ESPN is a household name. A company with diverse, yet remarkably similar product offerings. Its commodity line sells indirectly through a package deal (cable) to a base of customers that are more loyal than any dog, cat or turtle you’ll meet.
First, to clarify the role of an ombudsman. It is not a zen master who tends to the trees’ first signs of spring.
Don Ohlmeyer represents the public at ESPN. He is the mediator between ESPN brass and the millions of loyal viewers, “offering independent examination” of ESPN services.
In his final column, Ohlmeyer highlighted the giant’s efforts to connect with and respond to its fanbase:
• Research methods in the past year included deprivation studies, conflict groups, barbecues and 1,600 survey interviews every quarter.
• How ESPN copes with the “constant tension for journalists between getting it first and getting it right. The audience assumes it is getting both, but that’s not always the case.”
• Confronting the power and poison of the web. “The Internet, and its social networking evolution, has created the reality that, regardless of who reports a story, everyone has it in a matter of minutes,” said Vince Doria, ESPN senior vice president and director of news.
• Looking forward to the release of ESPN’s Editorial Guidelines for Standards and Practices. “After nearly two decades of policy discussions, drafts and memos…”
• A criticism of the network’s own verbose announcers, who focus on isolated plays or stats “divorced from the human drama that takes athletic competition to another level.”
Ohlmeyer’s lengthy ride into the sunset is a rewarding peek inside the corporate mentality of the largest sports journalism ecosystem in the world.
It is a rare luxury to plumb the ego of a company that recognizes the importance of its fans who are not only fans of sport, but of their sport’s provider.