With the latest news that ESPN is well on its way to world domination, it would make sense if the man with the expressed authority to critique ESPN inhaled its media as voraciously as the rest of its core demographic.
To be an ombudsman, after all, is to be the insider and outsider, the scolding wrist-slapper who will never please everyone, the watcher of the watchmen. The job is challenging, intellectually and practically, and it's far from glamorous, but let's not mince words and sympathize too much. As Daniel Okrent, the New York Times' first public editor, wrote in his farewell column: "I wish I hadn't made so much noise, in print and in various interviews, about how hard this job was. Dexter Filkins, in Baghdad, has a hard job; Steven Erlanger, in Jerusalem, has a hard job. By any reasonable standard, public editor is a walk in the park." ESPN doesn't have bureaus in Baghdad or Jerusalem, but the metric holds. And to Ohlmeyer's credit, he wasn't one to bemoan his new gig in his first interview with SI's Richard Deitsch. His job is difficult, true. But there are ways to not only alleviate the burden, but excel as the ESPN ombudsman.
One is tracking the zeitgeist of the sports blogosphere, a little ditty much-revered ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber picked up early in her tenure. Another is to imbibe ESPN in all forms — television, radio, online, and even print — as devotedly as the legions of its crazed consumers. It's an obsession Ohlmeyer's new position will seemingly force him to adopt. There's a difference between being an above-average consumer of ESPN and being someone who knows the ins-and-outs well enough to support an informed opinion. Sometimes, Ohlmeyer will criticize ESPN. Other times, he will buttress the network's practices. The best public editors do both, when necessary. To do so, though, one needs proper perspective, and that comes, at least in part, from fully absorbing and fully understanding all the Worldwide Leader's tentacles.
SI.com: Let's break down how much of ESPN platforms you are reading or watching today. How much of its television programming do you watch?
Ohlmeyer: I am a regular consumer of live event programming on ESPN. I would say I am an above-average consumer. In my normal life, I would watch SportsCenter three or four times a week.
SI.com: How much of ESPN.com do you read?
Ohlmeyer: The dot-com I have not been a big consumer of, although I have used it to seek out information.
SI.com: ESPN the Magazine?
Ohlmeyer: I would classify it as I read the articles occasionally
SI.com: ESPN Radio?
Ohlmeyer: We have it here in Los Angeles and it was one of the things I check out when I get in the car driving. It is one of three or four choices that I have set on the buttons.
Compare that, in turn, with the way Schreiber described her consumption habits.
Q: What is the process for deciding what to write your column about? Are you constantly watching ESPN and reading every columns, gauging emails
Yes, all of the above. It's impossible for one person and her DVR to consume all that ESPN puts out, but I worked out a daily routine of watching, for starts, a SportsCenter, Outside the Lines and PTI to keep on top of basic news, issues, and grist of day's opinion mill. Also reading selected columns and news stories, especially anything marked Report or Source. Also checking mailbag to see what was on fans' minds. Then, depending on topics I was considering for the column, I would add other shows to my viewing - might be a couple weeks of Baseball Tonight, a season of MNF, a run of E:60's or those endless (may they RIP) SportsCenter specials. I always had way more material and notes and solicited information than I could use. Often I would have a column written in my head, then switch topics to address some furor that arose in the mailbag.
It's not fair to directly contrast those two points of view. The interview with Schreiber came after her term; Ohlmeyer's doesn't start for a few weeks, and right now, he's still Googling phrases like "I Love ESPN" and "I Hate ESPN."
So while this isn't news to anyone, Ohlmeyer must continue to learn by better familiarizing himself with ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com, with Page 2 and Page 3 and Page 8, with ESPN Insider and ESPN Chicago, with the forthcoming ESPN Dallas and ESPN New York and ESPN Los Angeles, with all of ESPN's blog networks and local radio stations, with Bill Simmons and Rick Reilly and Chris Berman and Stuart Scott, with SportsNation and Blog Buzz and and PTI and Around the Horn and Outside The Lines and 30 For 30 and Homecoming, and, you know, everything else. Like SportsCenter.
The Takeaway with Don Ohlmeyer [SI.com]
An interview with ESPN ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber [The Big Lead]
13 Things I Meant To Write But Never Did [New York Times]
The Ombudsman Puzzle [American Journalism Review]
EARLIER: ESPN Ombudsperson Of Significant Interest: Don Ohlmeyer