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Jenny Dell and the “May Present a Conflict of Interest” Plotline

by on February 4, 2014

I have been closely following the recent news that New England Sports Network on-air reporter and UMass alum, Jenny Dell, has been relieved of her duties as a Red Sox sideline reporter. A NESN spokesman confirmed this, saying, “NESN has an active search for a Red Sox sideline reporter. Jenny Dell, a multi-talented on-air personality, is anchoring NESN Sports Today and handling other assignments for NESN.”

Dell had a successful run as the go-to gal for the beloved Fenway broadcasts for two seasons. Eloquent, personable and sharp as a tack – Dell is someone I have looked up to and admired as a credible woman in sports broadcasting.

So, this situation begs the question, why are they replacing her? Let’s look to Red Sox third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, and his New Year’s Eve tweet for the answer.

Incase that didn’t spell it out for you, Jenny Dell is dating Will Middlebrooks.

As soon as I saw that picture I turned to my friends and simply commented, “She’s done.” Low and behold, NESN announced her transition off the Red Sox beat not even a month later. Although I was immediately critical of her decision to become involved with someone she reports on, I have since wrestled with the ideas of conflicts of interest and mixing business with pleasure.

I have tried to take in as many sides of the debate as I can, and this is what I have heard so far. Some say Dell was wrong in dating Middlebrooks and is rightfully being replaced. Some say Dell was wrong, but perhaps knew what she was doing and wanted to progress to a larger station anyways (there were talks of her moving to Fox Sports 1 sometime in the near future). The most intriguing argument to me, though, is that of those who attempt to defend Dell in saying NESN sideline reporting isn’t a platform for real journalism and the ethics of Dell’s decision to date Middlebrooks are irrelevant. Poor, pretty Jenny…

Take a look at this excerpt from the Obnoxious Boston Fan blog posted on Boston.com…

“If you want “journalistic conflict of interest,” how about Jay Carney going from TIME Magazine to the White House, Karl Rove sliding from the Bush Administration to Fox News, the late Tony Snow making the trip in reverse, George “Hey, That’s Morgan Freeman” Stephanopoulos hopping from Bill Clinton’s Oval Office to the lead chair ABC’s Sunday morning news show and, eventually, “Good Morning, America,” or ABC’s Senior National Correspondent [one Claire Shipman] being married to the aforementioned Carney?

Conflicts galore.

Not enough? Well someone named Ben Rhodes is the Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting for the White House. That is one epic business card. His brother, David, is the president of CBS News. The husband of Virginia Moseley, who is in charge of CNN’s Washington news bureau and worked at ABC for 18 years, was a Deputy Secretary of State in the current administration until 2013.

Enough already.

These folks cover stuff like wars, hurricanes, taxes, elections, health care and the Federal Budget.

All we were talking about on NESN is a reporter tossing softballs at David Ortiz after a game-winning home run, chatting with Farrell about how Clay Buchholz can’t make it through the fifth after a three-month rest or breaking down pizza offerings and the latest eco-friendly family restroom at Fenway Park.”

I appreciate the lengthy list of “conflicts of interest” he presents, but I cannot say I agree with his logic. Yes, NESN is NOT the Washington Post, I think we can all agree on that. However, NESN is a news platform for many New England sports fans (who, might I add, take their sports with a spoonful of grave seriousness). Yes, she talked to fans eating hot dogs. Yes, she had bits featuring sponsors and fun around the park. Sideline reporting for the Red Sox is meant to be mostly fun, entertaining and light for both the reporter and the audience, but that does not mean all parties involved can toss ethics out the window. It’s a matter of precedent for the women of broadcasting.

When a situation like this occurs, it only furthers the popular rhetoric that attractive female broadcasters are less knowledgable than others in the business. They slept with someone to get the job or they are sleeping with someone to keep their job, some will say. Jenny Dell started with ESPN and has a bright future of sports reporting in her future. Like many others before and after her, NESN was a platform for her to expand her skill set, develop an established personality throughout social media and grow as an on-air talent. To belittle her transition off the Red Sox beat is to say that all broadcasters are interchangeable, as long as they are attractive and can compose complete thoughts.

As an aspiring broadcast journalist myself, I would without question take the opportunity to sideline report with NESN in a heartbeat and I know many other bright women who would do the same. I think NESN made the right decision in moving her to NESN Sports Today, and I would bet Dell feels the same. She has a wide open future in broadcasting ahead of her and I doubt she would let any guy get in the way of that (sorry, Middlebrooks). When your one job is to report at Red Sox games it would be confusing, weird, almost laughable to interview a player who you’re also buying groceries with after the game.

In conclusion, I leave you with this question – where do people draw the “conflict of interest” line? Is it the same for all media? Virtually every news organization is owned by someone, so is that a conflict of interest within itself? When does personal involvement become too much?

Hazel Mae, Heidi Watney, Jenny Dell…I wonder who is next…

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One Comment
  1. ccorso permalink

    In my opinion I believe that personal bias sets in when a reporter or journalist is dating one of the people, or players that they cover on a daily basis. Jenny Dell was a great sideline reporter, who did a great job helping out the NESN play-by-play announcers by reporting on the sidelines. I believe that her credibility that she built up as a reporter took a little bit of a hit knowing that she had her mind set on a relationship with one of the players. As a journalist in sports, you are supposed to end your career as a fan and I think that this should include not having a bias towards any of the players who play the game as well. Say these two had a rough break up and did not get along anymore afterwords. This could all effect the way that Dell reports the games. This is not professional in my opinion and maybe Dell should stay in the studio and report from there if she wants to keep her relationship going with Middlebrooks. She also shouldn’t be aloud to report on anything having to do with the Red Sox.

    Chris

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