Chat with ESPN VP Norby Williamson
Norby Williamson, ESPN's executive vice president, production, will be stopping by Wednesday to take your questions. Williamson, an ESPN employee since 1985, has had his current role since 2007. He is responsible for all ESPN and ABC game, event and studio production work for domestic and international television and radio networks.
Williamson will discuss the network's approach to editorial coverage and take your questions about specific content topics. This is a part of regular ESPN.com chats with editorial decision-makers at ESPN, and coincides with the recent introduction of formalized Editorial Guidelines for Standards and Practices at the network. These chats offer viewers and readers the chance to connect directly with those involved in ESPN's coverage.
Send your questions now and join Williamson Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. ET!
Norby Williamson (10:32 AM)
Good morning everybody ...
What's the thing you're most proud of during your time at ESPN?
Norby Williamson (10:34 AM)
Through the years it's been being connected to building SportsCenter. It's our most important brand, and through my 27 years here I've touched it in some way.
What's the thing that you deal with the most as a part of your job on a daily basis?
Norby Williamson (10:35 AM)
Watching our product and offering feedback and ideas on coverage of news and information, events, radio, etc. All of our content.
Norby Williamson (10:35 AM)
I'm currently watching four networks as we speak, and will be shifting to ESPN Deportes at noon.
Kevin (Macon, GA)
Coverage of women's sports on ESPN has decreased from 6.3% of airtime in 2004 to 1.6% of airtime today. Is this decline in coverage a conscious choice by ESPN or a product of neglect?
Norby Williamson (10:38 AM)
Nobody in the industry covers more women's sports than ESPN. From the women's Final Four to the women's World Cup this year in Germany to the French Open, ESPN is committed to the breadth and scope of covering women's sports. A new initiative, recently launched, the ESPNW Web site, provides further editorial perspective on women's sports. We're also very proud of the number of women reporters, hosts and analysts that cover not only women's sports, but men's sports too. And with the success of the NBA, we're gearing up for the WNBA season as well, where we televise the playoffs and championship.
Norby, what's the process for developing a new show? I love SportsNation and I'm glad it's on the air. Can any producer bring forth an idea and try to develop it? How does it work getting something ilke that on air?
Norby Williamson (10:40 AM)
We take ideas from everyone here at ESPN. Some of the best ideas come from all corners in the company, not just executives or people in content. It's just show creation, but every day on SportsCenter and other news and information shows, ideas for content and segments come from all over the company. The "Not Top Ten" was a suggestion from someone not in production, and that's a staple now on SportsCenter. Ideas for highlights, features and stories are offered from all levels on a daily basis.
Norby, how does ESPN go about securing the talent for all of the various shows and networks? Do you actively seek people out? Wait for them to show interest in making the move to ESPN?
Norby Williamson (10:41 AM)
Both. We recruit and look at people currently on air (could be other networks, local stations). A new frontier for talent is the Internet, with user-generated video, etc.
why didn't espn pony up more money to get the NHL TV rights?
Norby Williamson (10:43 AM)
We make smart business decisions for our company. Just because we don't have the rights to televise the games doesn't mean we're not passionate or committed to great NHL coverage. You'll continue to see extensive playoff coverage on all our studio, radio and studio platforms.
Cindy Simpson (Joplin, MO)
Why does ESPN only show Golf on bottom line when Tiger is playing? There have been 2 great golf tournamnts, with xtra holes in both the last 2 weeks. There are people who want to know what is going on even if Tiger isn't playing
Norby Williamson (10:44 AM)
Golf is always in The Bottom Line rotation, not just when Tiger is playing. SportsCenter and ESPNEWS cover the PGA Tour on a weekly basis.
Let's get right to it, Mr. Williamson. Gas or Charcoal?
Norby Williamson (10:44 AM)
Gas. I've got to keep my hands clean.
I usually love the NFL draft coverage, but this year left much to be desired. The coverage was terrible with the picks being revealed before Goodell stepped to the podium. The shots of players on cell phones and celebrating before the pick was even announced ruined any excitement or surprise I may have had. If Boomer or Gruden get tipped off before the pick please dont let them speculate to seem smarter then they are. It is so obvious when they are given the pick before since they start to really drop names. Moving the first round to primetime on Thursday is fantastic and it feels like a real event, but leave the revealing of picks to the commissioner.
Norby Williamson (10:47 AM)
There were more players in the building this year than ever before. The availability to talk to those players before the draft and to follow their emotions with their families off-stage added to the storytelling and the drama of the event. While I understand that in some cases the commissioner's announcement of the pick was a bit anti-climatic, we believe that by showing the process (communication to the player on the phone and unvarnished emotion) it actually adds to the overall enjoyment of the event.
Ky (Boston, MA)
What was your job before you joined ESPN? Do you come from a business or journalism background?
Norby Williamson (10:48 AM)
Before I came to ESPN, I worked as an umpire and at a lawn company for a summer. Some people say I actually peaked then. My professional career is all ESPN, starting in the mailroom. Like many others here, I've been given opportunities as the company has grown.
Is there an event or sport that you regret ESPN ever covering in your 27 years at ESPN??
Norby Williamson (10:50 AM)
Creating content is about having no regrets. Do we make mistakes? Absolutely. But the goal is to learn from those risks that you take that don't exactly measure up to your expectations and apply those learnings to the next opportunity. You can never stop taking chances.
Ryan (San Diego)
Can you guys show more European soccer? There used to be Champions League but now it's just occasional weekend games
Norby Williamson (10:52 AM)
We show EPL games on Saturday mornings on ESPN2. SportsCenter does more highlights of European soccer (as do our digital platforms) than ever before. The men's World Cup in South Africa last year and the upcoming women's World Cup in Germany are two great opportunities that have focused ESPN on soccer around the world like never before in our 31 years.
Norby...Love the MMA coverage...Do you see it as a success and will ESPN continue and provide more coverage of the growing sport??
Norby Williamson (10:54 AM)
More coverage of a growing sport is in our DNA. If sports are popular with fans, we will increase the coverage. Our MMA coverage includes previews and highlights on SportsCenter, MMA Live airs on ESPN.com and ESPN2, and we've invested in our online coverage of MMA. We continue to increase our commitment to the sport.
What is the toughest sport to produce live?
Norby Williamson (10:56 AM)
Good question. The elements are always a key factor in live game production. A football game in the bitter cold, a baseball game in driving rain, etc., can factor into the production. Honestly, the Winter X-Games, much like the Winter Olympics, offer unique challenges. Weather, venue, hundreds of people outside in very difficult conditions. It takes a toll on the camera people, the rig operators, everyone. That's probably our toughest event start to finish.
Marc (Malden, MA)
It is believed, by many, that if ESPN doesn't have the tv rights to a league, that highlights/discussion/etc are put at the end of the line and only done for filler. For example, if Sportscenter had MLS highlights and NHL highlights, anchors are told to show MLS first because ESPN has those tv rights.
Norby Williamson (11:00 AM)
We're very fortunate that we have rights to many sports. The one visible exception is the NHL. I would ask anybody to look at our coverage on SportsCenter and ESPNEWS as it relates to our coverage of the NHL playoffs and the resources we put toward it. Barry Melrose, Matthew Barnaby, location at the Winter Classic, Ovechkin part of our This is SportsCenter promotional campaign -- we make great efforts. Our coverage of the Stanley Cup Finals will be extensive and beyond any other media company, even though we don't have rights.
how do you get an internship at ESPN?
Norby Williamson (11:02 AM)
Go to the Jobs at ESPN link on ESPN.com and apply. We accept interns after their junior years in college and give them great opportunity to gain experience in their field. We stay in touch with interns after they graduate and the many of them do get offered positions after college.
Mr. Williamson, how much collaboration is done to integrate all of the medias that ESPN is involved in? Like radio, podcasts, TV, web, etc.
Norby Williamson (11:04 AM)
A ton, to be blunt. We've been very fortunate that we've figured out a way to create and distribute content on many platforms. That has been one of the key drivers of our success since we launched ESPN Radio nearly 20 years ago. We don't look at producers, directors, editor or talent as television or audio or digital contributors. If you cover a sport, you are expected to cover it in every way we distribute content. There are regular meetings to discuss shared approaches to content and resources across all platforms.
I felt that Chris Berman positioned himself more as an analyst in this years coverage, offering his opinion on what he felt the teams needed to do, rather than simply "keeping order" so to speak, between the analysts (Gruden, Kiper, etc.)
Norby Williamson (11:06 AM)
That's the strength of Chris Berman. He's covered the NFL for 30 years, he's much more than simply a host. He has an unmatched expertise and we value his opinion and perspective and want it on the events he covers, including the NFL Draft. Chris Fowler on College GameDay is very similar. Fowler, Corso and Herbstreit are viewed by fans as three college football experts.
DRe (GA) [via mobile]
Who do you think will win the NBA Championship?
Norby Williamson (11:07 AM)
If Willis Reed is healthy, I think the Knicks have a shot in six.
terry (former ESPN employee) (Bristol CT)
are you worried about the book that is coming out?
Norby Williamson (11:08 AM)
I'm looking forward to it. As someone who has been here 27 years and has lived through many of the moments, I have respect for process the authors have gone through to gather information and do their homework about ESPN.
What sort of growth do you see in the radio market? And how much does being mostly AM stations hurt that growth potential?
Norby Williamson (11:10 AM)
Audio is a big growth opportunity for ESPN. We invest in it and it delivers across all platforms. There is no doubt that the migration to FM is a benefit. Our Dallas sports station is an FM signal, for example, and does very well for us. The radio industry continues to migrate from AM to FM as well as to digital distribution. It's a key factor in ESPN's success and will continue to be.
When do you know if a former athlete has "It" with the tv shows/games, etc?
Norby Williamson (11:13 AM)
Some athletes and coaches are naturals as television personalities. Jon Gruden is an example of that. Some analysts grow into the role. Kirk Herbstreit is an example of that. It's not a black-and-white circumstance. People have had success in the media through a number of different paths. You look for people who are outgoing, conversationalists, informative, have had success ... but ultimately you look for people that you'd want to spend some time with.
Why is there such an East coast bias on ESPN?
Norby Williamson (11:14 AM)
I wasn't aware that the Lakers, the Cowboys and the Crimson Tide were all located on the East Coast.
Mr. Williamson, I am a huge ESPN fan. However, it seems that there is certainly a group of people out there that aren't and, at times, it seems "cool" to hate on ESPN. How do you and the company deal with the criticism?
Norby Williamson (11:16 AM)
I don't think people hate ESPN. I think people have certain expectations of ESPN and when they perceived that we don't deliver on those, they feel compelled to tell us. And we want them to tell us. We want to know what people who watch our product think about is because ultimately, that's the only way we'll improve.
Aaron (Lexington, KY)
Thanks for doing a great job with ESPN. Do you ever want to move the ESPN headquarters from Connecticut to warmer weather?
Norby Williamson (11:18 AM)
I hate cold weather. It's really hard to hit a 7-iron in ice and snow. However, being in Bristol has been a big benefit to us. We have a great campus, attract people from all over the country and become part of the fabric of the community.
Norby Williamson (11:21 AM)
The series was and continues to be very well received. It was a critical and fan success. the storytelling by some of the most accomplished directors in film gave us a unique perspective. Personally, "Muhammad and Larry" about Ali and Holmes was my favorite. I'm a big boxing fan. Long-form documentaries and films is a genre that we're very committed to and you'll be seeing more from us.
Sources: ESPN thinks that if you put "Sources:" before whatever you are saying you can make up whatever you want and not be journalistically responsible for it.
Norby Williamson (11:23 AM)
I don't think we're in the practice of making things up. We take reporting and sourcing very seriously. We believe that simply attributing a report to another media entity doesn't relieve us of the responsibility of confirming that story. With the quick flow of information, driven by the Internet, it's more important than ever that we practice the basic tenets of journalism.
Cheesehead Sports Nut (Chicago, IL)
I am very impressed with the diverse content that Bill Simmons has been associated with lately (The Book of Basketball, weekly columns, frequent podcasts, and forming the 30 for 30 series). As a result, I am very excited for the launch of Grantland.com. What are your thoughts on Grantland.com?
Norby Williamson (11:26 AM)
Bill Simmons is a unique talent and brings a unique perspective to all of our content. His contributions to ESPN have been many, he's got an extremely high following on ESPN.com and we have high hopes that Grantland.com will be the next successful chapter in the Simmons portfolio. As we continue to expand our coverage of sports, this is another opportunity to add diverse voices and interesting perspectives.
I know it's early, but ... I just tweeted about how it's awesome that I'm able to watch SportsCenter on my iPhone and laptop (I have Time Warner Cable) ... but that it is beyond frustrating that the MLB stuff is fuzzed out. Any chance this move by MLB can be worked out?
Norby Williamson (11:28 AM)
We have a great relationship with our partners at Major League Baseball and we're in conversations to try to rectify this issue. The goal is to always serve sports fans and meet their expectations for our products whenever possible.
Cheesehead Sports Nut (Chicago, IL)
The use of the Poynter Institute as the ombudsmen seems like a good move in a bubble, how do you think it is working out so far in practice?
Norby Williamson (11:30 AM)
It's been very beneficial. Our commitment to having an ombudsman hasn't wavered. Just like we get feedback from fans and critics, we value Poynter's perspective on we're running our coverage (as we did with Ohlmeyer, Schreiber and Solomon before). The goal is to improve the product. We know we can always get better and we know have to get better.
Does Boomer have a nickname for you?
Norby Williamson (11:31 AM)
No, but I'll make that priority during his next performance review.
Norby Williamson (11:31 AM)
That's it for today. Thanks for all your questions, and thanks for watching ...