Why has it taken ESPN more than four months to replace its ombudsman?
For 18 months, up until this past November, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg was the ombudsman for one of the biggest sports media companies in the world, ESPN.
When Poynter, a non-profit school for journalists which also owns the Tampa Bay Times, filed its last column for ESPN last year, I called up the head of the project to ask a bit about what they had accomplished and touched base with ESPN about when they might name a replacement.
Four months later -- or 115 days, according to Sports Illustrated writer Richard Deitsch -- ESPN hasn't yet named a new ombudsman. So I wrote a column about it for Indiana University's National Sports Journalism Center, where I provide them regular pieces on sports media.
The piece got a good enough reaction that I've reposted a preview here; check out an excerpt below and click this link to read the entire piece.
"Back in November, when I asked ESPN.com’s Vice President and Editor-in-Chief Patrick Stiegman about how the sports media giant would choose its next ombudsman, he was definite about two things:
First, the ombudsman position – an independent entity which reviews ESPN’s journalism in columns posted prominently on their website — was important.
And they were going to fill the job relatively soon.
“We don’t want to take a year off or even a long stretch off in terms of, you know, continuing what we think is a great service to our fans,” said Stiegman, who added he has edited and overseen every ombudsman column published in the last six years. “Certainly by early 2013 we’d like to have someone in place.”
But four months later, as the start of 2013 winds down, the question arises: Why doesn’t ESPN have a new ombudsman, yet?
Josh Krulewitz, a spokesman for the company, would only acknowledge that the search for a new ombudsman was ongoing and they had no details to share.
The last ombudsman was something of an experiment. A small roster of writers from the Poynter Institute for Media Studies – the school for journalists which owns my full-time employer, the Tampa Bay Times newspaper – provided regular columns analyzing ESPN’s ethics and journalistic achievements, an effort which ended in November.
ESPN first hired an ombudsman in 2005, creating an independent voice with a contract for a fixed amount of time with the freedom to respond to public questions and feedback or investigate their own ideas.
The media giant’s first three ombudsmen (and a woman) were individuals with extensive credits in television and print media: ex-ABC and NBC sports and entertainment programmer Don Ohlmeyer, former Washington Post sports editor George Solomon and Le Anne Schreiber, a former sports editor at the New York Times.
With the 18-month Poynter Review Project, ESPN moved in a different direction; hiring an institution to keep an eye on their work, led by the school’s top instructor on journalism ethics, Kelly McBride.
“I think their attempt to identify their values ebbs and flows constantly,” said McBride back in November. “There are days when they are really sharp and there are days where there are so many things going on and the organization is hard…They’re just so freaking huge that it’s almost impossible now to talk about values across the entire organization.”
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