Monday, January 21, 2013

l'affaire Te'o

The line of today on the continuing postmortem of The Girlfriend belongs to the two who burst the bubble.  Timothy Burke of Deadspin gets the key quote:

As surprising as people find the facts of the story that we published on Deadspin, I find it far more shocking that we’re the first ones to actually look into it.

That's OK.  Few of the professionals believed Woodward and Bernstein in the beginning.

Verification of the details is something we hear we will lose with the decline of traditional journalism, or perhaps better put, 20th century journalism.  Because we can't trust the new networked media, the participatory media or social media.  Even though survey after survey reveals we trust our friends more than we trust media sources, there remains something jarring to the old school among us.

Poynter gives us the first lengthy review of l'affaire Te'o.  The Chronicle as a pair of follow-ups this weekend as well, asking did Notre Dame get out too fast in reaction and what others are saying about the scandal.
 This idea of source versus the brand involved as been around for years.

Recall it was the "pajama-wearing bloggers" that undid Dan Rather.  It was a pair of message boards, and a handful of "fanatics", who broke and pushed the Houston Nutt saga (Ark Times | ESPN The Magazine).  The recent problems surrounding University of North Carolina athletics began with a few curious social media posts and another foray by the message board crowd.

Insiders want to believe.  In part, because they want to stay inside.  Sports reporters are especially endangered, and often hand off to the news side any serious controversies -- player bad behavior, NCAA investigations, financial misdealing -- not because they aren't good journalists or can't pursue the investigation.  They can't be tainted by the revelations, lest they be cast out as unclean and no longer worthy of trust from "the department."

Chris Carter's X-Files hit the nail on the head:  The Truth is Out There.

Sometimes, we don't want to see it.  Does it mean we have to cynically disbelieve everything we hear or see related to college sports?  No.  In fact, that's the point.  We want something that is pure, and sure, and true.  We want a winner, and a loser -- fair and just.  Thus we have such tremendous outrage when the officials signal first down and clearly there were chain links between the tip of the football and the stick.

There is an irony within this.  I write of "branded journalism" where we -- either athletics alone or universities themselves -- increasingly become the source of news.  (Here's one from 2013 on same.)  We tell you our bias up front, and most understand that and want to hear from all sides.

But will we tell you the truth?  Frankly, because so much of the reputation of a brand or institution is at stake if they lie, I would say in most cases yes.

The same for the emerging media.  Think about this -- can Deadspin afford to be wrong?  They are building their reputation.  Can PigBoy37?  Absolutely, as he hides behind the pseudo-privacy of a screen name.  (Although, since Notre Dame's "investigators" claim to have seen the pithy chatter between the conspirators, let it serve as a reminder you're not as anonymous as you think.)

No comments: