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ESPN taps Poynter Institute to be its watchdog

February 24, 2011 | 12:07 pm

ESPN has enlisted the Poynter Institute to act as an ethics and standards watchdog for its cable sports empire.

The Poynter Institute, a school for professional journalists, will review ESPN content and act as an ombudsman. Its commentary will be posted online at ESPN.com. A panel of three Poynter professors will oversee the effort.

“The Poynter Institute’s reputation in the field of journalism is unmatched and we welcome the panel’s scrutiny in this new format,” said John A. Walsh, ESPN executive vice president and executive editor.

One of three professors who will be watching ESPN is already familiar with one of its big-name talents. Poynter professor Kelly McBride recently waived a red flag about Tony Kornheiser, a co-host of ESPN's popular sports talk show "Pardon the Interruption." McBride chastised Kornheiser for his unwillingness on his Washington, D.C., radio show to address a big story about Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder suing the City Paper over its less than flattering portrayal of him. The station Kornheiser works for is owned by one of Snyder's companies.

"If the audience thinks you have your loyalties with someone else, the audience doesn't value you quite as much," McBride told a rival station, WTOP-AM.

Poynter is basically taking the job that had been held by sports and television industry veteran Don Ohlmeyer, who had served as ESPN's ombudsman for the last 18 months. His final column ran last month and went into great detail about the challeneges ESPN faces in trying to cover athletes on and off the field and in balancing its roles as a news organization as well as a partner with major sports leagues. Those agendas can often be in conflict with each other.

Wrote Ohlmeyer: "ESPN prides itself on having close relationships with -- and the accompanying access to -- the superstars of sport .... That comes at a price: the perception that ESPN gets too cozy with superstars and that the network might pull its punches when reporting on them."

-- Joe Flint

 

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