Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Don Ohlmeyer Has Decent Debut as ESPN Ombudsman

Today the new ESPN Ombudsman made his debut. Don Ohlmeyer, a longtime television executive, takes over the reins for former NY Times sports editor Le Anne Schreiber. Many sports fans (including myself) feel Ms. Schreiber did a great job during her tenure so expectations were high for Ohlmeyer coming in. And considering the Worldwide Leader's recent coverage (or lack thereof) of two major sports stories the ombudsman had the opportunity to have an immediate impact.

Of course, the stories in questions regarded a pair of off-the-field incidents: Ben Roethlisberger's sexual assault civil lawsuit and the Erin Andrews peephole video (and subsequent fallout). ESPN failed to adequately address these stories (or in the case of Andrews, not at all) and many fans wanted answers.

I've read the ombudsman's first effort several times... and I think he did an okay job. First and foremost Ohlmeyer disclosures his connections to sports and ESPN, most notably the fact his son currently works for the company. It was necessary for him to reveal these potential conflicts. Going forward I assume they won't affect his ability to critique ESPN.

Speaking of critiquing ESPN the ombudsman believes the network should have been more forthright in its coverage and explanation of Big Ben's lawsuit. I don't want to get into specifics (really you should read the entire column) but Ohlmeyer states ESPN has an obligation to actively report the news -- and when it doesn't report certain stories that are readily available elsewhere the audience must be informed the reasons why.

ESPN's reasoning not to initially report the Roethlisberger story is characterized by the network's senior VP and director of news Vince Doria. He states ESPN has a policy where civil suits involving sexual misconduct are not reported unless there is a legal, behavioral or on-the-field connection. As an example he mentions the Ron Mexico incident:

But wait, in fact ESPN ran an AP report about the civil lawsuit.

Why was Vick's sexual misconduct worthy of a story but not Big Ben's?

As for the perception that ESPN tried to protect Big Ben's image (and in turn its valuable contracts with the NFL) I thought Ohlmeyer and Doria both did fine in question and response. Doria rightly points out that ESPN has done a number of TV and online pieces that criticize players, procedures and the league itself. Now, if only ESPN can stop fawning over Brett Favre...

As for the Erin Andrews story... nothing. Not a single word. Granted, this is Ohlmeyer's initial column and he already had his plate full with the Roethlisberger ordeal. Maybe he will write up a piece after she returns to sidelines in September for college football. I am hopeful that Ohlmeyer, who according to his page will provide "independent examination and analysis of ESPN's media outlet," will discuss what happened to Ms. Andrews and its implications with the network and sports media at large.

I wouldn't be surprised if nothing is ever written about the peephole incident on ESPN.com considering the severity of the crime to one of its employees. Can the WWL issue one of its "DO NOT REPORT" memos to someone who's job is to objectively analyze the company?

Sports fans should expect nothing less than excellence from a company with the clout and resources like ESPN. Likewise they need to demand those in charge of keeping the company in check to deliver on their promise. Don Ohlmeyer is off to a decent start but there's plenty of plotlines that haven't been discussed or have yet to be discovered.

No comments: