Lesson to be learned from Deadspin mistake: Make sure story is true

Not to pile on my good buddies at Deadspin–OK I will–but the site helped reinforce a point I made to journalism students this week.

I spoke at a career panel for the University of Illinois’ College of Media. It was a tremendous event, giving the students an insight on what is required to get a job these days. Back in our day at U of I, the school’s career counseling program consisted of someone shaking your hand and saying, “Good luck.”

During the Q/A, a student asked about today’s 24/7, post-it-now journalism. She brought up the pitfalls and how people can get things wrong in the rush to be first.

“Everyone makes mistakes,” she said.

I quickly clarified her.

“In this business, you cannot make mistakes when it comes to the accuracy of a story,” I said. “You have to be right. Mistakes erode credibility quicker than anything else.”

That brings us to Deadspin. Kyle Wagner did a post on the site about the 2016 Olympics featuring a 3-on-3 basketball competition.

He wrote:

The IOC has officially added a new half-court 3-on-3 basketball event to the competitions to be held in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. This rules.

Right away, you’ll have to throw a big bucket of calm down on your head because, as the IOC put it in a 2012 letter discussing its interest in 3-on-3, a large part of the impetus is to focus more on the amateurism of sports and get the event away from being “somewhat of an exhibition for the American NBA.”

Actually sounds like a good idea, right? Only one problem. It’s not true.

Wagner based his report on this post. Carefully note the name of the site: The Beatoola Advocate.

That should have been a hint right there. The post then included this passage.

In a written statement that was shared by Mr Bach, Nuzman described the hosts were undertaking an appropriation of Olympic venues to suit the style of 3-on-3 that most visiting athletes would be familiar with.

“Spectators will be given the opportunity to watch the competition in the evenings, from the comfort of their own cars. It is proposed that each game be played in the evenings and the lighting will be complimented by the headlights on spectator vehicles that are to be surrounding the arena,”

“The playing facilities will be of an international standard – complete with an asphalt surface half-courts and chained basketball nets.”

Spectators watching in cars? Again, another clue if the Beatoola name didn’t register.

Clearly, this is satire. Wagner finally realized his mistake with this note on the top of his erroneous post.

Update: Nah, this isn’t happening. I wrote a post based on a satire website, which is just about the dumbest way to fuck up. Sorry. Fuck me. Woulda been cool though. Original post below.

I’m still not sure why Deadspin would keep up the original post, but they have their reasons.

This is an embarrassing mistake for Deadspin. It hardly is the first. Benjamin Mullin of Poynter did a roundup of Deadspin’s gaffes.

I’m not so sure Deadspin worries too much about its credibility. It seems to be all about page views.

But Wagner’s mistake wouldn’t be tolerated at a mainstream outlet. It could be a case of one-and-done for some editors.

Clearly, there is an erosion of journalism standards in the new media landscape. Wagner saw a post about Olympics 3-on-3 basketball, thought it was cool and wrote about it.

Obviously, the lesson is clear here for bloggers, tweeters, etc. Don’t assume. Check beyond the original source. Given that the outlet wasn’t the mainstream New York Times or Sports Illustrated, Wagner should have done a quick Google search to see if The Beatoola Advocate was accurate in its story. Wagner could have easily discovered nobody else was writing on 3-on-3. It would have made his day much better.

I hope Deadspin and Wagner aren’t using the excuse, “Everyone makes mistakes.” It just doesn’t cut it in this business.





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