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Fascinating news from ESPN:

A panel of faculty from The Poynter Institute, which offers training to journalists, will serve as the latest ombudsman for ESPN.

The panel, known as the Poynter Review Project, will review ESPN content across all platforms and offer public comment on ESPN’s efforts in the form of monthly essays and additional timely responses as issues arise, ESPN and Poynter announced Thursday.

The panel also will address fans’ concerns during its 18-month tenure. Commentaries will be posted on ESPN.com, beginning with an introductory column in March.

The institute’s role expands the tradition of ESPN ombudsman, most recently held by television producer Don Ohlmeyer. His term was preceded by Le Anne Schreiber, a former New York Times sports editor-turned-author, and George Solomon, former sports editor of The Washington Post. [emphasis added]

The last part is the key. Poynter has been at the forefront of documenting, criticizing and analyzing online news reportage and dissemination, and however accomplished or ethical those previous ombudspersons have been, they were decidedly old media. This shift to not one person but a panel of experts who are at the top of the profession in its current state is great news for fans and readers.

ESPN clearly recognizes that the future of all its business – sports, journalism, commentary – is online. Its free online broadcasts of the World Cup last summer were the best yet done, and recent acquisition of Michael Wilbon (further gutting the once-great Washington Post sports section) for online columns and chats a further investment in same. Bringing on board an ombudsboard that understands not just sports journalism but the emerging dynamics and ethics of online commentary and interaction is a great step forward for the colossus of sports coverage, and at least a potential step towards regaining the kind of credibility that journalism strives for.

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