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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Category: sports journalism

Ethics in the News – Nov. 3

The Kansas City Royals win over the New York Mets last Tuesday not only hit off the 2015 World Series, but ignited a conversation about journalism ethics after media outlets reported the unexpected death of Edinson Volquez’s father during the game and before Volquez himself had been informed.

Confusion ensued after Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes reported that Volquez’s father, Daniel, had passed away at the age of 63 earlier that day as a result of heart complications and that Volquez had been informed of it on the way to the ballpark. Shortly after, however, reports trickled in refuting Rojas, saying instead that Volquez did not know of his father’s passing. A Royals’ statement later confirmed that Volquez indeed did not know and had never known at any point during the game.

Some have since condemned breaking the news without Volquez’s knowledge. Besides flooding social media, large outlets like ESPN and the Associated Press and the New York Times reported the death while it was still unclear whether the family had been informed in full. Sports on Earth writer Will Leitch reported said he felt “disgusting” about knowing before Volquez.

Others like Fox Sports chose not to report on the loss until Volquez finished pitching and they were certain Volquez had been told by family. Fox sideline reporter Ken Rosenthal defended the decision explaining that broadcast is a different medium than print or online, and the risk of Volquez hearing the news passively was more likely with the broad reach of television broadcasting.

“These decisions are balancing acts,” Society of Professional Journalists ethics committee chairman Andrew Seaman said in a release. “It comes down to, what is the importance of this information to the public? When in doubt, journalists need to remember that their subjects are human beings deserving of respect.”

In other journalism ethics news this week:

  • New York Times opinion writer Margaret Sullivan addressed an undisclosed conflict of interest in a T Magazine technology article written by Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, wife of Marc Andreessen who happens to be a major investor in one of the companies featured.
  • A National Public Radio music editor resigned after it was discovered that 10 stories filed jointly on the NPR Music and WQXR websites were copied from other sources without attribution.
  • LA Weekly rekindled discussion about ethical funding of journalism in a piece analyzing Exxon’s relationship with the L.A. Times.

Videos of sessions, award presentations and the keynote from Conference 2015 are now posted

For those unable to attend or watch live online, we have now posted videos and social media summaries from Fair or Foul: Ethics and Sports Journalism, our seventh annual conference on journalism ethics.  Complete archives for the 2015 conference and all preceding conferences may be found at our Annual Ethics Conferences website.

The links below will take you to Individual session pages:

Conference Program (PDF)

If you have questions or would like to be added to our mailing list, please contact

Sports marketing deal between USA Today and IndyCar raises ethical issues

The USA Today Sports Media Group and the IndyCar Series have entered into a deal that appears to combine news coverage and advertising that some observer find ethically disconcerting, according to a report in the Indianapolis Business Journal.

The agreement, initiated by USA Today, promises to bring more attention to open wheel racing, and will provide USA Today journalists with enhanced access to

Writing for IBJ, Anthony Schoettle reports that the agreement, initiated by USA Today, promises to bring more attention to open wheel racing, and will provide USA Today journalists with enhanced access.

As part of the deal announced Feb. 26, USA Today, owned by Indianapolis Star parent Virginia-based Gannett Co. Inc., has agreed to write pre- and post-race stories for every IndyCar race and produce special sections around the sport and its drivers. The news organization also agreed to expand its coverage of IndyCar on In return, IndyCar promised to give USA Today reporters preferred access to series officials, team owners and drivers, and track owners.

IndyCar also promised to give USA Today advertising sales representatives access to its series and team sponsors. USA Today, IndyCar officials said, will be invited to a number of “sponsor summits” and other networking events.

While marketers associated with IndyCar are excited about the potential boost in awareness and attention to the sport, Schoettle notes that the deal raises concerns among some media ethicists, including the risk of bias in coverage, a chilling effect on the coverage efforts by other news organizations, and the blurring of advertising and editorial content.

“When you make a deal that ties coverage to advertising and marketing in a way that can erode journalistic independence, you have a serious ethical issue,” [Bob] Steele said. “Readers must be confident that all news reporting is driven by journalistic principles and ethical standards and not by business values. This relationship certainly raises at the minimum a yellow flag and perhaps some serious red flags.” [Steele is the Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a think tank in St. Petersburg, Florida.]

Content agreements such as the one with IndyCar are not new for USA Today.  The organization has in place similar deals with both NASCAR and the PGA.

Marketing and media arrangements such at the USA Today/IndyCar deal are among the types of ethical issues in sports journalism that will be discussed at the UW-Madison Center for Journalism Ethics seventh annual conference, Fair or Foul: Ethics and Sports Journalism on April 10.  Additional details and recitation information for the conference, which is open to the public, can be found here

Read the entire article at


Northwestern Panel Discusses Issues in Sports Journalism for Women

Four female leaders in sports journalism recently participated in a panel hosted by Northwestern University to give advice to female students interested in pursuing the field, and placed major importance on the focus of the quality of reporting.

Pam Oliver, Rachel Nichols, Christine Brennan and Cassidy Hubbarth participated in “The Female Voice in Sports Media,” an installment of the “Beyond the Box Score” lecture series at Northwestern University. These four women, all prominent women in sports media, offered up their beliefs about being a female and working in sports journalism.

One of the most important topics covered in the lecture that all women addressed was the importance of putting the practices of quality reporting and journalism first.

Pam Oliver, a reporter for Fox Sports and Turner Sports, addressed the issue head on in her opening statement with the panel. Oliver opened up by saying, “It’s a small club of women who put journalism first. They’re not in it to be celebrities or big on Twitter. You can tell when someone is serious with what they are doing. You can tell when someone is putting in the hours to get to know the players and coaches beyond just the smiling and using your looks, or you know, assets to get where you’re going.”

Oliver then went on to comment on what she sees as a current problem in the field of journalism: the hiring of women based on image and look alone. “I think there’s a definite pattern that we’re seeing all across the board with a certain look and a certain quality that papers and media outlets are going after,” Oliver said.

She concluded by saying, “You want to be a journalist for the right reasons. I hope you guys in this room are willing to do the work.”

Oliver’s passion for the focus on the practice of journalism relates to personal experience. Oliver, who served as the long time sideline reporter for NFL on FOX’s top broadcasting team, was taken off the team and replaced by Erin Andrews in 2014. Individuals have speculated that there are other reasons for the replacement of Oliver with Andrews, namely for Oliver’s age and the attractiveness of Andrews.

Brennan, sports columnist for USA Today and the moderator of the panel, commented on the matter, saying, “It seems like for a lot of these people, it is all about looks. Well, looks come and go.”

Sports journalism and print media as a whole has long been dominate by males. This panel at Northwestern highlights a problem that plagues the field of journalism, and these panelists are women who are working to reverse the male-dominated trend in the field. The advice offered up from this conference does not just apply to aspiring female journalists at Northwestern, but all across the country.

View the full “Beyond the Box Score: The Female Voice in Sports Media” here.

The University of Wisconsin Center for Journalism Ethics will be devoting its annual conference to the subject of ethics in sports journalism this April. The conference, titled Fair or Foul: Ethics and Sports Journalism, will cover a wide array of ethical issues and questions in journalism within a sports context on April 10, 2015 at Union South on the UW-Madison campus.  


Comedian Daniel Tosh calls out ESPN for plagiarism… with a bit of his own

ESPN recently faced scrutiny for what appears to be a direct lift of a segment from a comedian’s show on Comedy Central.

ESPN recently began airing a new segment, titled “Awesome Video Segment,” and the very first one they produced reminded a lot of people of comedian Daniel Tosh’s segment called “Web Redemption” featured on his popular Comedy Central Show, Tosh.0. Tosh himself found the segment to be extremely similar, and decided to address the issue on his show.

While Tosh’s assessment of ESPN may be crude and immature to some people, when showing the comparisons between ESPN’s segment and his own, it becomes readily apparent that the two segments were similar well beyond coincidence.

On Tosh’s version of the feature, he finds an online video of someone doing something embarrassing or something that gets them injured or in trouble in some way, and interviews them about it and usually leads into a comedic bit where he asks them if they’re willing to, “give it another shot.”

ESPN’s first installment of their version of the feature looks nearly like an exact copy of Tosh’s. It opened with embarrassing video of someone doing something where they hurt themselves, moved next to an interview with the subject, which then led to the reporter offering up the exact question Tosh always asks: “Are you willing to give it another shot?”

The similarities between the two led Tosh to mock ESPN on his own show, parodying the popular “Sports Science” segment featured frequently on ESPNs flagship program, Sportscenter. Tosh, in his criticism of the network, isn’t shy in letting it be known what he thinks of them: “I’m fine with kids in high school or college plagiarizing, but once you work for a real network you should have some God damn self respect.”

The off-color remark resonated with some people around the Internet, with commentaries from the blogosphere claiming that Tosh has “ethered” ESPN or “goes off on ESPN for stealing his segment.”

While numerous outlets have reported the story, ESPN has since commented on the matter, telling TMZ Sports:

This was more of an instance of us using a common phrase than it was copying his wording. We know that doesn’t sound like the strongest explanation yet it’s the truth. We are looking forward to ‘giving it another shot’ in future installments of ‘The Awesome Video Segment.’

ESPN has continued the “Awesome Video Segment,” though it looks very different from the very first one cited in Tosh’s criticism. Their second segment recaps a touchdown scored by a massive lineman in a recent college football game, which as any football fan knows, rarely happens. It seems that ESPN is trying its hardest to distance itself from the first segment of the “Awesome Video Segment,” as the video of it cannot be found on ESPNs website, unlike the second segment.

There is no denying the similarities between the two segments. While Tosh has no real legitimate claim over the content and format or his segment, to mst viewers it looks like ESPN borrowed heavily from the comedian’s work. ESPN assertion that the similarities may have just happened by coincidence rings hollow.

The combination of the fact that the structure of “Awesome Video Segment” was changed heavily from the first segment to the second, as well as the fact that the video seemingly doesn’t exist on any ESPN-related platform online, seem to suggest that the first video would like to be forgotten. We’ll have to see if ESPN does seemingly ‘give it another shot,’ and borrow from Tosh in the future.

ESPNU reporter slammed over “joke” tweet about FSU shooting

An ESPNU reporter sent out a tweet late last night that has many people around the internet shocked and upset.

According to the Washington Post, Marisa Martin, a University of Alabama student who works with ESPNU’s Campus Connection Program, sent out a tweet last night following reports of a gunman at Florida State University that stated: “Reported gunman on the FSU campus. Maybe he is heading for Jameis.” The tweet, referencing Florida State’s Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, proved upsetting to many people, especially when it became known that Martin is a reporter for an ESPN property.

After receiving heavy criticism from other Twitter users, Martin then tweeted: “Since apparently I cant make a joke in all seriousness I hope everyone at FSU is safe & that the gunman is found. But I stand by my opinions.” This further infuriated people across the web, and Martin eventually deleted her Twitter account and claimed through the University of Alabama ESPNU Campus Connection Twitter feed that she had supposedly been hacked and apologized for the tweets.

The story has been picked up across the internet , with a variety of media outlets covering the story.  The late claim that the Twitter account was hacked notwithstanding, the ESPNU student reporter’s alleged posting of a tasteless serves as yet another example in the seemingly endless stream of damning one’s credibility in 140 characters or less.


Redskins Wide Receiver Criticizes Sports Media’s Intentions

A top NFL wide receiver recently criticized the national sports media, questioning what the goals of the media really are.

Pierre Garcon, a wide receiver for the Washington Redskins, appeared recently on the SirisXM NFL Radio program, “The Opening Drive on Tuesday,” and was asked about Robert Griffin III, the teams starting quarterback, and the reports that came out from ESPN last week regarding his leadership in the team locker room.

garconGarcon was very adamant in backing up his quarterback, saying: “He’s the team quarterback. Everybody loves him here. He’s definitely a great guy, he’s a fun guy…but he’s definitely our team leader, he’s definitely our quarterback, he’s definitely a great player.”

After hearing this, the host of the program asked about how rumors like this get out to the media. Garcon’s response was outlined by Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post:

“You know, there’s media people in our locker room, they want to make national headlines instead of report things that’s really going on,” Garcon said. “But I’m there every day. I see it. Guys are working hard, guys are playing towards one goal, trying to make the team win. But media are trying to make news instead of reporting [anything] that’s going on in our locker room, which is every day we just try to stay on our normal [routine], giving [the media] as less as possible. So they try to make up news to make theirselves more important than what they really are.”

Garçon’s comments are a fresh example of an ongoing issue in sports journalism, in which some players in prominent sports display disdain or distrust for the media and their claimed goals.

Pierre Garcon is not the only player who seems to have a recent problem with the media. Marshawn Lynch, running back for the Seattle Seahawks, makes no secret of his dislike of the media, and largely hates talking to them. His constant refusal has even gotten him into trouble as of late with the NFL.

The ethical issues surrounding today’s sports journalism will be the subject of the Center for Journalism Ethics’ upcoming annual conference.  More information about Fair or Foul: Ethics in Sports Journalism, to be held April 10, 2015 on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, can be found here.

[photo by Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports via]