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National Football League
Draft King Analysis

November 10, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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The surreal situation surrounding the Penn State program in the past week is nothing short of incredible. The grand jury testimony file proved to be very tough to read, with disturbing descriptions of alleged sexual assaults against children. The story quickly moved from the world of sports to the mainstream, perhaps in part because of the availability of the grand jury report via the internet. In this age of instant access to information, people around the world quickly read the horrid stories and incredible accusations in the report.

Some thoughts from the outside looking in:

-ESPN provided commercial-free coverage for quite some time last night, but the unfolding events quickly revealed that the network had grossly underestimated how things were going to take place. They finally had their ducks in a row by the time they did the ESPN Los Angeles edition of SportsCenter, but the Bristol-based broadcast was fraught with problems. I could only imagine the behind-the-scenes scurrying, but the anchors in particular seemed left out to dry several times.

Keep in mind that I write that as a veteran of the TV news business. Breaking news can be chaotic, fluid, difficult to anticipate, and a challenge for all involved. For producers, the key is to have a road map in mind, but with so much unfolding so quickly it had to be quite a challenge for the decision makers to know where to go next.

Without the ability to throw to a break, you've lost your usual last resort safety net as a producer. The anchors rely on their producer(s) to tell them where to go next, or what video is ready, or many other things, all while they try to make it look as seamless as possible from the set. But tonight's coverage deserved more resources than what ESPN had allotted, or at least that's how it seemed from my perspective as a viewer.

Note: this isn't a knock of any of ESPN's producers. Resources are allotted and you do the best you can in a developing situation. I've navigated news teams through breaking weather coverage, which was funny to me on some level, a young hot-shot producer (or so I liked to think) barking orders to people, most all older than me. That part really doesn't fit my personality: I'm extremely headstrong, but I'm not bossy. But sometimes your job requires you to act in ways that you wouldn't normally in order to complete the tasks you're expected to make sure take place properly.

I produced the 5-6 a.m. portion of the WTSP-TV morning show on 9/12/2001, a horrible morning following the darkest day in American history in my lifetime. No commercials, no time to even process what had been seen (or what might be to come), working long hours to make the cut-ins and newscasts go as well as possible and, most importantly, knowing where we would be going from one segment to the next.

My point is that I've been entrusted with calling the shots in ultra high-pressure situations, which secretly is why so many producers are young -- the pressure is intense. Typically producers either move up (and end up like baseball managers, moving from city to city) or they get out of the business to pursue other endeavors (like I did). I'm not sure how the hierarchy is at ESPN for the east coast late SportsCenter, but I know anchors being left hanging when I see it, and that's what happened multiple times last night, at least based on my perception as a viewer.

-People often connect the southeastern part of the United States as having a stronger-than-normal affinity for college football, but it was the heart of Pennsylvania where Penn State students, by the thousands, took to the streets to protest the firing of Joe Paterno as the school's head football coach. It was a mostly emotional response, a rejection of the idea that their icon of a coach could somehow be involved in the cover-up of the actions of an alleged child rapist. Many students, I suspect, are still in denial.

Bottom line: This story is not going away. And nor should it -- if what is alleged is true, or if even part of it is true... this has the potential to become something truly historic within the world of sports, and not in a good way.


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