Chat with Robert Lipsyte
Welcome to SportsNation! On Wednesday, Robert Lipsyte stops by to chat about his role as ESPN's latest ombudsman.
Throughout his 18-month appointment, Lipsyte, who started in June, will offer his independent examination and analysis of ESPN's TV, radio, print and digital offerings. He succeeds the Poynter Review Project as ombudsman, as well as Don Ohlmeyer, Le Anne Schreiber and George Solomon.
During a long and distinguished media career, Lipsyte previously worked for the New York Times, CBS Sunday Morning, NBC Nightly News, PBS, in addition to contributing to other ESPN projects such as the "SportsCentury" series. He earned an Emmy in 1990 as the host of PBS' "The Eleventh Hour." Lipsyte is also a two-time winner of the Mike Berger Award for distinguished reporting and won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in Young Adult literature, while also being a 1992 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary.
Send your questions now and join Lipsyte Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET!
Robert Lipsyte (1:00 PM)
Welcome Ombuddies, thanks for coming to the first of what I hope will be many enjoyable chats. Let's go!
Robert Lipsyte (1:12 PM)
To answer the question from Steve of Chicago about why ESPN needs an ombudsman: I think every responsible media outlet should have some sort of viewer representative. In the case of me and ESPN, I don't see ESPN as some great target to shoot at. I see it as an institution that I care about, whose best interests I have in mind, but still free to criticize.
Larry Kershaw (Topeka, Kansas)
I enjoyed your first column about the whole Jason Collins incident. I'm wondering, what kind criticism did you get from ESPN about that article? They couldn't have been happy with your conclusions.
Robert Lipsyte (1:13 PM)
Thanks Larry. I heard a little grumbling from producer-types who thought I didn't give them enough credit for just getting the piece on the air. But most ESPN people thought it was fair.
Angela Colletto (Bloomington, Ind.)
As a ling-time freelance journalist, I've always admired your work, Robert, as well as give ESPN credit for embracing the ombudsman role. They are under no obligation to do so. Are you worried this reader advocacy role will ultimately be reduced because of cuts in newspapers and other media? What are the implications for transparency?
Robert Lipsyte (1:15 PM)
Great question. I think it's happening already. We don't have to wait for it. There are very few ombudsman or reader representatives in the country. It's a job that newspapers seem to cut first when in budget trouble. In fact, I belong to an international organization of ombudsmen, and most of the dialogue seems to be between Latvians and Danes.
Elizabeth Petri (Minneapolis)
Do you plan to write about ESPN's role in conference relaignment? With the influence ESPN has in broadcasting all those college games, aren't they culpable in the big-money greed that colleges are seeking when they move to new conferences for TV dollars?
Robert Lipsyte (1:16 PM)
I think you just gave me a great idea. There's certainly something to write about there. If you have any more thoughts, I hope you expand on what you just wrote and send to to me via the ombudsman's mailbag (linked from my columns).
Tony Lynch (Atlanta)
With the launch of FoxSports 1 on the horizon, do you think this will hurt journalistic integrity as these competing interests (FoxSports, ESPN, YahooSports, NBC Sports, CBS Sports) continue to race to release news first without doing the proper vetting of sources?
Robert Lipsyte (1:17 PM)
Another good question, thanks Tony. I think what you outline is a very dangerous recipe for journalism. It puts great responsibility on each of those news outlets you mentioned to just sometimes bite the bullet and be sure that what they are putting out is sourced and as true as they can make it.
JIM AL [via mobile]
What was you first thoughts on the Braun ordeal
Robert Lipsyte (1:20 PM)
My first thoughts really were not just about Ryan Braun, but about all of the baseball players that were named as being clients of that shady clinic. I wonder whether those names were leaked? I wonder for what purpose? I wonder how many more major leaguers are out there taking more and more sophisticated types of drugs. Those were my first thoughts.
Steven Paul (Tampa)
Do you think ESPN gives too much or too little coverage to women's sports?
Robert Lipsyte (1:22 PM)
As a father, husband, brother and grandparent of women, I don't think there really is enough space or attention given to women's sports at ESPN or anywhere. On the other hand, I think we really have to keep in mind the market and what it is that draws readers and viewers. Everybody in my family is grateful of the existence of espnW, and passionate fans of the Nine for IX documentary series. So obviously the quality is out there if there is space and air-time made for it.
What do you think ESPN could have done better during the Aaron Hernandez coverage?
Robert Lipsyte (1:24 PM)
ESPN, often in conjunction with ABC, did a good job as police reporters. But what I would like to see is more investigative work into the ways in which professional football vets its players. There are just too many socieopaths and felons in the NFL, which makes me sometimes wonder whether they don't make better football players, and the NFL doesn't know it.
Ron Alisar (TX)
What do you think are some of the challenges ESPN faces that are unique to them, moreso than other TV/news organizations?
Robert Lipsyte (1:27 PM)
I think ESPN's greatest challenge is to find that balance between satisfying the needs of their so-called partners -- teams, leagues, sometime individual athletes that they have financial dealings with -- and the needs of the sports public, which wants fair and honest reporting on those teams, leagues and people. ESPN sees itself not only as one of the most creative purveyors of sports entertainment, but also as a strong and important journalism organization. That's the challenge, to keep those two aspects of ESPN in balance.
Allen Wiley (NY)
How risky is the Olbermann move?
Robert Lipsyte (1:29 PM)
For such a large, rich shareholder corporation, ESPN has taken some risky moves. Two words: Rush Limbaugh. I think Olbermann is an interesting broadcaster -- let's not forget what a great and innovative sportscaster he once was -- and I think it's worth the risk. You can bet it's something that the ombudsman will keep an eye on.
Mike Boswick (Mobile, Alabama)
How do you weigh that fine line of when ESPN is covering a story and when they are seemingly trying to drive the story with their coverage? Obviously the biggest recent example of that was probably Tebow.
Robert Lipsyte (1:30 PM)
That's an absolutely great question. If ESPN solves that in my lifetime, I'd be surprised.
Anthony Tillman (Boston)
Does ESPN have too many ex-athlete types? I agree they are valuable for their experience, but I feel the company could use more traditional journalists/reporters. Do you think the ratio is good the way it is or do they need more of one or the other?
Robert Lipsyte (1:31 PM)
That's really a case-by-case issue. Mark Schlereth and Jerry Rice -- you figure it out. Some of them really add an enormous amount to our insight and understanding of the game, and some of them are not interesting and at worse, are hacks and shills looking for their next jobs.
John Thayer (Knoxville)
Is ESPN better at producing studio shows or live games? Which area needs more improvement?
Robert Lipsyte (1:33 PM)
I don't really feel compenent to answer that at this point. I have liked and disliked both live games and studio shows. Again, it's case-by-case. I don't feel like at the moment that I know enough about the internal issues and problems at ESPN to make that kind of judgement.
What led you to come back to ESPN?
Robert Lipsyte (1:35 PM)
I'm interested in sports on a lot of levels. I think ESPN is probably the single most important vehicle for sports entertainment and sports journalism in the country. To be even a very small part of contributing to the shaping of the sports dialogue in America was an offer I couldn't refuse.
Glenn (Fresh Meadows)
Not quite your area but it is ESPN.com so it is related. Any thoughts on the end of fan fourms and the switch to Facebook for commenting? Does this help or hurt the chance for open debate on articles?
Robert Lipsyte (1:37 PM)
I'm glad you asked that, since I'm going to touch on that in my next column. Most of my mailbag was outraged at having to move commenting to Facebook. Among other things, fans didn't want the exposure to friends and maybe employers of their sports passion. But it certainly makes sense in order to keep a civil thread.
Glenn (Fresh Meadows)
Is it just me or is there no more hiarchy between ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU? Men's Slow Pitch (or Beer League) softball on ESPN 1 while you have World University Games on ESPN2 and FIFA U20 World Cup on ESPNU? It seems filler is knowing no bounds...should there be a hiarchy or does each ESPN network have a different target?
Robert Lipsyte (1:39 PM)
It isn't just you, Glenn. I don't really have the answer just yet. It seems like an answer I should get up the road from the programmers.
Andrew (Bergen, Norway)
Backlash against ESPN seems to be at an all-time high and growing, and appears focused on two particular practices:1) A programming strategy that embraces staged, disingenuous debate.2) A disproportionate promotion of athletes, teams and storylines from sports to which ESPN owns the broadcast rights, while simultaneously burying sports it does not contract with.Do you believe these practices are indeed occurring, and if so, do you think they are problematic in terms of journalistic integrity, or would you argue that as a business and entertainment venture, ESPN is right to do that which best serves its financial shareholders?Thanks.
Robert Lipsyte (1:43 PM)
That's an interesting, oomplex question that goes to the heart of ESPN's issues about conflict of interest. Now I know why ombudsman is a Norwegian word (or so I've always been told). I don't know how that problem can ever be totally solved, as long as athletes and games that ESPN has access to will be the ones its reporters and hosts will be watching and talking about.
Robert Black (Rhode Island)
I am tired of sports coverage in terms of individual fame or infamy. Will you consider taking on your employer for excessive attention to the likes of LeBron and Tom Brady and A-Rod and Tiger?
Robert Lipsyte (1:44 PM)
I have no problem taking them on. But I also think that these are personalities that have perked our interest, not only because of fame or infamy, but because they tend to be the very best in their field. When an ARod or a Tiger fall, it's a very long distance, and watching it really has enormous emotional implications for fans.
Glenn (Fresh Meadows)
On the sports radio sphere, Many hosts complain that ESPN will use them as an Unnamed source, tag on one of their insiders as verification and corroberation then present it as their insider backed up by other sources...is this a legitimate problem, or just sour grapes by non ESPN journalists (Namely Dan Patrick)
Robert Lipsyte (1:46 PM)
The mystery of sourcing is an enormous problem at ESPN and every news outlet. There is far too much anonymnous sourcing and sloppy sourcing and sourcing that is less about sources than about journalists and quasi-journalists talking and texting to each other. It's a major issue.
Robert Lipsyte (1:48 PM)
Let me give you some advice. If you have any problem with Skip Bayless, you could always just skip Bayless.
Do you fear ESPN is becoming more like TMZ than the "worldwide leader in sports"?
Robert Lipsyte (1:51 PM)
That's a very smart question, and it's something that ESPN is going to have to guard against, especially as it may feel pressure coming up against other sports channels nipping at its heels. You always have to worry that the pressure of competition doesn't lead you to make essy, sleazy decisions in a media world that seems to reward them. Seeing what Fox has done to standard news-gatherthing, will they tempted to do that for sports news-gathering?
Should ESPN be listening to the complaints of other websites (such as Deadspin) that consistently offer criticism of the way ESPN handles stories?
Robert Lipsyte (1:52 PM)
As somebody who likes Deadspin and has written for Deadspin, I think we should always keep one ear open to Deadspin and all of ESPN's critics. But I hope you noticed that I said one ear.
Brendan McInnis (CA)
What would you say to fans who complain of ESPN's 'East Coast Bias' or those who say they only care about the Heat, Lakers, Yankees, Cowboys etc. and ignore 'their' team?
Robert Lipsyte (1:56 PM)
I think that they've got a good case. To ESPN, and to anyplace that I've ever worked -- the New York Times, CBS, NBC -- there are a core number of teams that feel like they are "national" teams that really capture America's interest. And I think there is a tendency to focus on those teams. As a New Yorker, I was not as sensitive to this as I've become now looking at ESPN critically. In my time as ombudsman, I'm going to want to collect quantitative information on this subject and look at it more closely.
What is your opinion on the impending time slot/channel change for OTL? It's my favorite show on the network.
Robert Lipsyte (1:57 PM)
I think it stinks. If it was up to me, which it is not, OTL would run in prime time every night. But I'm afraid there are not enough of us to make that happen, ratings-wise.
Robert Lipsyte (1:58 PM)
Thanks everyone for those interesting and provocative questions, which you can be sure will find their way into future ombudsman blogs and columns. Keep those cards and letters coming.