Keeping ESPN in Line
The sports channel's in-house umpire speaks
By Ben Grossman -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/3/2005 8:00:00 PM
Long-time Washington Post sports editor George Solomon was recently named to the newly created position of ombudsman for ESPN. Beginning July 1, Solomon's role will include analyzing the decision-making behind and presentation of ESPN programming, including studio shows and events. Solomon will file his findings at least once a month for ESPN.com. Solomon spoke with B&C's Ben Grossman.
Why does ESPN need an ombudsman?
Internal criticism is healthy. It will be my job to do whatever I can to try and get ESPN to look at what it is doing, try to improve, and to try and also be a representative of the viewers. … Obviously they feel comfortable enough to have someone from outside look within. Good news organizations, whether they be print or television or radio, ought to be comfortable and confident enough to look to within and say, “How are we doing and how can we get better?”
Why don't more TV networks have a similar position?
I don't know. I would think that if more major networks had ombudsmen they might have avoided some of the recent embarrassing situations in their news departments.
What will you be watching for within news programming, such as ESPN's trademark SportsCenter?
I'll be looking overall at how SportsCenter covers the news. For instance, if they report something as breaking news and it does not come to fruition, I would go find out what happened and report that out. When there is coverage of a widespread event like the [NBA] brawl in Detroit, I'd look at how often ESPN covered it and how often they showed the video on SportsCenter, which was an issue.
How would you address a situation like the controversial scripted drama Playmakers, which ESPN pulled after one season and was criticized by some for caving in to pressure from the NFL?
The NFL … I know a couple of owners expressed reservations about it and were very unhappy with it, and I don't blame them. It was a very unfair characterization and very stereotypical of professional football players. Did that have an effect on why ESPN pulled the show? I don't know. … I certainly could report that out.
How do you view an entity such as the X-Games, which ESPN owns and created but also covers within its SportsCenter news coverage?
If I feel they are putting too much time into it, I will definitely look at that. I know this is going to come as a big shock to you, but I am not the target demo. I'm going to be 65 years old, and I don't get it … but I know a lot of younger people love it.
ESPN also created and covers its own sports awards show, the ESPYs. Should that be covered in its news programming?
The fact is ESPN is not only news, it's entertainment, it's event coverage—it encompasses a lot of things. I haven't paid that much attention to the ESPYs, but I will take a look at it. Is it part of the news process? I would say it probably isn't.
ESPN recently withdrew its name from the ESPN/USA Today college football poll, saying it believed all coaches' ballots needed to be made public, which they aren't. Was that the right move?
I feel that any time a news organization is involved in the making of the news, that is not healthy. So for ESPN to not participate, that is probably a good thing.
Your deal is for 18 months, and 18 months only. Why?
I can't be rehired, which is good, because you don't perform at the pleasure of your employer in that case.
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