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Keeping ESPN in Line

The sports channel's in-house umpire speaks 7/01/2005 08:00:00 PM Eastern

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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