Take-aways from Te’o: Is Deadspin the new go-to for sports news? How it beat ESPN on big story

While the Manti Te’o story was blowing up last week, somebody asked me what it means for the future of sports journalism? Does Deadspin suddenly become our source for news?

I responded by pointing out a headline on the site that caught my attention just prior to Deadspin breaking the Te’o story last Wednesday. It read:

I want to film myself having sex with my wife without her knowing it.

Now this headline for Drew Magary’s Funbag letters column wasn’t stuck in a corner of the home page. It was front and center until the Te’o story hit.

The future of sports journalism? No, this isn’t your father’s Sporting News.


Deadspin’s profile has gone up considerably thanks to a bunch of idiots who decided to hoax a naive linebacker. The original post generated more than 3 million page views. Deadspin was cited in reports by Anderson Cooper, Brian Williams, Scott Pelley, and everyone else. All in all, not a bad day.

In my mind, one of the bigger stories here is that Deadspin beat ESPN for the story.

Both outlets were tipped around the same time. ESPN has some of the best (and most expensive) reporters, editors, producers in the business.

Yet the WWL watched Deadspin, a site that regularly skewers ESPN, break the stunning tale. And to further underscore the David-Goliath angle, the reporters were Tim Burke, a 34-year-old video and assignment editor for the website, and Jack Dickey, who just happens to be a senior at Columbia University.

Wait a minute, the Bernstein of this piece still is getting college homework assignments? Time to turn pro, kid.

According to a post by Richard Deitsch of SI.com, the tipster picked Deadspin because “Deadspin was better equipped to do the search.”

The tipster couldn’t have known that Burke completed his doctoral studies at the University of South Florida with an expertise in identity, according to Deitsch’s piece. That’s a fairly strong asset in nailing down a story involving identity.

However, the tipster did have a feeling Deadspin, with its younger and yes, edgier, reporters would be able navigate through the computer maze better than anyone else. This story is about mining Google, Twitter, Facebook, and other information that’s out there if you know where to look.

If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s that social media can be a powerful tool in reporting in the new age.

As a result, Deadspin got the story; ESPN didn’t.


Deadspin’s slogan, if you will, is “Sports News Without Access, Favor, or Discretion.”

Let’s underline the discretion part. If you’re a target of Deadspin, you think the site is the devil incarnate.

I don’t think I’m breaking news when I say Deadspin’s mission seems to be to highlight the stupid and inane aspects of sports, and life in general. If they can embarrass a subject, all the better.

In regards to journalistic values, let’s not forget the site paid a source for the infamous Brett Favre penis photos. That practice puts Deadspin closer to the National Enquirer than the Washington Post.

And regarding the Te’o story, Deadspin went over the line when it quoted an anonymous source who said he was “80 percent sure” the linebacker had played a role in the hoax. As I wrote last week, most outlets wouldn’t have gone with a single source who wasn’t 100 percent certain with such a damning allegation.

Deadspin, though, is what it is. The site already had a big audience prior to last week’s story. All the exposure should result in more people checking it out.

If the Te’o fiasco showed anything, it’s that Deadspin will be a player for these stories in the future. This won’t be the last time the site nails a big one.

However, it also is going to be a site that trumpets headlines asking if it is OK to video yourself having sex with your wife without her knowing it? With those kind of headlines, how seriously can you take a site like that?

You be the judge.

By the way, Magary says your wife has to know.








8 thoughts on “Take-aways from Te’o: Is Deadspin the new go-to for sports news? How it beat ESPN on big story

  1. “most outlets wouldn’t have gone with a single source who wasn’t 100 percent certain ”

    This is what created the entire situation in the first place. If the media did their job and fact checked what Teo was telling them, instead of simply running w/ a juicy story, Teo’s lie never blows up like this.

  2. Deadspin = the sports equivalent to TMZ. They did some great work in their reporting, and truthfully, have been doing it ever since the site launched. Will Leitch does have his roots in sports, journalism, and creative writing. But I felt compelled to post here as a j-school grad who still does some sports reporting. The investigative reporting of Woodword and Bernstein is for the public good. The true reason for journalism is to protect the public. What’s the point of investigative reporting in sports? Not for the public good…how many lives with change with the revelation about Te’o’s fake girlfriend (I suppose you could argue about others being duped, but A) what did Te’o hurt, other than his ego, and B) there’s a sucker born every minute). How will I, and the public, benefit from the revelation that Tiger Woods had multiple mistresses? Does my life fundamentally change over the thousands of pages of investigation on Lance Armstrong’s doping? So my point is let’s stop pretending that “sports investigative reporting” should really be tied to journalism…ALL it’s meant to do is gather eyeballs, sell papers, and (more importantly) bring an internet audience in for more ad clicks. Now stepping off my soapbox! :)

    • Um. no. Given that Te’o finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, and could have very well finished first, thanks in no small part to his sad dead girlfriend story, it is an issue. If it was only his personal life, then why was it a story in the first place? So yes, it was worth investigating.

      • Lisa, I agree the story probably gained him Heisman voters. I may not have been clear on my point though. Who stands to “lose” and what are the stakes? Does the world become a worse place because of this story? Compared to “news” investigative reporting…does the public stand to lose if a public official is skimming money? Totally different thing. Sports “investigative reporting” is shock value journalism. Nothing more.

        • So, using your logic, unless a public official is skimming money, no journalist could ever investigate anything. Good luck with that.

  3. LOL, on your most recent post! I would like to set the record straight that I knew Will left Deadsping several years ago. But as much as I like Will (I’m an Illini grad too), he can’t shoo away the fact that Deadspin is his baby and has matured exactly how it was cultivated early on under his watch.

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