Monday, March 17, 2008

Letter to the ESPN Ombudsman

Hi Le Anne,

I've emailed you before, and I thank you for responding. It was unexpected and much appreciated.


I have a question about Page2, and the concept and purpose behind ESPN.com. I have been reading this website for at least 4 years now, and I have seen writers, for various reasons, come and go. But in all those years I have never seen two writers more loathed and vilified by the masses of your readers than Scoop Jackson and Jemele Hill.


(To add some context to my reason for posting this, I am an African American and a writer, so I really desire to hear your perspective on both sides of this issue.)


My question, in short, is this: what is the reason and motive behind their current employment at ESPN.com? I don't doubt that the intentions were sincere at the time they were both hired. But now as I read the overwhelming majority of reader comments blasting their articles and calling for their removal on a weekly basis, I have to wonder what keeps them in these positions—a belief in them as writers, or a desire to give them both to the screaming mob for the extra clicks and advertising increase it gives the website.


Both Mr. Jackson and Ms. Hill have had their ups and downs. But the downs are definitely in the lead now. And I can't say that they shouldn't be. Mr. Jackson's "The Jordan Experience" (Nov 6) was a piece that I found to be in total denial. He wrote it as though he was still writing for Slam Magazine, where his readers adored him, and where his other articles were of enough substance to excuse a short blurb that was all personal and no news. As for Ms. Hill, her two most recent articles, "Defending Barry" (Nov 19) and today's piece, "The grim statistic," have both mishandled the discussion of race in a way that instigates more angst than genuine discussion amongst the readers (which ALL of her articles have a knack for). Both writers have offered pieces that I have enjoyed, but their recent bodies of work have lacked in some necessary aspect of journalistic responsibility.


Yet when this happens, you would think that ESPN.com would resign to make one of two decisions, of which they have made neither.


1. If writers are incapable or disagreeable to your general readership, shouldn't those writers be removed? Or to make it more specific, if a black writer can't substantively communicate racial issues and creative dialogue with white readers, and even loses the perspective and understanding of other black readers, can that person still somehow reflect the interests and pursuits of ESPN.com?


2. If these writers are performing at a level considered satisfactory to the management at ESPN.com, and they are stood by at the organizational level, then why are they not permitted to go without a comments section like Bill Simmons? It doesn't seem to make sense both ways—either all Page2 pieces should receive comments, or all Page2 writers should have a protected place to offer their opinions.


I don't know that my question as to why they are still employed is one that you can answer as Ombudsman. But I'd love to hear your perspective on the Page2 and ESPN.com concepts. My goal is not to request anyone's firing, or to ask ESPN to silence the voices of its readers; it is just to see what purpose these two writers are serving ESPN.com, for my own understanding. There will always be ugly comments, but "the Mavs suck" is a lot more refreshing to read than a lot of the comments left after what these authors have penned. This country's racial history is far too explosive to afford having its #1 sports website inciting bigoted and divisive conversations amongst people who come to the site for the same reason—because they all love sports.


Sorry I ran so long… but I hope to hear from you. God bless.


-Clifton Jessup

1 comment:

T3FLON said...

Great thoughts. Why are they still employed by ESPN? Get some black writers with a higher level of racial 'expertise'.