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Written by Maury Brown   
Wednesday, 05 August 2009 02:25

Thoughts after reading the memo:

After reading through ESPN's memo, one can see some value in it. Most of the points are common sense (don't get into a flame war with someone that is baiting you on Twitter or Facebook), but comes back to this: content control.

Twitter has become a news source, which is why those in sports media have been drawn to it like moths to the flame. That undermines going to ESPN, which undermines revenues.

Beyond practicality, the after-effects should be interesting. I imagine some ESPN personalities ratcheting back on tweeting simply for the fact that "better safe than sorry" has now been engrained in them by the memo. It may have been something thrown in by legal, but the end of the memo will have a chilling effect on many:

Any violation of these guidelines could result in a range of consequences, including but not limited to suspension or dismissal.

UPDATE #3: The SportsBusiness Daily has contacted SI to see if they are considering a similar policy to ESPN's. SI VP/Communications Scott Novak said this morning, “We view writer communication with social media platforms as an extension of what they’re already doing with many TV networks. Our mission is to deliver SI’s award-winning journalism to fans through every medium, including social media communications”

UPDATE #2: Mashable has the memo made available to them, which we are republishing below

UPDATE: The New York Times reports that ESPN issued a "12 guidelines to its employees about social networking on Tuesday", confirming Bucher's comments on Twitter.

“We’ve been in the social networking space for a long time, and will continue to be there,” said Chris LaPlaca, an ESPN spokesman. “But we want to be smarter about how we do it.” He said that Bucher’s “interpretation of the policy is mistaken.”

Bucher's comments center on the guideline that reads, “The first and only priority is to serve ESPN-sanctioned efforts, including sports news, information and content.”

The memo adds, that being in violation of the guildlines could be grounds for suspension or dismissal.

A couple of weeks ago, word started to get out that a social networking policy was in the offing for sports broadcasting giant ESPN. It wasn’t clear what form the policy would take, but at the time, it caused more than one at the Worldwide Leader to say that they’d be passing on our Social Networking and Sports Summit, mentioning they’d rather be safe than sorry.

Now, that policy appears to be in place.

ESPN has sent a memo to at least one prominent personality where the instructions may set a precedent as to how the wide-open social networking platform is to be used by other media outlets.

Ric Bucher, the NBA analyst for ESPN, and ESPN.com, who is also a senior writer for ESPN the Magazine, broke the news of the memo on, what else? Twitter.

“The hammer just came down, tweeps: ESPN memo prohibiting tweeting info unless it serves ESPN. Kinda figured this was coming. Not sure what this means but…”

Bucher added, “My guess is I can still tweet about my vacation/car shopping, etc. Which I will do, if I can. But the informal NBA talk is [probably] in jeopardy.”

It’s the latter that should be focused on. The informal communications with fans and fellow columnists such as Bill Simmons have been refreshing. The ability of columnists to communicate openly on Twitter has created a bonding culture with fans, and given personality to some figures that may have otherwise seemed drab.

ESPN, on the other hand, may be looking at the possible PR landmines that come with writers and on-air personalities out from behind the editorial purview. As we’ve seen with Minnesota Timberwolves Forward/Center Kevin Love, you can accidentally break news on Twitter, and create unwanted PR flak.

So, preventing a possibly embarrassing tweet could be ESPN’s goal. On one hand, the behemoth from Bristol didn’t tell all the prominent personalities to shut down their Twitter accounts, something that would have thrown red flags far and wide, but according to the ESPN guidelines, those that do tweet will be relegated to nothing more than PR machines, touting new columns, mentioning when and where they may be on the air. With word of the memo now out in the open, ESPN’s tweets may come across as having nothing more than a slick veneer, something terribly out of place on Twitter.

As to whether all employees at ESPN will be under the policy, at this stage it does not appear to be the case. Several behind-the-scenes employees of ESPN have said they have not been contacted, and at least one prominent writer reports that they have yet to receive the memo Bucher refers to. However, a "memo" implies that more than just Ric Bucher will be contacted about this change in policy. In the meantime, when normally informal tweets break way to PR-speak, you can surmise that another key ESPN personality has probably been hit with the same memo as Bucher.

Select Read More to see the ESPN memo details


These guidelines apply to all ESPN employees who participate in any form of personal social networking. If you are an ESPN talent, or reporter engaged with social media, please also refer to those additional guidelines.

ESPN understands that employees may maintain or contribute to personal blogs, message boards, conversation pages and other forms of social media (such as Facebook and Twitter) outside of their job function and may periodically post information about their job or ESPN's activities on these outlets. If an employee posts ESPN or job-related information, they are required to exercise good judgment, abide by ESPN policy, and take the following into consideration.

ESPN employees are obligated to be aware of and comply with any applicable provisions set forth in ESPN's Employee Handbook and The Walt Disney Company's Standards of Business Conduct. Employees may not disclose confidential or proprietary company information or similar information of third parties who have shared such information with ESPN. ESPN's intellectual property, logos, trademarks, and copyrights may not be used in any manner.

If an employee is engaging on external social media platforms personally, they should not use the company's name in their identity (e.g. username, "handle" or screen name), nor should they speak as a representative of the company. If a media inquiry is generated, please direct it to the Communications Department.

If you are an ESPN talent, reporter, writer, producer, editor or other editorial decision maker or a public-facing ESPN employee, you are reminded that when you participate in public blogs or discussion activities, you are representing ESPN just as you would in any other public forum or medium, and you should exercise discretion, thoughtfulness and respect for your colleagues, business associates and our fans. All posted content is subject to review in accordance with, ESPN's employee policies and editorial guidelines.

ESPN's Values expressly state that care and respect for employees and each other will always be at the heart of our operations and that we are passionately committed to teamwork. Employees are responsible for acting in a manner that is consistent with our company Values. To that end, employees are expected to be courteous, respectful, and thoughtful about how other employees may be affected by postings. Incomplete, inaccurate, inappropriate, threatening, harassing or poorly worded postings may be harmful to other employees, damage employee relationships, undermine ESPN's effort to encourage teamwork, violate ESPN policy or harm the Company, which may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination. Employees bear full responsibility for the material they post on personal blogs or other social media.

For purposes of this policy, a "personal blog" or "social media" includes personal websites and all forms of on-line community activities such as on-line social networks, message boards, conversation pages, and chat rooms. If you have any questions regarding this policy and its application, please contact either your manager or the Human Resources Department


ESPN regards social networks such as message boards, conversation pages and other forms of social networking such as Facebook and Twitter as important new forms of content. As such, we expect to hold all talent who participate in social networking to the same standards we hold for interaction with our audiences across TV, radio and our digital platforms. This applies to all ESPN Talent, anchors, play by play, hosts, analysts, commentators, reporters and writers who participate in any form of personal social networking that contain sports related content.

ESPN Digital Media is currently building and testing modules designed to publish Twitter and Facebook entries simultaneously on ESPN.com, SportsCenter.com, Page 2, ESPN Profile pages and other similar pages across our web site and mobile platforms. The plan is to fully deploy these modules this fall.

Specific Guidelines

  • Personal websites and blogs that contain sports content are not permitted
  • Prior to engaging in any form of social networking dealing with sports, you must receive permission from the supervisor as appointed by your department head
  • ESPN.COM may choose to post sports related social media content
  • If ESPN.com opts not to post sports related social media content created by ESPN talent, you are not permitted to report, speculate, discuss or give any opinions on sports related topics or personalities on your personal platforms
  • The first and only priority is to serve ESPN sanctioned efforts, including sports news, information and content
  • Assume at all times you are representing ESPN
  • If you wouldn’t say it on the air or write it in your column, don’t tweet it
  • Exercise discretion, thoughtfulness and respect for your colleagues, business associates and our fans
  • Avoid discussing internal policies or detailing how a story or feature was reported, written, edited or produced and discussing stories or features in progress, those that haven’t been posted or produced, interviews you’ve conducted, or any future coverage plans.
  • Steer clear of engaging in dialogue that defends your work against those who challenge it and do not engage in media criticism or disparage colleagues or competitors
  • Be mindful that all posted content is subject to review in accordance with ESPN’s employee policies and editorial guidelines
  • Confidential or proprietary company information or similar information of third parties who have shared such information with ESPN, should not be shared

Any violation of these guidelines could result in a range of consequences, including but not limited to suspension or dismissal.

Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).

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