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Doug Farrar
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Doug Farrar

A FootballOutsiders.com staff writer

Is No News Good News?

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It's ironic that as I was piecing the Roethlisberger story together, I was watching a biography show on Walter Cronkite -- who believed that it was the reporter's sacred duty, above all, to get the story straight and right, no matter what the ramifications or obstacles. When Cronkite came out with an editorial commentary against the Vietnam War, President Lyndon Johnson said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost the country." That's what happens when you stick to your principles and become a trusted agent of information in an increasingly disposable culture.

We know that for whatever reason, ESPN deemed the Roethlisberger story to be unreportable. What we don't know is why, and the problem with squelching the story is that it opens up all sorts of theories as to why it wasn't put out there. "ESPN didn't report it because they want to keep their relationship with Big Ben intact! "ESPN refuses to report stories they don't break!" Well, we don't know, and that's the problem. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk believes that ESPN may have a policy against reporting civil complaints unaccompanied by criminal proceedings. If they do, it would be nice to know that. Whatever their policy, I believe that the ESPN editorial staff has an obligation to either report relevant news, or tell its readers precisely why they will not.

There are many reasons to sit on a story. Maybe you don't have all the facts, or you're waiting for a second independent confirmation of a crucial piece of information. Maybe the person you're hearing the story from is putting stuff out there that's full of holes. If that's the case, you must tell your readers that you believe it's not appropriate to report the full story with the facts as they have been presented at this time, and that you will report when more facts are available. Ignoring the story won't make it go away - it just makes you late to the party and hangs questions on your head regarding your reasons and actions.

Becoming a trusted agent of information takes years, and it can all be undone in a second. Walter Cronkite knew that, and it's why he worked so hard to keep his work at the highest standard. When we feel that we're slipping, or that our policies and ethics and financial bottom line are blurring, we'd do well to remember his example.

This isn't just a lesson for ESPN - it's a wake-up call to all of us. Maybe we need to spend a little less time ranking on the blogosphere and more time making sure our own houses are in order. Miami journalist Dan LeBetard, a writer whose work I greatly respect, took a misstep today when he said that only the irresponsible blogs were reporting the story. Not true, and he had to go to bed knowing that it wasn't. The story was reported everywhere - even on the Worldwide Leader after a time. Florio's self-righteous flagellation of ESPN was tough to swallow, but he was way ahead of the story, and that cannot be denied.

In the end, there's a reason companies hire writers and editors and executive editors and ombudsmen -- so that when judgment calls are to be made, the right people will make them. It doesn't give me any great joy to single ESPN out; I consider myself fortunate to be an occasional contributor to the WWL. The point here is not to take off after ESPN for this mistake -- the point is that we all learn from it.

By Doug Farrar  |  July 22, 2009; 8:03 AM ET  | Category:  Crime , Doug Farrar , Pittsburgh Steelers Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Oh gimme a darn break...are you kidding with this? A "mistake"?? This is not an "oops" moment for the "world wide leader"..this is a very TELLING moment for what the "world wide leader" really is.

Posted by: mlrice710 | July 22, 2009 1:34 PM

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