ESPN’s Ombudsman Has No Idea What She Is Talking About

The Pilot down in Southern Pines snagged an inteview with ESPN Ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber covering a variety of topics concerning her work in monitoring the gigantic cesspool of hype and conflicts of interest which is the ESPN family of networks.  And in all honesty she does a pretty good job at keeping some of the folks at Bristol in line.  Unfortunately she has no clue what she is talking about when it comes to blogs:

Returning to her theme of journalism’s future, Schreiber told me, “Since undertaking this job I have become familiar with the world of the sports blog. Ninety percent of them have no compunction about putting out any kind of rumor. Doesn’t matter the source or how reliable it is. They just toss it out there because they are not journalists. They are not responsible and don’t claim to be. They are just tossing out what might be of interest to the water cooler group.”

This is, according to Schreiber, cause for concern because TV has to try to keep up with these often worthless rumors.

“People will return to ESPN dot com to see what they have to say about those rumors,” she said. “That is what pressures ESPN to make sometimes premature claims. The idea that you do not trade in rumors has virtually gone by the wayside in this form of journalism. ESPN even has that thing called “Rumor Central” where you can check up on rumors.

“The 24/7 TV and online is so opinion driven that opinion itself is more valued than information gathering. Opinion making by shouting heads or columnists taking a controversial stance are the norm.

First of all, I challenge the notion that 90% of sports blogs out there print rumor without confirmation and are in the practice of wildly spewing material for the consumption of the “water cooler group.”  I am wondering, based on that description, if Schreiber is referring to message boards or lumping blogs in with message boards.  Team message boards are notorious for being both a perpetrator of bad information/opinion and prone to extreme opinions.  Bloggers, on the other hand, might be similarly biased and in some cases may post material meant to attack a rival(or ESPN) but at the same time the ones I read are well written and researched.   Otherwise, I am not sure they would have readers and in my case I know my readership is based wholly on the quality of the material I write.  It might comes a complete surprise to Ms Schreiber but we do adhere to certain standards.  The blogs I read post material based on published media reports while offering critical opinions on things that have been said and written by both journalists and the principals we cover.  All of this is generally done with the context of intellectual honest.  Speaking for myself, I write a lot of opinions based on my own observations or what someone in the media has written.  In other cases I respond to actual events and if I post a rumor I make it clear that it is a rumor which leads me to the second point.

How can Schreiber say, with a straight face, that blogs are to blame for ESPN reporting rumors?  The basic implication is that when ESPN reports something in error it is not because they were rushing to get ahead of a story(which is standard practice among the 24/7 news networks and has nothing to do with blogs) but that the blogs made them do it.  Really?  Because I was under the impression the ESPN with all it’s resources and connections across the world would be able to accurately confirm or deny any rumors thrown to the wind by bloggers with lesser means.  If blogs are as unreliable as she asserts then why would ESPN give a rip what they report hearsay or otherwise?  She cannot be serious when she says the increase in traffic coming to the ESPN website pressures them into reporting claims prematurely.  That does not even make sense because in one respect the bloggers have actually helped ESPN by creating web traffic to their site.  Secondly, does not journalistic ethics demand ESPN get the story right ahead of petty considerations such as scooping a story first or tossing the “water cooler group” a bone because they read something somewhere else?  That is the standard I run my blog by I would assume ESPN would do the same.

From where I sit I am just tad weary of individuals at various levels trashing the blogosphere with their own set of hearsay and accusations which can be proven false with a fair amount of research.  In this case to have someone who is monitoring the largest media peddler of hype and false expectations who routinely compromises basic integrity in the name of the Almighty Mouse’s bottom line does not even pass the smell test.  You only need to look no further than the Michael Vick case where not one but two of ESPN’s so called NFL insiders(Len Pasquerelli and Chris Mortensen) asserted that Vick would not be charged with a crime and then later on misreported various details surrounding his plea bargain.  ESPN often overblows and overkills stories while making news for themselves with contrived features such as “Who’s Now” and asinine town hall meetings.  So spare me the sermon on the speck of irresponsibility in the eyes of bloggers when ESPN has a lumber yard in their own.

Blogging is largely about opinion and analysis from regular people.  It is very much a grassroot movement and the ultimate testament speech freedom in this nation.  And while Schreiber is correct that we bloggers are not encumbered by restrictions, other than the ones we set for ourselves, it is my view this is what makes the quality of our material better than what you find in the media(with the exception of blogs like 850 the Buzz and ACC Now who have actually do it right.)   The opinions are honest, in some cases raw but generally well thought out.  Bloggers tend to be the ultimate outside the box thinkers when examining their topic of choice. In the sports world some of the best analysis comes not from the Lee Corsos or Dick Vitales of the world but from people who are not stuck on whatever media “narrative” fits the marketing direction of the network.  The posts we write are what we honestly see and feel as we ride the roller coaster with our respective teams/sports.

That is what sports blogs are about.  And far be it for me to accuse the ESPN Ombudsman of taking a line of thought at the behest of ESPN, but is well known for their disdain towards the independent sports bloggers of the world.  If Ms. Schreiber practiced a tenth of the journalistic skills she claims to have and actually spent some time reading the more popular sports blogs out there she would understand her statement is complete poppycock.

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5 Responses to ESPN’s Ombudsman Has No Idea What She Is Talking About

  1. Dan Schwind says:

    I think the biggest problem is that a lot of journalists still view blogs as glorified message boards or MySpace pages. Hell, before I started reading this and Deadspin, I also viewed blogs as the downfall of journalism. It stems from that old and, at this point, VERY antiquated notion that for one to be a journalist, one has to go to a j-school or spend years apprenticing to be a reporter. That’s just not the case anymore and the fact is, as you said, THF, most bloggers these days are careful to research and make sure they’ve got everything straight.

    The other problem is the fact that ESPN is just a big journalistically incestuous piece of crap and they refuse to take any of the blame for any problems they come across. It’s ironic that ESPN would accuse bloggers of ruining the world of sports reporting, when they flagrantly violate things like “journalistic ethics,” or “conflicts of interest” and generally throw actual reporting to the wayside in favor of becoming a hype machine for the team of the week.

  2. Tar Heel Fan says:

    And that is largely the problem. I think Ms Schreiber has a very difficult job dealing with the Bristol Circus. I honestly think she is a hard core adherent to the principles she espouses and to be tasked with monitoring folks who are very lax with those principles in the interest of any number of agendas is a nearly impossible job. In this case I think she is ill informed. As I said I hesitate to say she is parroting ESPN’s stated disdain for independent sports blogs like Deadspin but I think she would do herself and her readers a service by researching blogs a little more.

  3. Dan Schwind says:

    I think at this point, it’s time for ESPN to just stop putting up the facade that they are a news entity. If they did that, I would have very little problem with them. The easiest thing to do is do away with ombudsmen and simply start emphasizing that the E in ESPN is entertainment. Leave the real sports journalism up to Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News and even Fox Sports. From what I hear, they don’t even like the idea of an ombudsman anyway because it interferes with them maximizing profit.

    The biggest problem for ESPN is that they broadcast sports, which automatically makes it impossible for them to be an impartial party. I don’t fault them for getting involved in that. In fact, it makes great business sense. But if they’re going to do that, they can no longer portray themselves as the sports news leader because they are inherently committing a MAJOR conflict of interest.

  4. Wayne says:

    IMO ESPN talking heads Steven A. Smith, Jim Rome, Lee Corso, Digger Phelps, Dookie Vitale and many others are seriously lacking in objectivity and credibility. But, hey, that’s just my opinion . . .

  5. Wilson says:

    Good read. I will say that as a J-school student who comes in contact with a fair share of professional journalists, the tide is beginning to turn and many journalists understand how important blogs are. In class today, an editor from the AP came in and talked about the fact that there are now blog ethics codes because readers ultimately want credibility.

    I will say that I enjoy reading blogs more than any of the writers currently employed by ESPN, save Simmons.

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