ESPN Poynter Project

On March 23, 2011, Kelly McBride wrote an article titled “Straight to the point,” which discussed what is Poynter Institute, what is the ESPN Poynter Review Project, and an example of the work produced from this project.

Before McBride could discuss the ESPN Poynter Project, she first needed to explain to the readers what the Poynter Institute is. McBride states, “the easiest way to describe Poynter is to say that we are a non-profit dedicated to making journalism better.” McBride mentions that Poynter owns the St. Petersburg Times newspaper and they have been around for 35 years.

According to McBride, ESPN has contracted with an independent ombudsman since 2005. The ombudsman job is to

“critique its work, advocate for the fans ESPN aspires to serve and hold network to its own high standards.” However, ESPN wants to improve upon this old model of ombudsman. That’s where Poynter comes into play. McBride explains that many ESPN writers have attended Poynter training sessions and the journalists of Poynter are well rounded and possess a multitude of expertise. There are even sports journalists at Poynter who run training programs for ESPN. McBride and Regina McCombs will be the newest ‘ombudsman’ for ESPN. McBride is experienced in newspaper reporting and ethics. McCombs is experienced in digital and mobile journalism. McBride and McCombs along with the help of the Institute will write a lengthy monthly column and a couple of shorter pieces, when necessary. The monthly column will address “the ethical choices ESPN makes as it develops new audiences or teams up with a major league or conference for programming rights. And sometimes we’ll pick apart a very specific decision in a specific story,” McBride said. McBride and McCombs will be looking at all of ESPN’s work: the television and radio broadcasts, the websites, the magazine, and the many mobile offerings.

In order to give readers an understanding of what they can expect these two women to produce, McBride gave an example of an article focusing on President Barack Obama’s plug-in for the USAID.gov donation site for Japan relief.  McBride acknowledges a quote from Vince Doria, the network’s vice president and director of news, which states, “It was never said, never, that if you don’t do this, we won’t do this. Never…And that’s a good thing, because ESPN doesn’t let sources, even the president, dictate content.” McBride gave the readers the four common ways in which a charity gets mentioned on ESPN.

I am not an avid ESPN reader or viewer so I am not that familiar with their journalism; however, after reading this my first thought was ‘what was wrong with the old ombudsman?’ Did he or she do something wrong or were they ineffective? Now this maybe my own personal stereotype coming through, but I wonder if readers are going to appreciate two females in a sports industry. I found it odd that in the article McBride mentions that the Institute has qualified sports journalists; however, both her and McCombs are not listed as such. Would you not want a sports journalist as an ombudsman because it may be hard to be independent and objective? Not sure. Also I have no problem with women and sports, but having only female prospective on ESPN journalism is that going to cause an issue or an unconscious bias? Perhaps it won’t, but I will certainly keep my eye out for the monthly columns by these two women and the response of the public.