04.23.13

The Ombudsman Might Be Your Bud (Man) : Robert Lipsyte Is ESPN’s New Watchdog

Posted in Sports Journalism, Sports Radio, Sports TV at 10:45 pm by

“As I see my function, something comes up: some complex issue—something bigger than Bill Simmons tweeting or Roethlisberger doing a girl in a bar bathroom—something really comes up to the core of ESPN.” Putting aside for a brief moment that Big Ben was accused of something far more criminal (and far less consensual) than “doing a girl in a bathroom”, newly tapped ESPN ombudsman Robert Lipsyte (above) tells the New Republic’s Marc Tracy that he’s got bigger fish to fry, and with no one having come close to filling the shoes of LeAnne Schreiber, Tracy’s inclined to believe him (“ESPN may have hired Lipsyte as a nice hood ornament—the kind of thing that gets a positive post even out of Deadspin, and makes ESPN look journalistically accountable—but that doesn’t mean he’s not a great pick for the job”)

“The main differences he sees between his job, which lasts for 18 months, and that of media reporters at outside organizations like Deadspin, is, first, that he will be more sensitive to readers and viewers’ complaints—“the mailbag,” as he put it. “I’m not going into this as an enterprise investigator,” he explained. “Something will come up. I’ll get a flood of emails: ‘What the fuck?’ I will try to explain what happened. If it turns out to have been some minor mistake, fine. If it turns out to be a major ESPN fuck-up, then that’s the story, too.” And the second difference is—so he hopes, with a fair degree of confidence (probably more than I would have)—that he will get answers from ESPN that outside reporters might not. “I’d like to think that they have to talk to me,” he said, adding, “I think that they would answer my phone calls, simply because, y’know, how could you not answer your ombudsman’s phone calls? That’s like a guilty plea.”

As a model, he cited the New York Times’ current public editor (the Times being too High German to call its ombudsman an ombudsman) Margaret Sullivan. “I think she’s doing a really good job,” he told me. “I really like her structure, which is to respond to something people are concerned about, do the reporting, lay it out to give you a chance to make a decision, and then at the end: ‘This is my take.’”

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