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The Only Thing Standing Between You And ESPN: The Poynter Institute


When ESPN ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer announced his most recent column would be his last in the position, there was no mention yet of who would succeed him as the intermediary between the media behemoth and the public. Today, though, James Andrew Miller, co-author of the upcoming oral history of ESPN, broke the news of Ohlmeyer’s replacement, and it appears ESPN’s taking a somewhat different approach this time around.

That’s because the ombudsman isn’t even a single person – it’s the Poynter institute, a well-known organization in the journalism world that describes itself as “a school that exists to ensure that Americans have access to excellent journalism.” (You might also know it for Jim Romenesko’s section on its site.) From ESPN’s release on the partnership:

ESPN and The Poynter Institute today announced a new step in media transparency—The Poynter Review Project—in which a panel of Poynter faculty will review ESPN content across all platforms and publicly comment on ESPN’s efforts. This will include monthly essays and additional timely responses as issues arise. The group also will address fan concerns during its 18-month tenure. The commentaries will be posted on ESPN.com, beginning with an introductory column in March.

We’re not sure how “new” the step is for the ombudsman position itself, since “monthly essays and additional timely responses as issues arise” sounds about like what the role entails now, but partnering with an organization instead of just bringing in one person is something different – and could lead to some interesting results.

For example, the fact that a panel is behind the oversight rather than one person should in theory address the “spotty presence” of the column Ohlmeyer acknowledged was an issue during the latter stages of his tenure (he said this was for health-related reasons). This way, if for any reason one panelist can’t perform his or her duties, there’s backup.

Additionally, we like the idea of a panel with multiple voices (as long as the multiple voices aren’t presented like this), because…well, when is diversity of opinion a bad thing? If the panel held roundtable discussions, for example, we’d be interested in reading the results whether everyone on the panel agreed or not. (A blog for the panel also strikes us as a good idea.)

How the new panel format will be utilized remains to be seen, but if it’s used in a way that clearly incorporates the views of each person involved, then this will be a worthy experiment. It doesn’t sound like the ombudsman role is fundamentally changing, but the idea behind the partnership is interesting, Poynter’s a logical choice, and if this leads to less than 12 days’ lag time to critique something like The Decision, we’re on board.

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