Media Circus (cont.)
ESPNU's coverage last week of Virginia's men's and women's lacrosse NCAA games presented a unique challenge for the network: how to tell the story of the killing of women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love within the confines of its game coverage.
"We realized that we had a number of viewers who could have been watching their first lacrosse game because they had some peripheral interest in the game through the events that had gone on in Charlottesville," said John Vassallo, senior coordinating producer for ESPNU. "We also knew we had our hardcore lacrosse viewers. So we needed to post up-to-the-minute information with regard to the murder and also needed to pay proper tribute to Yeardley. The balance of information is what we tried to keep as the guiding light: the documentation of the game, the proper tribute to Yeardley and keeping our viewers up to date."
The broadcast was handled well. As part of a combined effort between the network's remote production and news editorial teams, Bob Holtzman, the reporter assigned to the Love investigation, was put on the broadcast of both games. Vassallo said Virginia's athletic media relations department made it known that its athletes would not do any one-on-ones, and that ESPN honored that request. The network asked for permission with the NCAA to do in-game interviews with the coaches, and that request was granted. Virginia men's coach Dom Starsia and women's coach Julie Myers did hold a conference call with ESPN staffers, but the Virginia athletic department made it known they would address only lacrosse topics.
"We were not granted permission to speak to them for one-on-ones," Vassallo said. "Would we have liked to sit down with them? Yes. But if Virginia continues to win, we will be following them. Dom has been terrific with us over the years and we hope when he is ready, he will sit down and talk with us."
Vassallo said the network requested an interview with Love's mother, Sharon, and her sister, Lexie, through both Virginia and an NCAA representative. (The Love family attended the women's win over Towson). The request was turned down by the NCAA, which Vassallo said was the decision-maker in that situation because it was an NCAA playoff game.
"As a producer, you look back on games and say, 'We could have done this better or that better,' but I think we struck the right chord," Vassallo said. "We were satisfied with the general balance. The emotions for the women's games seem to be a little more raw and on the surface and easier to capture, and Yeardley's mom and sister were there. The men's game was a little more difficult. It wasn't as a raw."
ESPNU will air the Virginia men's quarterfinal game against Stony Brook on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET. Similar questions will come up again.
"We will update our viewers on the status of the investigation, even if nothing else goes on," Vassallo said. "Depending on what else breaks this week, we will then weigh how frequently we discuss it and how early we should discuss it in the broadcast."
Viewers don't have the access to decision-makers, so we occasionally enjoy forwarding questions along for them.
From Michael McGovern of Tomahawk, Wis.: "I'm a fan (or was) of ESPN's Baseball Today podcast with Eric Karabell. I'm sure you were aware of the banishing of Peter Pascarelli for making an innocent joke about Bud Selig. Then the new co-host, Seth Everett, comes on for a day, is outspoken and is promptly dismissed for two months (approx.). When he returns, he contritely says he will be 'PC.' Do you have any idea what's going on over there? Every podcast Karabell comes on he spends five minutes talking about how he has no idea what's going on regarding the muzzling or replacing of his co-hosts. Frankly, the censorship on that show has ruined it. I read you regularly, and I honestly have no idea who else I can ask. ESPN hasn't issued a statement on the matter that I could find, and if I inquired I'm sure I would either be ignored or be handed some vanilla corporate-speak."
The response, from ESPN spokesperson Nate Smeltz: "Peter continues in his primary role as researcher for ESPN's MLB telecasts, in addition to regular appearances on ESPN Radio. Seth first appeared on the Baseball Today podcast as a freelance contributor. His absence had nothing to do with anything he said on air. He returned once we reached a contractual agreement."
From Matt of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: "Does the NHL not realize that it has its own channel? Why is it that the NBA can show a playoff game on its network at the same time as another game on TNT or ESPN, whereas the NHL has only one game on Versus while other games are happening and then half (or a period) of the later game only gets shown on Versus? The NHL Network shows 'classic series' at a time when current games are being played. Is the NHL at all interested in growing its game or are they content being delusional that they are part of the 'Big Four' leagues?
The response, from NHL spokesperson Jamey Horan: "Versus is the exclusive national cable provider of the NHL in the U.S. and no other playoff games can be televised nationally against a Versus telecast."