After a lengthy search, ESPN today named a new ombudsman to replace the Poynter Institute. After the experimental nature of the institute's reign as ombudsman led to mixed results at best (we're still waiting for that Craig James column that never came), ESPN has gone back to one person in the role. That person is former New York Times writer and PBS host Robert Lipsyte. Lipsyte wrote a sports column for the Times and also wrote at ESPN.com for a period in the mid-2000s. Lipsyte promises to work towards transparency in the ESPN announcement…
“I’m thrilled at the chance to help the ESPN audience — which means just about all sports fans — to understand how the decisions are made, or not made, that affect the presentation of its sports news and entertainment,” Lipsyte said. “Sports is an immensely important aspect of American social, moral and economic life and ESPN is the most important window on sports. My job is to keep that window transparent.”
I like the hire by ESPN. If you're not very familiar with Lipsyte in the sports world, his duals with Bob Costas over Costas' journalistic career are fascinating. Hopefully, he'll bring a more cynical voice to the ombudsman role, not so much in the negative connotation of the word but in the sense that Lipsyte will be more willing to challenge what ESPN presents as gospel truth. Too often, Poynter's columns sounded like they were coming straight from the fine folks in the public relations department – just see their column on the height of TebowMania as one example. It doesn't seem to be in Lipsyte's DNA to be use the valuable ombudsman space as a cheerleader.
The new ombudsman hire is a good faith move by ESPN, who has made some positive steps in the last few months after getting hammered the previous year for their practices - see the long overdue clarification on their sourcing and attribution policy. Hopefully Lipsyte hits the ground running, connects to the ESPN audience that cares about the network's integrity (i.e. non First Take viewers), and continues to hold Bristol to a high standard.