Chat with Robert Lipsyte
Welcome to SportsNation! On Friday, Robert Lipsyte stops by to chat about his role as ESPN's latest ombudsman.
Throughout his 18-month appointment, Lipsyte, who started in June 2013, 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 Friday at noon ET!
Robert Lipsyte (12:06 PM)
Hi everyone ... ready to chat
Jon (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)
Your last column seemed to take the reporter's side on attribution. Is ESPN obligated to watch every Twitter feed in the world to see if a story was reported somewhere else and thus attribute it? And do you hold other news organizations to the same standard?
Robert Lipsyte (12:08 PM)
I hold every single news organization to the standard of telling us where they got their information. It may be a narrow point of ethics as to whether or not you are nicking someone else's work, but the larger issue remains: where did you get your information, and how can I believe it? As for watching Twitter feeds, do the best you can.
The Great Gronk (Boston)
I watched the ESPn college football award show last night, and it all seemed just a little too staged. Sorta of like the ESPYs. What role should ESPN be playing in handing out awards, especially if it's supposed to be independent?
Robert Lipsyte (12:11 PM)
I'm not 100 percent sure about this topic. I tend to think that those award show, especially the ESPYs, are like the Oscars and the Emmys and the Tonys, that people in the entertainment business use to pat each other on the back. It's entertainment. It's barely news and, from my point of view, stagey or not, I would put it under the "E" in ESPN.
Amanda Blair (Arlington, VA)
I'm not sure how you feel, Bob, but I get uncomfortable when I see things like "Ron Burgundy" as part of the SportsCenter and other ESPN programming. What does it say to have a fake person on a supposedly "real" journalism show?
Robert Lipsyte (12:16 PM)
I have mixed feelings that Will Ferrell did not host SportsCenter the night he was scheduled do do so (postponed by ESPN because of the Jameis Winston news). On the one hand, I was glad that he didn't do it because I think it undermines any sense of journalism that ESPN purports to have about its main show. On the other hand, I was sorry because I lost the opportunity to fulminate at length on just that kind of stupid blurring between fact and fiction. I'm also uncomfortable with the cozy nature of many of the SportsCenter commercials. It make it seem as though ESPN is more interested in hanging out with jocks than covering them properly.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
Did you know the South African President Nelson Mandela who Passed Away on December 6 at the age of 95?
Robert Lipsyte (12:18 PM)
I did not know him personally. But I must say that I was very proud of the intelligent and dignified way in which ESPN handled coverage of his death. Thank goodness Bob Ley is around.
Randy Riggle (Washington)
ESPN's coveage of RGIII has been non-stop, and irritating. Seems like they just keep speculating and fueling the fire just so they have something to talk about. Is that responsible journalism?
Robert Lipsyte (12:21 PM)
RG III is one of the leading characters in the daily soap opera that we call sports in America. Whether it's Tim Tebow or Johnny Manziel or Famous Jameis (football-wise), there are people who capture our interest. Griffin's story on that team with that owner and that coach and our expectations for him are compelling. Soon enough he will be replaced as a central figure in our national sports discussion.
JY (Daytona Beach)
I understand the valuable perspective former athletes bring to the network, but I'm curious what sort of training these folks undergo prior to getting on air? And do you have any input into that process? re: opinion/analysis vs. fact-based reporting
Robert Lipsyte (12:24 PM)
You can judge for yourself whether a former coach or athlete is a natural communicator or a boring head. If they are not good, they don't last long (see: Jerry Rice). I would be more concerned about whether or not these former athletes and coaches are pulling their punches and/or protecting their pals. As for the insights and analysis they can offer, that's priceless. What we always need are those good, trained broadcasters to keep them in line (And to your question, I'm a spectator in this as much as you are).
Grade ESPN's journalism. A? B? F?
Robert Lipsyte (12:27 PM)
For the most part, when ESPN digs into a story and covers it honestly and ethically (concussions is a good example), I would put them up against any other news organization. The issue is, and may always be, the inherent conflicts of interest at a company that both covers the news and owns the news (by that I mean having paid for the rights to broadcast events and in some cases, actually being financial partners in the events). No letter grade for ESPN, but you get an A- for the question.
You say you don't like Will Ferrell hosting SportsCenter. How do you feel at Brian Williams of NBC News hosting SNL or appearing on Letterman? Does that undermine his credibility?
Robert Lipsyte (12:27 PM)
A. Carlisle (Denver)
What did you think of Heather Cox's interview with J. Winston after the FSU game? Was it appropriate to ask all of those non-football questions after a football game?
Robert Lipsyte (12:30 PM)
I'm glad you asked that question and I hope you will read my lengthy answer in the next ombudsman's column. However, you deserve the trailer. I thought Heather Cox was appropriate and professional. As she told me, her first choice would have been a one-on-one sitdown interview with Winston in a quiet room. The post-game interview was the only access, however, and Florida State was aware of her line of questioning. And she handled it well.
larry cashman (California)
Bob, compared to other jobs in your long journalism career, how does this ombudsman role at ESPN compare? It is fun? Work? Frustrating? Rewarding? Just curious
Robert Lipsyte (12:34 PM)
I belong to an international organization of ombudsmen and the one word answer that most of them would give to your question is "thankless." I've only been doing it for six months and I certainly don't feel jaded or unappreciated. It's totally different from anything else I've ever done in that I tend to straddle the difference between criticizing an institution while having its best interest at heart. That certainly hadn't been my focus as a sportswriter, in the past. What also makes this a wonderful and complex job is how important ESPN is to the culture of sports in America. The way people think about sports and sports figures is, to a great extent, colored by ESPN's coverage. In that sense, it seems like a job with a great deal of responsibility.
Jeff Talente (New Jersey)
What is your take on ESPN first refusing upholding the refusal and then reversing it's decision to run the Christmas commercial from the hospital in Missouri. It seems that ESPN is perfectly willing to take Christmas commercials from Mercedes and other advertisers
Robert Lipsyte (12:36 PM)
I need to look into that topic a little deeper. This is one that interests me too, and I plan to look into it. Stay tuned.
Douglas Goetsch (New York City)
Not a question, Robert Lipsyte, just a fond memory if a column you wrote for the Times discussed the issue of all the Indian team mascots, and made the hypothetical suggestion of a football team called the New York Jews. Every time they scored the cheerleaders would shout, "What a deal!" That column sealed the issue for me: change the Redskins, the Braves, Blackhawks, etc.--I trust the American Indians on this issue, and you helped, and you did it with marvelous humor.
Robert Lipsyte (12:39 PM)
Thank you! It seems a shame that this story hasn't been resolved yet.
Phillip Berenbroick (Arlington, VA)
ESPN has dedicated quite a bit of coverage to the mess in Washington this week with RG3, Mike Shanahan, and Dan Snyder. Some of the coverage has focused on whether RG3 was prepared to start in week 1. ESPN has failed to mention in its coverage this week that it (ESPN) was complicit in the push to have RG3 start in week 1 in the season opening MNF game - that ESPN just happened to broadcast - by producing a special over the summer on RG3's rehab and readiness for week 1. Do you think the news gathering side of ESPN should cover the fact that its entertainment division might have played a role in the current situation?
Robert Lipsyte (12:43 PM)
I think that's a great question and I really don't have enough specifics to answer it completely. However, I think that we constantly have to be aware of how often coverage does put pressure on teams and individuals and changes the course of news. That said, this happens throughout newsgathering -- in entertainment, politics, coverage of Edward Snowden, Obama's health policies, and anything else you can think of.
Many hockey fans, including myself, criticize ESPN for its declining hockey coverage which just happened to coincide with ESPN losing the rights. However when people take shots at ESPN, employees are offended (see: Buccigross's tweet at the Boston Globe). How much should holding the rights to a product dictate coverage? Thanks!
Robert Lipsyte (12:49 PM)
Another great question, and part of the implicit conflict of interest at ESPN. It's a complicated issue. It's kind of chicken and the egg. On the one hand, SportsCenter should be doing its job covering the entire spectrum regardless of ESPN's investment in particular sports. On the other hand, a case can be made that ESPN's investment in sports is predicated on what the company believes its audience is interested in. Having said that, I also think ESPN does not give hockey its due.
Which do you value more -- being first on Twitter and missing some of the details, or being second and getting it 100 percent right. And is being first on Twitter breaking story, or is writing a story with context breaking story?
Robert Lipsyte (12:51 PM)
I'm old school. I think Twitter is only a proper vehicle for insulting enemies and marriage proposals. Journalism is about getting it right and it's almost never possible to do that in 140 characters.
Why do you guys go so soft during interviews? Lets do some tough questions.
Robert Lipsyte (12:53 PM)
Don't include me in "you guys." I'm supposed to be trying to hold the toes of "you guys" to the fire. But I do agree that there is a tendency for softball questions, particularly by sideline reporters at big events. That's why we should have a little applause today for Heather Cox.
Tim (Philadelphia, PA)
Bob, what do you think is ESPN's biggest threat of failure today? Or is it too big to fail?
Robert Lipsyte (12:55 PM)
Nothing is too big to fail. Ever hear of the Holy Roman Empire? I don't see any major threat to ESPN at the moment, but I'm sure one will come. So far, ESPN has shown itself remarkably adaptable to change. We'll see if that continues.
Mike (Harrisburg, PA)
Do you think an ombudsman can make a difference at ESPN? Seems like they'll listen to what you say, nod appreciatively and then go about their business. At least that's the way it's felt with some of your predecessors.
Robert Lipsyte (12:57 PM)
Hope springs eternal. I don't really know the answer to that question. In this kind of business, an ombudsman hopes that he or she is 1) right; and 2) having some kind of impact, no matter how small. One really can't begin to think that you are just window dressing. What do you think?
Is SportsNation journalism? How about PTI? Mike and Mike? Should every show on ESPN be judged through the same prism when it comes to reporting?
Robert Lipsyte (1:01 PM)
At the risk of blowing my gig right now, the only show on ESPN television that I would call consistently journalistic in nature, and with the standards that I think are as good or better than any news show on TV (take that 60 Minutes) is obviously Outside the Lines. Every other show on ESPN (justifiably) is as as committed to pure entertainment as to pure journalism. Never forget that first letter in the network's name. I am reminded however that television is not the only platform at ESPN. We only need go to ESPN.com to find some outstanding examples of feature writing, breaking news coverage and long-form investigative reporting. So it is there, you just have to look for it.
Mark (Portland, ME)
What message about ESPN's commitment to journalism do you think was sent by transferring OTL to ESPN2, and by moving the afternoon OTL to a far weaker timeslot?
Robert Lipsyte (1:03 PM)
A bittersweet final question to take us deeper into the holiday season. I think that the people who make the decisions at ESPN have a lot to answer for after marginalizing the network's best television journalism outlet. What delights me is that OTL, despite its demotion to a lesser spot, seems to be holding on to its high spirits and high standards.
Robert Lipsyte (1:04 PM)
Thank you for the gift of your questions. Happy holidays everyone.