Posted: Tuesday February 21, 2012 11:16AM ; Updated: Tuesday February 21, 2012 5:56PM
Richard Deitsch
Richard Deitsch>MEDIA CIRCUS

Jon Gruden, Ron Jaworski lead Media Power List

Story Highlights

'Monday Night Football' analyst Jon Gruden has become ESPN's top star

Jeremy Lin is drawing huge television ratings -- and some inappropriate coverage

Should Piers Morgan be assigned as an analyst on Fox's soccer coverage?

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Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden form the new 'Monday Night Football' team.
Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden form the new 'Monday Night Football' team.
Ric Tapia/Icon SMI

(Each month SI.com highlights those in the sports media who have proved newsworthy, both for positive and negative achievements.)

1. Jon Gruden, Monday Night Football analyst: If you concede that Monday Night Football is ESPN's most valuable property, then this guy has become the most important on-air staffer at ESPN. Last week ESPN reassigned Ron Jaworski, who replaced Joe Theismann as an analyst on MNF in 2007, to new duties, leaving Gruden as the face of the most-watched series on cable television.

Though Gruden has improved as an analyst since he debuted in 2009, he has always had the luxury of relying on a second analyst during a broadcast. Now, with additional airtime and a promotional campaign that will revolve around his star, Gruden's tendency to overpraise players and coaches will get evaluated under a brighter light. He'll be graded on the same scale against Troy Aikman, Cris Collinsworth, Mike Mayock and Phil Simms, the top analysts at the other football networks.

2. Steve Brangle, Larry Faircloth, Kevin Peterson, Nick Utley and Craig Woloshin, NBC Sports, camera operators: Remember the multiple looks at Giants receiever Mario Manningham's fourth-quarter catch in the Super Bowl, including a bird's-eye image, a view from behind Giants quarterback Eli Manning and a zoom on Manningham's feet? Well, you can thank Brangle, Peterson, Utley and Woloshin, each of whom was stationed throughout Lucas Oil Stadium for NBC.

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Asked what a cameraperson should be thinking when he or she is shooting a live game, Peterson said in an email: "While the ball is in play, frame the action so that the viewer can anticipate what might happen next, and while the ball is dead, shoot what the announcers are talking about. I try to shoot what I want to see when I'm at home watching the game. It sounds simple, but there are subtleties that separate good camera operators from great ones...Every shot has to be within the confines of each camera operators responsibility. The producer and director define the look of the show. My responsibility is to stay within the parameters given to me, and be as creative as I can be."

It was Faircloth who took the memorable shot of Patriots owner Robert Kraft looking forlorn in his suite on the game's final play. Viewers never see the talented behind-the-scenes people in sports television but so often they are the difference between an average and extraordinary broadcast. These guys lived up to the moment for the biggest broadcast of the year.

3. Ron Jaworski, ESPN: ESPN extended Jaworski's contract for five additional years and no doubt that helped balm the sting of being pulled off MNF. But facts are facts: Jaworski was removed from ESPN's most important show, and that's why I was so impressed by his reaction to the news. He didn't call out management and praised the colleagues he was leaving. (And Jaworski had a right to be ticked, given the results of this Pro Football Talk poll, which I believe reflects the majority of NFL fans.)

"It's bittersweet, but I'm excited and thrilled with some of the projects I'll be working on moving forward," Jaworski told SI.com. "I have an opportunity to do some things that can be creative, so in that regard I am excited about the future."

In an interview last week, Jaworski talked excitedly about a Ron Jaworski-branded show in which he watches game tape with current NFL quarterbacks and discusses their reads and decision-making on camera. That has the potential to be terrific television for fans who love the X's and O's of the game.

4. Ed Cunningham, ESPN/ABC college football analyst and Oscar-nominated producer: Cunningham will be in the audience at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday as one of five producers (along with Seth Gordon, Rich Middlemas, Dan Lindsay and Glen Zipper) behind Undefeated, an Academy Award-nominated documentary about Manassas High football team, a historically fruitless program in North Memphis. The filmmakers spent nine months with the squad and let the teens tell the story of the limited expectations of inner-city athletes. In a review for Sports Illustrated, writer Rebecca Shore described the doc as "dynamic as anything NBC's Friday Night Lights offered over 76 hourlong episodes."

"I'm drawn to real-time stories," Cunningham said. "We've used extensive archival materials in some of our films, but we've been fortunate to find compelling stories that can be documented as they're happening. It's not unlike covering sporting events. The 'script' of what happened is written in the editing, but shooting a story as it unfolds gives the filmmakers a level of involvement and understanding of the people involved in a compelling way."

Cunningham said his next project involves two men legally fighting over the custody of one of the man's amputated left leg. "It's been a passion project for many years, and it may finally get to see the light of day," he said.

5. Jeremy Lin, TV juggernaut: How good has Lin been for television programmers? ABC's broadcast of the Knicks-Mavericks game last Sunday afternoon drew an 4.8 overnight rating, the third highest for a non-Christmas Day telecast, according to the network. ESPN's telecast of the Knicks-Lakers game on Feb. 10 generated a 2.1 rating, the network's second-highest-rated NBA game of the season behind the Heat-Clippers on Jan. 11.

Lin's impact locally has been even greater. According to John Ourand of the Sports Business Daily, the MSG Network, which carries Knicks games, was up 71 percent over the previous year as of last week. The Knicks are also on pace to produce their best local ratings since the 1999-00 season, according to Ourand.

6. Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports: This Wetzel column on Tom Brady following the Super Bowl was an example of a writer at the top of his craft. The piece captured the quarterback's disappointment -- and the scene surrounding him -- as artful as any postgame Super Bowl story you'll ever read, and it deserves as much run as it can get. Here, Wetzel discusses how the piece came together and his philosophy of column writing.

7. Devon Edwards, former managing editor of the Onward State student news website: The incorrect reporting of Joe Paterno's death was inexcusable, an example of the lust to be first in a hypercompetitive, Twitter age. In an apology filled with transparency, Edwards painstakingly explained how the reporting process under his aegis broke down at Onward State.The apology did not excuse the act, but it did reveal character. Here's hoping Edwards will learn from that mistake and be successful in the future.

8. Piers Morgan: Our faith in Fox Sports, as we have written before, is low when it comes how the network will broadcast the women's World Cup in 2015 and men's World Cup in 2018, the events that kick off its television rights deal for that event. And the network doesn't help its cause when it brings in Arsenal superfan Morgan to be an analyst on its EPL broadcast, the kind of foolish, celebrity-glorified idea that recalls ESPN ushering Christian Slater into its Monday Night Football booth a couple of years ago. It's not about whether Morgan knows Arsenal or the EPL. He clearly does. It's about treating soccer viewers as you would baseball and football fans. The SI Soccer roundtable discussed Morgan in the booth on its Jan. 24 podcast.

9. CBS Sports, Joe Paterno edition: Because it carries the imprimatur of CBS, the false reports of Paterno's death from this organization were even more disappointing than Onward State's reporting. First, CBSSports.com ran the Onward State story without verifying it and compounded it by not citing the original source of the report. On top of that -- and unlike the honorable mea culpa from Edwards -- CBS Sports management went hours without acknowledging the error. It finally issued an apology, but with zero explanation of how the edit process broke down. Eventually, a college football blogger lost his position. As the Poynter Institute wrote in the aftermath: "One frustrating aspect of this story is that CBS Sports deemed the report from Onward State good enough to publish, but it was incredibly stingy about crediting the information initially. It seems CBS Sports wanted the glory for itself. For example, when it first passed on the Onward State report, it didn't note the name of the publication in its tweet." A bad day, all around.

10. The Inanity About Linsanity: It's been a race to the bottom with some of the Lin coverage, from the use of a racial slur in an ESPN mobile headline to the inane tweet sent out by Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock to the MSG Network showing Lin's face over a fortune cookie that read, "The Knicks Good Fortune." Both ESPN and Whitlock apologized (Fox Sports tagging Whitlock's apology as a "Fox Sports Exclusive" put the brazen on top of the sundae), and if anything good has come from this nonsense, it's the thoughtful pieces on Lin and language, and challenging stereotypes.

Regarding the ESPN headline, the most public of these gaffes, the Asian American Journalists Association (which might need to hire extra staff given the frequency of these things) issued the following request of ESPN: "We would like to understand how it happened and what actions are being taken by ESPN to make sure such missteps do not recur. Your internal review could be instructive for others in our industry who want to improve the systems they have -- or need to put in place -- to ensure that fairness, accuracy and good taste are reflected in the news coverage of our communities."

That does not appear to be coming.

On Sunday, an ESPN spokesperson told SI.com that the company is not going to comment beyond its current statements. That's a shame, but ESPN does have an ombudsman on its payroll (The Poynter Institute) and if there was ever a time to provide transparency for readers and viewers about how an editorial breach happened, this is it.

You can debate the punishments handed out -- a 30-day suspension for anchor Max Bretos seemed way too excessive and typical of ESPN's Jordan Rules with certain employees; you can judge for yourself here -- but what isn't up for debate is the speed and proactive approach ESPN took soon after the offensive headline went up and down. You heard from ESPN's top digital content executive, it apologized on multiple platforms and the company's PR staff updated its statement multiple times.

Was this an element of damage control? Absolutely, and ESPN can often be clumsy with damage control as we saw in the Bruce Feldman situation. But ESPN has been proactive, which is opposite of Fox Sports. That company has long reveled in its "attitude" as an organization, and much of that attitude is healthy when it encourages innovation and smart commentary. Because many at Fox Sports see ESPN as overtly corporate, staffers have often tweaked Bristol when it engages in damage control. But Fox Sports' silence on Whitlock's tweet has been noticed by plenty in the industry. Let me be very clear: I don't think Whitlock's tweet is close to a fireable offense, and we've all tweeted out things we regret. But the sound you didn't hear was Fox Sports management or its PR unit offering a comment to its readers, the AAJA or anyone. Weak. (Update: Fox Sports did indeed comment to New York Times reporter Richard Sandomir on Feb. 18, seven days after Whitlock's tweet. A Fox spokesman called the tweet "inappropriate, insensitive and showed extremely poor judgment." I missed it the first time and while it's not an immediate response, it is a response and it should be noted here.)

 
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