ESPN Shares New Social Media Guidelines With Employees After Jemele Hill Suspension

Employees asked to be “civil, responsible and without overt political or other biases that would threaten our or your credibility with the public”

Jemele Hill and Michael Smith ESPN
Jemele Hill, right, and Michael Smith (ESPN)

ESPN wants to get a handle on this Twitter thing. The company is retooling its social media policy following the uproar surrounding “SportsCenter” anchor Jemele Hill’s recent activity on Twitter and subsequent suspension.

ESPN President John Skipper sent out a company-wide memo on Thursday referencing the media brand’s previous social media policy (written in 2011), which outlined new revisions — which include specific guidelines for discussing political and social issues in the digital world.

“The most important principles have not changed,” Skipper said in the memo. “Most profoundly, they reflect our continued commitment to journalism and our focus on sports.”

When tweeting about politics, the new policy states that: “Writers, reporters, producers and editors directly involved in ‘hard’ news reporting, investigative or enterprise assignments and related coverage should refrain in any public-facing forum from taking positions on political or social issues, candidates or office holders.”

As for offering personal commentary, the guidelines stipulate, “the presentation should be thoughtful and respectful. We should offer balance or recognize opposing views, as warranted. We should avoid personal attacks and inflammatory rhetoric.”

“Do nothing that would undercut your colleagues’ work or embroil the company in unwanted controversy,” the guidelines read. ESPN’s policy adds the company reserves “the right to take action for violations of these principles.”

Hill was suspended from “SportsCenter” for two weeks in early October after using Twitter to call for a boycott of Dallas Cowboys-advertisers, when team owner Jerry Jones demanded the players stand for the national anthem. Prior to that violation of ESPN’s social media policy, Hill called President Trump a “white supremacist,” but got off with a warning that time.

Skipper said the new guidelines — which were crafted by The Undefeated Editor-in-Chief Kevin Merida, with consultation from high-profile employees like “OTL” host Bob Ley — are not a direct response to the sports media brand’s recent headline-making social media issues.

“It’s all intertwined with a moment in our culture and our political environment of polarization,” Skipper told Sports Business Daily. “It’s the right time to do it. We would never react to one incident or two incidents and say, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got to look.’ It’s a unique moment in time.”

Skipper said it will be “disappointing if people are expecting some dramatic, new proclamation.” “We’re mostly going to proclaim, we examined it. We still are who we are. We still believe what we believe. We’re going to ask people to adhere to that.”

“We are an organization that when we are practicing journalism, or even when we don’t, we want to be grounded in the principles of journalism,” Skipper said. “That is a slight change in emphasis.”

You can see a PDF of the new policy here.