INDIANAPOLIS — Mega-insider Chris Mortensen just celebrated his 20th year at ESPN. I caught up with him in Indy to discuss the evolving industry of sports scoops.
1. This is a very competitive industry, but do you ESPN guys have fun competing for scoops among each other?
Well you have to independently compete and you don’t do it by competing against somebody — you do it because that’s the standard that’s been set. You’ve set a standard for yourself, the way you were raised, the way you were taught in journalism class. To me, everybody’s got some competitive gene in them, and if you play sports — and certainly I did — that gene just carries over. But it’s about competing against the standard that’s expected of you, based on what your parents taught you, your teachers taught you, and certainly in my life, what God expects from me.
2. Twitter has certainly changed the industry…
I try to use Twitter first and foremost if we have stories that we’ve broken that we can link back to ESPN. Because that’s who employs me — ESPN, not Twitter. So whether it’s Adam (Schefter) or somebody else, even somebody from another entity that breaks a story, it’s a chance to alert them to it and link up the story. It’s also a chance to interact with fans, which I enjoy doing. And to me, that’s what it is. Some people call it brand-building, but to me it’s just an opportunity to (talk to fans). Twitter’s not a good thing for real-time journalism. More mistakes made, so you have to be more careful and disciplined.
3. What did you think of that Rob Lowe-Peyton Manning thing?
I just laughed. It’s so funny — I laughed because I feel like I’m already pretty locked into the story, but you’re still obligated to go make sure it’s not true or it is true, because you do know there’s a relationship there between Rob Lowe and Jim Irsay. But I know, just because I’m staying connected almost on a daily basis, that it didn’t ring true, but it was an example of how it can cause a stir. And then I forgot Rob Lowe had a movie debut that following Saturday.
4. Do you have a scoop you’re most proud of?
I get asked that a lot and I’m not one to keep a scorecard. It’s like, I think there were stories in the 1980s that gave my career a jump-start which involved agents and mafia, but I believe it’s dangerous to keep a scorecard. Otherwise, you might look at it and say, “Oh, I’ve done enough.” To me, that’s not healthy. It means you’re too self-centered.
5. What about stories you regret?
Oh yeah, if you don’t have things that you regret then you’re not being honest with yourself. To me, when we made the transition into what I like to call real-time journalism with the internet, maybe there was one or two stories where maybe I should have made an extra phone call, but in that rush to get it out it wasn’t quite right. And that’s inexcusable. The people who watch and read and listen to you have to trust that everything you’re saying is true. So when you make one mistake, that to me is damaging to your credibility. I know once we got into real-time journalism, I made two mistakes that never should have been made. It happens to almost everybody, but to me it’s inexcusable.