plainest possible terms what’s going on here:
A reporter who covers the NFL, for a media company that pays the NFL to broadcast the NFL, is being paid by a brand to promote the fact that the brand now pays the NFL money to be able to mention the NFL.
This isn’t even the first time Schefter’s done it, and I shouldn’t need to tell you why this is bad, because it’s inherently, self-evidently bad. The crumbling of the firewall that long separated newsrooms from advertising has proven an ethical nightmare, with the upshot of giving readers real reason to mistrust the integrity of their journalism—at a time when the media is facing broadsides to its integrity that it doesn’t deserve—and it’s only getting worse. As our Laura Wagner wrote upon the occasion of an ESPN NBA reporter getting paid by a brand to promote the fact that the brand is paying money to the NBA,
You have ESPN The Magazine running sponcon for Kevin Durant. There’s Bill Simmons talking abut how it’s great when brands get to “naturally integrate” with editorial work. There was Shams Charania, at the Athletic, writing a fluffy profile of Derrick Rose while his other employer made a documentary with Rose. There’s Sports Illustrated’s new owners fantasizing about all the ways they can use the SI name to sell shit. You have Yahoo Sports literally paying the Mets for access so they can then turn around and sell that content. Remember when all those respectable sports journalists shilled beer because a commercial made them feel feelings?
I’ve asked ESPN for comment on these three questions:
- Does ESPN have any role in Schefter or other reporters’ ad deals?
- Will Schefter be required to disclose his financial relationship with an NFL sponsor in all his future reporting on the NFL?
- How does Schefter shilling alcoholic seltzer square with the recent edicts that ESPN reporters and personalities should “stick to sports”?
I’ll update this post if and when I hear back.