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ESPN Ombudsman Says Net's Suspension
Of Kornheiser "Seemed Disingenuous"
In his latest contribution as ESPN Ombudsman, Don Ohlmeyer wrote the network's rationale in suspending Tony Kornheiser for critical remarks about Hannah Storm "seemed disingenuous." It is "unseemly to have a commentator publicly deride and insult a colleague's appearance," and a "response from the network was warranted." But instead of "rightfully suspending Kornheiser for denigrating a fellow employee, the company's statement issued an all-encompassing dictum that 'hurtful and personal comments' would have 'significant consequences.'" This message establishes a "very low disciplinary bar, considering that a sizable portion of what ESPN airs and prints involves blunt opinion and criticism." So to "imply that punishment awaits announcers and analysts who levy such remarks, no matter whom the target, doesn't seem realistic." ESPN management waited six days to "announce Kornheiser's suspension, implying a good deal of thought went into the decision." Perhaps the punishment was "influenced by recent negative publicity about gender issues at the network or issues of ageism," but ultimately the suspension "should have nothing to do with gender or age." Ohlmeyer: "Derogatory comments about a fellow employee's appearance, male or female, should be unacceptable."
RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE: Ohlmeyer wrote ESPN brought "first-rate and thorough coverage" to Tiger Woods' public apology on February 19, as the net included reaction from fellow golfers, "other athletes, fans, business analysts, marketers and ESPN commentators." The "extent of the coverage, however, did not sit well with all viewers." Ohlmeyer noted in the past, the "agenda for what was 'newsworthy' was set by a few highly influential newspapers, magazines and wire services." But now that "mainstream approach is overshadowed by myriad new players -- cable news, blogs, talk radio and the tabloids." ESPN's coverage of Woods' address had "breadth, scope and a sense of fairness," but it still was a "story made larger than life by the tabloids and blogs." When asked how tabloids "alter the philosophy of those journalists who have responsibly stayed above this fray," ESPN Senior VP & Dir of News Vince Doria said, "The honest answer is, I don't know. There is a very basic difference in philosophy, between the more conventional newsgathering operations and the new-breed purveyors of information. The traditionalists believe in checking information and sources, making sure a story is accurate before exposing it publicly. Many of the new-breed community believe information should be made available to everyone, regardless of its accuracy, and allow them to draw their own conclusions about its veracity." Doria added, "What I hope for is that this new breed of information gatherers/disseminators begin to embrace responsibility in what they report. But the Internet provides such easy access to a platform that's available to virtually everybody, that it's hard to believe the standards of accuracy and fairness, the bedrock of traditional journalism, will ever dominate the landscape."
A PRICE TO PAY: Ohlmeyer noted he has received e-mails from ESPN users who "vociferously rail against the concept of paying for content online." But ESPN.com VP, Exec Editor & Producer Patrick Stiegman said, "Our goal is to offer a hierarchical view of what's important in sports that day from a news perspective, as well as representations of the various storytelling elements. ... If an Insider element -- often predictive and deeply analytical -- best tells a given story, we'll feature it prominently, just as we would public content." ESPN Publishing GM & Editorial Dir Gary Hoenig: "Only a tiny portion of what you see on ESPN.com is behind the pay wall. At about 11 cents a day, it doesn't seem like much to ask for what we think is premium content. With advertisers hurting these days, we need to find more ways to pay for all the talent that provides what fans want to know about sports." Ohlmeyer wrote in order to charge for content, it "must provide value to the consumer" and be perceived as "proprietary, not undifferentiated." ESPN Insider is a "foray into the premium market" and readers will "determine whether the content is truly proprietary or just more undifferentiated information." That perceived value "will tell the story" (ESPN.com, 3/10).
ESPN Exec VP & Exec Editor John Walsh waded into the Keith Olbermann-Bill Simmons feud, taking a shot at Olbermann. Walsh told THE DAILY, "We at ESPN are happy that Keith retains an interest in the hiring procedures at our company. We have fond memories of his collegiality and counsel for executive decision-making. But alas, we have moved on from the KO Era. His colleagues at MSNBC no doubt appreciate Keith’s management talent." Olbermann anchored “SportsCenter” from ’92-97 before leaving with hard feelings on both sides. In a blog post earlier this week, Olbermann took a shot at ESPN's popular columnist, saying he received e-mails from "some of Mr. Simmons' bosses," complaining that the columnist has become more "uncontrollable" and "unmanageable" than Olbermann was during his ESPN tenure.
Turner Sports today released SportsNOW, its new mobile application and one of their first branded consumer digital products. The iPhone application, carrying a charter sponsorship from Ram Truck, will include live scores, statistics and game recaps powered by Stats LLC across a variety of professional and college sports. The application will also carry a variety of alert and customizing functions, and social media capabilities to share information with others. The move does not impact Turner's core digital business of producing and distributing content for outside sports entities. But Turner Sports Exec VP & COO Lenny Daniels said, "We think there's a big opportunity to deliver a better fan experience where you get everything you need in that one-stop destination." He added there could be other such ventures under the Turner Sports brand. "This wasn't an application you could do with any one league, but this won't change anything we do with our league partners. That's still definitely a business model we believe in," Daniels said. The free mobile application for now is available only for the iPhone, but versions for the BlackBerry and Android platforms are under development. With the release, Turner also ventures into space currently occupied by ESPN, Sportacular, CBS Sports, and others. SportsNOW does not include any licensed video content, but Daniels said that also may be a step pursued later on.
Blue Jays Hoping To Have All 162 Games
On Canadian Television This Season
In Toronto, Chris Zelkovich reports the Blue Jays are "hoping to have all 162 games on Canadian television for the first time in more than a decade" this season, but there is a "catch -- many could be on a channel that has yet to launch." The team yesterday confirmed that it is "hoping to get games on a channel tentatively named Rogers Sportsnet Extra, which could launch sometime this year." TSN "will carry 20 games, with five slated for TSN2 in September," and the remaining 137 games "will be shared by Rogers Sportsnet and the channel that has yet to launch." Zelkovich notes Sportsnet was "granted the licence for Sportsnet Extra in January with plans to air a variety of spots" (TORONTO STAR, 3/11).
THE BOYS OF SUMMER: Former MLBer Nomar Garciaparra has joined ESPN as a baseball analyst. Garciaparra will appear mainly on "Baseball Tonight," in addition to select appearances as a game analyst. He will make his ESPN debut later this month. Meanwhile, MASN announced that Mike Flanagan will join the Orioles broadcast team as a color analyst for the '10 season. Flanagan will work alongside play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne for about half of the Orioles games during this season. Flanagan replaces Buck Martinez, who recently became the play-by-play announcer for the Blue Jays (THE DAILY).
THE DARK KNIGHT: In K.C., Blair Kerkhoff notes 45% of the nearly 6,400 respondents to a K.C. Star survey of ESPN college basketball analyst Bob Knight's performance said that Knight is "terrible and should be fired," while only 28% indicated that they "love his insight." ESPN Exec VP/Production Norby Williamson said of Knight, "We didn't try to make him something we didn't want him to be. ... At the end of the day we're not going to try and turn him into some polished broadcaster. We want that unbridled, right as the game is happening, expertise. I want it as if I'm sitting on the bench next to him." ESPN's Brent Musburger said Knight is "probably the most honest basketball analyst I've ever worked with" (K.C. STAR, 3/11).