Sources: ESPN’s Use Of “Sources” Is Meant To Subtly Mislead You

  • Matt Rudnitsky

At 7:02 pm last night, FOX’s Jay Glazer reported that Sean Payton “agreed in principle” to a multiyear extension with the New Orleans Saints. Great.

At 7:05 pm, Adam Schefter tweeted that he had filed his own report to ESPN. Presumably, this has nothing to do with Glazer as the two are both well connected in the NFL and have their own deep list of sources. They may have found out from the same source; Schefter may have found out earlier but tweeted a few minutes later; who knows? There’s a news story on, which currently reads:

Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints have agreed to a five-year contract extension, a league source told ESPN.

Schefter’s “source,” one would presume. Whatever. Boring media stuff. Glazer wins by three minutes and the Twitter Gods bless him with a few retweets, or something. No story here.

But there was a story there, a story on the story, which we are covering with our own story. Glazer quoted this Twitter-joke after the whole deal.

Presumably (I’ll keep using that word, because this multi-platform minutiae-bickering is inherently ambiguous), the joke was in reference to this, which shows that ESPN, on TV, attributed the report to “sources” rather than “a league source,” Schefter, Glazer, or “reports.”

Steve Peresman, News Editor and Coordinating Producer for ESPN Los Angeles, discussed ESPN’s strange policies in these situations, to defend the WWL’s honor.

In journalism, reports ≠ sources. They are different. A news outlet credits a “report” if another news outlet broke the story. That means the outlet that broke the story got it from their sources. Outlets break news via their own sources. Sources are not other outlets. Outlets are in competition with one another. An outlet only credits “sources” if multiple sources told its reporter(s) the news. This is not particularly confusing.

Well, some of this makes sense. It makes sense that an outlet would drop credit when others confirm. Again, outlets are in competition. This is America. You know, capitalism and sh–. But that last tweet — it’s just absurd. News obtained via other outlets was not obtained by sources. It was obtained by reports. By ESPN’s logic, every SportsGrid post is news from our sources. Clearly, that doesn’t make sense. We rely on other outlets to break news and construct posts based on reports. We are not breaking the news.

When you say sources, a preceding our is implicit.

Later, a reasonable question was posed. Why argue about something this petty?

Well, the reason to bicker about something so petty is because ESPN has to be so petty. To the media-conscious, ESPN’s mangled usage of “sources” and “reports” is an obvious attempt to subtly mislead those who are not media-conscious. ESPN frames news to imply that ESPN broke it to those who aren’t playing close attention, like us SportsGrid nerds. The policy is designed so that ESPN refrains from providing explicit exposure to competitors, presumably helping ESPN’s bottom line ever so slightly, while hurting competitors’ bottom lines just as slightly.

The standard, English use of “source” just reflects where something came from. In journalism, the word is more specific, referring only to news the outlet acquired on its own. ESPN won’t suddenly fold if it starts acting ethically; it’s not like it doesn’t have its own solid group of reporters — Schefter especially. But, stubbornly, they are trying to reap (possible) tiny benefits of misleading viewers, rather than being responsible. People might not care enough for it to hurt them, but it’s still a ridiculous policy. It’s wrong.

This sums it up:

As Glazer tweeted, “I AM NOT UR SOURCE!!”

That’s enough lecturing for today; I will descend from my high horse. It is a sad day where I am enabled to do this, since as a jerkwater SportsGridder, my high horse is only like three-inches tall. ESPN, in this case, just happens to be below me.