Deadspin editor on Te’o story: What lengths do we go to to try and prove a negative?

Mallary Jean Tenore of Poynter interviewed Deadspin editor Tommy Craggs about the Manti Te’o story. I’ll have further analysis of the piece, but my initial take was that Deadspin did a solid job.

From the post:

What sort of editing went into the piece?

Craggs: From the start, Tim Burke and Jack Dickey kept a running notes file in Google Docs that acted as a skeleton for both their reporting and for the story itself. They asked themselves the obvious questions, Socratically: Who is the person in the photos? Where was Lennay Kekua born? When was Lennay Kekua born? Where did Lennay Kekua live? Did Lennay Kekua attend Stanford? When was Lennay Kekua’s car accident? When did Lennay Kekua die? [Then they] set about answering them, through public records and media reports.

There was a fat pile of the latter, contradictions and all, and absolutely nothing of the former. From there, the story wrote itself. That’s all pretty obvious, and anyone who reports a story goes through at least a mental catechism like this. But putting it all on the page made the holes in the Lennay story plain to see.

What sorts of questions did the editor ask to make sure that this was a thoroughly reported story?

We began reporting on Friday. By Monday, Burke had found and contacted the woman in the Lennay photos. Once we had her on the record, we knew we had enough for a story. By Tuesday, we had a draft.

The only question, really: What lengths do we go to to try and prove a negative? Do we call funeral homes in Carson (we did)? Do we call funeral homes *near* Carson (we didn’t)? Once we got an answer from Stanford on the question of Lennay’s enrollment, I was satisfied.


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