SBD/January 28, 2011/Media

Don Ohlmeyer Pens Last Column As ESPN Ombudsman

Ohlmeyer notes ESPN will soon release
long-awaited editorial guidelines
In his final contribution as ESPN Ombudsman, Don Ohlmeyer wrote in order to "appeal to sports aficionados of disparate tastes, ESPN first needs to know its audience's preferences." ESPN employs a research group that "exhaustively probes audience opinion." The research team "includes 50 people in five offices, including in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and in London, and processes and analyzes media data ranging from TV and radio ratings to online and mobile traffic to magazine readership." Those researchers also "conduct 1,600 survey interviews every quarter." ESPN Senior VP/Research & Analytics Artie Bulgrin said, "ESPN is fanatical about listening to the audience. ... There is little room for error, and so we have a saying: 'Why guess when we can know?' Listening gives us that knowledge." In addition, ESPN editorial execs starting this month will "hold a regularly scheduled series of radio interviews and online chats, directly addressing questions from the ESPN audience." Ohlmeyer noted the "increased efforts toward transparency will be accompanied by the long-awaited issuance of ESPN's Editorial Guidelines for Standards and Practices." After nearly "two decades of policy discussions, drafts and memos, this tome is about to be distributed to editorial staffers." ESPN Digital Media VP & Exec Editor of Online Content Patrick Stiegman: "This is a starting point. The guidelines will evolve and will be reviewed and revised, as warranted, on a regular basis." Ohlmeyer wrote, "ESPN should be congratulated for taking a step that helps codify complex criteria employees can use as a road map when confronting ethical and journalistic issues that -- in the 21st-century media landscape -- aren't black and white any longer."

GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK: Ohlmeyer wrote his tenure as ESPN Ombudsman has "been a fascinating 18 months" that has "been a challenge at times." He added, "I want to apologize for the spotty presence of this column the past six months. I've been dealing with some health issues that have prevented me from meeting some of my deadlines in that time. I appreciate your patience and ongoing correspondence, and want to thank ESPN management for its understanding." That ESPN "runs as well as it does is a tribute to talented professionals who truly seem devoted to their tasks." Ohlmeyer: "After 40 years in the business, I have an appreciation of the intricacies and difficulties of what ESPN is trying to accomplish. There is plenty to criticize in Bristol, but in some respects I marvel at how well the company presents its product on so many varied platforms." There are "undoubtedly some inside ESPN who question whether it makes sense for the company to distribute a column that basically critiques and criticizes the network." But Ohlmeyer wrote it is "important for ESPN to have someone from the outside with open access to the people on the inside, posing questions and demanding answers that have been raised by viewers" (ESPN.com, 1/27).
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