Chat with Robert Lipsyte
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, ESPN ombudsman Robert Lipsyte will stop by to take your questions.
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 Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET!
Robert Lipsyte (1:56 PM)
Hello everyone, ready to take your questions.
Ray (Kathleen, GA)
What exactly is the point of the ombusman? You have no power to change things, no authority over anyone, and appear to function as nothing than a PR entity.
Robert Lipsyte (2:00 PM)
I'm not a PR entity in the sense that I represent you, Ray, and anybody who is listening to, watching or reading ESPN. I'm not doing PR for ESPN. I'm trying to make ESPN more transparent for you, and let you know why they do certain things and their motivations. Sometimes I think they are dead wrong, and I'll say that too. That is not PR. Read my columns, Ray, and I hope you will be my ombudsman and criticize me, too, and tell me what you would like to know.
How do you feel about ESPN's wonderful habit of taking credit for every scoop ?
Robert Lipsyte (2:03 PM)
I think that sometimes ESPN overreaches in taking credit. But I understand, without justifying it, why they will do it. They will often take a report that might be just a little more than a rumor and confirm it, and feel their confirmation gives them the right to eat the whole apple. I think they're wrong there, but I do understand the temptation. On the other hand, ESPN has something like 8,000 people working for them, 1,000 of them in position to gather and distribute information. One would hope they would actually break more stories than the opposition.
Maria (Kalamazoo, MI)
ESPN has become increasingly left-politically. And the ombudsman justifies all their stances...no surprise: he worked at NYT, PBS, etc.Why not get an ombudsman that represents American sports fans?
Robert Lipsyte (2:07 PM)
Who is that? Who is the American sports fan? I think that you might be referring to the addition of Keith Olbermann for five hours a week on ESPN2. And certainly it's fair to say he skews 11 pm EST as liberal. But I think if you look at the 24 hours of the myriad ESPN channels, it would be hard to make any kind of ideological or ethnic or even gender determination.
Kelly Whiteside (Maine)
I'm surprised ESPN brought Keith Olbermann back, given his obvious political leanings in his previous jobs at MSNBC and others. He also seems to frequently attack other media (he took on Fox News before, and I've seen him go after the Daily News on ESPN). Is that fair reporting? Shouldn't he focus on the newsmakers, not the news outlets?
Robert Lipsyte (2:11 PM)
I think that's a terrific question. Back in the day, when I actually wrote for ESPN, I often felt frustrated in not being allowed -- even obliquely -- to write about other sports media. I think how the media covers sports, whether live or investigative journalism, is part of how the rest of us consume and understand sports. I was absolutely delighted when Olbermann punched a hole in that wall. I hope he'll do more and I hope other writers and broadcasters on ESPN will follow suit.
Francis X. Bova III (San Diego)
Are analytics and/or the NBA TV contract driving ESPN to seemingly make nearly all LeBron James-related comments or actions into a headline story? If the company's goal is to keep the NBA in spotlight during offseason, because of TV contract, is it ethical from journalism standpoint? Some of the NBA headline news, involving comments such as Michael Jordan saying he can beat LeBron in one-on-one game, seem to be manufactured to promote interests.
Robert Lipsyte (2:15 PM)
That's another terrific question, and something I hope to answer by the time I finish my 18 months at ESPN. It's a difficult issue, both for the audience and for some people within ESPN, to keep that blurry line in sight between what is really news and what is the best commercial interests of ESPN and its key partners. In the case of LeBron, however, he is clearly one of the topics that a great majority of the audience is wildly interested in. James scratching his nose is of more interest to most ESPN watchers, I believe, than 80 percent of the rest of the league scoring in double figures. So the answer at the moment is, I'm never sure if it's because ESPN is responding totally to the constant interest of fans who want more LeBron, or David Stern, who also probably wants more LeBron.
Ben (Madison, WI)
What was the reasoning behind airing the interview with LeBron during game action at the WISC/OSU game on Saturday? I realize ESPN thinks the whole nation waits with bated brath to hear what he's been doing this offseason (OMG! He got married!), but this could have been aired during a timeout, so we didn't miss out on game commentary. With increased competition in the sports programming market, ESPN might want to reconsider the "TMZ/hype machine" model, and go back to sports reporting.
Robert Lipsyte (2:17 PM)
Boy, you guys are really on LeBron today -- and maybe you should be. But do you happen to remember what state LeBron came from? Do you happen to remember a book called the Whore of Akron? Do you happen to remember a team called the Cavaliers who happen to be in Ohio? I think that when LeBron goes home, if you don't cover him, you're not doing your job.
Dennis ( Nashville TN)
With the NHL starting up tonight, I would've thought the "worldwide leader" would have a home page blast on it; but given you have no NHL t.v. contract, not really surprise that there wasn't anything the websites home page & had to click on the NHL tab to dig around for picks, previews
Robert Lipsyte (2:23 PM)
I don't know that I can fully answer that question without assuming that ESPN has figured out that there's more money to be made covering other sports -- especially in this amazingly critical time when major sports are beginning or ending their seasons. There is digital coverage of the NHL on the homepage and elsewhere, but you have to look for it. But I have to agree with you. There should be more NHL coverage across ESPN. I don't remember a more exciting year as a reporter than 1994 when I just happened to be on the New York Rangers bandwagon for the Stanley Cup. I think hockey players are among the best athletes in the world. And by the way, if you're tired of me, you can go chat right now with Barry Melrose on ESPN.com (linked off the homepage). And you can ask him that good question.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
What are your Favorite NFL,NBA,MLB(Major League Baseball), & NHL Teams?
Robert Lipsyte (2:25 PM)
I was born in the Bronx, so my blood is pin-striped. And I've lived all my life in New York and the first teams I covered were the Knicks, the Giants and Rangers, by sport. However, as a journalist, I always root for the story, not the score. And sometimes that means I root for the team who's victory will get me on the last plane home.
I get the fact that John Gruden is a voice of the Monday Night games. And I'm OK with his Gruden Grinders and other sillyness. But do I also have to see him on commercials for Hooters and beer during games? Why does ESPN allow that?
Robert Lipsyte (2:28 PM)
That's a good question, and I think it's going to be worth an ombudsman column down the line. I think that those things do feel like a conflict of interest if you think of Gruden as a journalist and not just an entertainer. Where I really get upset, however, is hearing Charles Osgood, the acclaimed CBS broadcaster, doing commercials on his radio program. This is a difficult and pervasive problem in the media. Maybe it can be solved by just giving these guys bigger salaries.
Is there any movement on disconnecting the comments section from facebook, since your article that mentioned it? For those of us who despise facebook, it would be nice to be able to comment using my ESPN ID. You know, the ID that I have on the website that I'm trying to comment on?
Robert Lipsyte (2:31 PM)
Good question, because I've asked that one myself. ESPN.com Editor-in-Chief Patrick Stiegman tells me that ESPN is quite happy at the moment with its Facebook affiliation because the comments continue to rise in quantity and quality. So tune in and sign on.
Matt L (Milwaukee, WI)
Not sure what the ratings have shown, but is there any concern about the Sportcenter product? I have seen the focus of the show stray far away from highlights and focus more on (over)analysis and topics that provoke arguments amongst countless commentators. I find SC unwatchable at this point and have turned to other stations for daily recaps of the sports landscape. Interested to see if my views are imagined or a change of focus on Sportcenter
Robert Lipsyte (2:35 PM)
I get a lot of mail from viewers on this topic. People tune into SportsCenter for sports news, they tell me. They think that there's too much cross-promotion with other shows and long pieces. But I have to assume, since ESPN is very ratings-conscious, that most of the audience is satisfied by what does really seem to me like a shift. Thanks for that question, which will certainly be something that will crop up in a future ombudsman column. Meanwhile, I'm told that next year with a new studio and probably some new faces it will be a different SportsCenter. What that exactly means, you'll just have to stay tuned.
Michael Carlyle (San Diego, CA)
Thanks for the chat, Bob. I've enjoyed your columns, but have to ask you about the Redskins nickname. It seems you have a specific agenda in terms of advising ESPN NOT to use the name. I see both sides of the argument, but shouldn't the ombudsman be neutral, not advocating for a specific politically correct position?
Robert Lipsyte (2:37 PM)
First of all, I'm sick and tired of that term "politically correct." Let's start using morally correct or ethically correct. Is insulting people correct? The ombudsman is allowed to have an opinion. I have to justify it. I can't just rant and rave. But since you've read my columns on the subject, you can see the logic that I apply to the idea that we're not going to have a team called the Washington N-Words, either.
John Leonard (North Canton, Ohio)
Why do ESPN and other media outlets fight over credit for unimportant stories? Rushing to be the first reporter to confirm basic sports information comes across as amateur at best and desperate at worst.
Robert Lipsyte (2:41 PM)
I think you're right. But there's a problem throughout journalism, and especially in sports journalism. People are measuring themselves by being first. It would be better if we took a deep breath sometimes and measured ourselves by being right. Of course, this is not something new. We tried to be first back when I sent my stories by morse code (believe me, I really did). But everything is wildly amplified now by social media, especially Twitter. I can't wait until we just beam our thoughts at the audience.
Mr. Lipsyte. After reading your piece on the NFL, PBS and ESPN, do you think ESPN can objectively cover the NFL and its commissoner? They let their reporters write a book on the NFL and concussions, but will they reflect that coverage on ESPN?
Robert Lipsyte (2:45 PM)
If you're a conspiracy theorist, there is no way in the world that ESPN can cover the NFL, commissioner Goodell and the concussion story with any fairness or accuracy. If you have an open mind, I suggest you make sure you're watching and reading ESPN in the next week in advance of the release of the League of Denial book and PBS documentary. You can make your judgment then.
Why do you think top talent such as Erin Andrews, Peter Gammons, and Pat Forde to name a few, keep leaving ESPN?
Robert Lipsyte (2:49 PM)
Let me ask you a question: How do you feel about a baseball superstar like Robinson Cano looking for a better deal than the Yankees might offer him during the free agency period? It seems to be the nature of the industry.
Steve (Whittier, CA)
I enjoy your work and appreciate it. Out of curiosity, what is your educational background and credentials that allowed you to be an ombudsman? Thanks again for insightful work
Robert Lipsyte (2:51 PM)
I'm very old, to begin with. And I've seen too much. And I'm pretty judgmental. Other than that, I don't know. You would have to ask the people at ESPN who called me and asked me if I would be interested in the job.
Do you believe there is an East Coast bias?
Robert Lipsyte (2:55 PM)
I think that there probably is. ESPN is located on the East Coast, the national media in general is located on the East Coast, and there is a tendency to think, justified or not, that many of the most exciting teams and personalities are east of St. Louis (which you will remember was, at one time, the most western outpost of the major leagues). Until the California girls takeover, and they will, there will be that sensibility -- more than a bias -- at the major media outlets. And ESPN research tells us that big East Coast games can rate higher on the West Coast than even some West Coast games.
Is ESPN looking to get rid of OTL in the future based on its new airtime? It doesn't seem like they care about it anymore.
Robert Lipsyte (3:00 PM)
I hope you're wrong. But I do worry about OTL. It doesn't make money, compared to other shows, which is a major priority. And it's a great source of embarrassment in terms of the leagues that ESPN partners with. That said, there is a real feeling within ESPN's news departments that OTL is an important part of what ESPN should stand for. Stay tuned.
Robert Lipsyte (3:01 PM)
Thanks again for all of your questions. This was fun and invigorating, and you guys gave me the ideas for at least four new ombudsman columns. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did.