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Why did Deadspin editor call me a troll, moron?

Actually, I was a labeled as a “concern troll” and my viewpoint was moronic, according to Deadspin editor Tommy Craggs. But I believe they are one and the same, and I wanted an excuse to run a picture of a troll on my site. I decided to use a healthy one.

This week, Craggs did a much discussed Q/A with Manny Randhawa of the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana. The Deadspin editor answered questions about the criticisms stemming from its coverage of the Manti Te’o soap opera.

Here’s the link if you want to read the entire interview. Obviously, I want to focus on the part that included me.

Here’s the entire passage:

Q: Ed Sherman wrote the following about a quote toward the end of the Deadspin story on the Te’o girlfriend hoax: “If I’m the editor, I don’t let that quote go through. Who was this friend of Tuiasosopo? Was this person also involved? Friends have a tendency to talk out of school. Maybe this person exaggerated the quote just to be part of the story?” and “So now you’re running an incredibly damning quote from a single source who likely doesn’t know the complete story. 80 percent sure is long way from 100 percent sure in this instance.”

How do you respond to that? What’s the rationale behind adding that friend’s opinion in the piece at all? In light of ESPN’s report that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo admitted to the hoax and that Te’o was not involved in it, does the quote in the Deadspin story accomplish anything other than leading the reader to believe that Te’o was somehow involved?

A: This is a concern troll’s complaint. It’s moronic. That’s a quote from a source who knew both the hoax and hoaxer better than anyone we’d spoken with. It contains its own grain of salt. Eighty percent is not 100 percent: congratulations, Ed Sherman, you can understand the basic English words and number concepts that went into the quote. Yet 80 percent is nevertheless “incredibly damning.”

There are 2,000 words of context preceding that quote, context that was perfectly understood by everyone who read the story except committed Notre Dame truthers and certain willfully dense journalists who were determined to remind people that Deadspin isn’t real journalism. When the story broke, almost none of the people who gleefully jumped on Manti Te’o pulled out that quote to make the case. Only retroactively did people decide this had been the prosecutorial pivot of the piece.

Here’s what we knew at the time we wrote the story:

1. Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend was a hoax.

2. Manti Te’o had told lies about his dead girlfriend to help create the published stories about his dead girlfriend.

The evidence supported–and, frankly, still supports–a degree of skepticism about the Manti-as-duped-romantic story. We wanted to relay our source’s belief and be transparent about his uncertainty. There is nothing outrageous about that. A newspaper would’ve written it up as “a source strongly believes etc.,” and no one would’ve said [anything]. (Take the fourth graf here, for example: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/29/sports/football/super-bowl-jerome-bogers-probable-pick-as-referee-is-questioned.html?hp&_r=0&pagewanted=all)

Again, I know why that criticism is being leveled. It’s not an epistemological issue, even though it’s being couched smarmily as one. It’s just a way of saying, “Don’t forget–Deadspin is still scurrilous crap.” If it hadn’t been the 80 percent quote, it would’ve been something else. (I’ve seen a handful [of] journalists bitching that we didn’t give Manti or Notre Dame enough time to respond, which is ridiculous given both the observer effect of reporting a story like this and the fact that both Notre Dame and Manti were prepared to go public with the story.)

*******

OK, Craggs likes to couch any criticism under the category of “Don’t forget–Deadspin is still scurrilous crap.” In other words, old-timers like me, not to mention a good old boy (hope you’re reading, Jason Whitlock) doesn’t understand Deadspin. That seems to be a fairly constant defense tactic employed by Craggs.We just don’t get it!

Craggs neglects to mention that I was very complimentary of Deadspin’s ability to break the story by using many elements of social media and other new-age Internet devices. I thought there was some ground-breaking journalism here.

However, journalism is journalism, old age or new age. As others have pointed out, Deadspin simply was wrong to use the “80 percent” quote.

When you accuse somebody of participating in a conspiracy, it better be “100 percent.” As I said, this really was a damning allegation. If it was true, the fallout is much, much worse for Te’o.

The problem with using the “80 percent” quote is that it became a main focus of the 30-second news roundups and sound bites on radio and TV. I heard countless reporters say, “A source in the story said Te’o might have participated in the conspiracy.” All of this was based on an “80 percent” maybe from an unnamed source.

Also, this is something I failed to mention in my initial critique about the “80 percent” source: Deadspin buried the lede.

The “80 percent” reference didn’t appear until way down in the story. If Deadspin felt so strong about the source and implication that Te’o might have been involved in an elaborate conspiracy, shouldn’t that have been at the top of the story? Seems like a fairly important element, no?

If you’re going to use that “80 percent” source, you don’t wait 2,000 words in, as Craggs said, to introduce the allegation.

It’s just basic journalism.

Then again, what do I know? I don’t get Deadspin and I’m a common troll who says moronic things.

(Note: By coincidence, I just happened to stop by the NSJC yesterday in Indianapolis on the way back from reporting a story in Louisville. They reported the post generated record traffic on the site. Thanks for the exposure, NSJC and Tommy.)

 

 

 

 

 

11 thoughts on “Why did Deadspin editor call me a troll, moron?

  1. Nicely handled, Ed.

    I read you and Deadspin regularly. My background is “traditional” newspaper journalism so I take DS content with a grain of salt and see the value in entertainment more than in information.

    Anyway, keep doing what you’re doing. You and Romenesko are the best things going in terms of media commentary.

  2. I don’t see how anyone can look at what Deadspin did with the Te’o story and call it “entertainment.” They simply torched the starry-eyed mainstream media members, who were too blinded by Notre Dame’s mystique and Te’o's made-for-the-Lifetime-channel story to do any true digging. Sure, Deadspin does do entertainment, a la Drew Magary’s writing. But this story was straight-up journalism, and it’s pointless to deny that. There’s a lot more to admire about what Deadspin did than their use of social media here.

    As for the “80 percent” line, I don’t have a problem with it. Old-school journalists were too busy admiring their commitment to some nebulous code of ethics to take up a story that brought Deadspin millions of viewers. Congratulations, you’re ethically pure. No one cares. Meanwhile, your circulation numbers are dwindling by the second. Keep on fiddling, Nero.

    Lastly: Randhawa and his overly earnest, completely humor-free boss (?) Malcolm Moran show their complete lack of awareness with their inability to grasp a (very funny) joke that plays on the word “Samoan” and its name of a Girl Scout cookie. If there’s anything in that article that shows to what extent they don’t Get It, it’s that exchange.

  3. The 80% comment was absurd and should not have been put in there. As you mentioned, it became a huge part of the early reporting and shaped the scandal initally as if Te’o came up with the hoax.

    Craggs won’t admit it but they know that number was BS. If it wasn’t, that’s the lede!

  4. The 80% quote has become a straw man here. Who cares if they should have run it or not? Does that one quote undo all the stellar reporting around it? Clearly not.

    Craggs — who is the smartest person in this room, by far — was right that, if they hadn’t run that quote, people would have found something else to obsess about. “Oooh, Deadspin published pics of Brett Favre’s weiner! They’re not really journalists!” I would argue that they out-journalisted just about everyone with this story, and people like Ed are just looking for any loose threads they can find to pull the sweater apart (to use an ungainly metaphor).

    • Joel, I did praise Deadspin for how they broke the story. However, made a bad judgment by using 80 percent source quote.

      • I don’t think the 80% quote hurts the story that much, if at all. If it’s an error, which is clearly debatable, it’s a minor quibble in a huge scoop. Harping about the 80% quote reads like old-school journalistic sour grapes: “Sure, they did a great job, but they ran someone’s speculation. See? They’re not REAL journalists. Harrumph.”

        The person who threw out the 80% quote was very familiar with the whole operation, so having that person speculate about Te’o's involvement seems legitimate to me.

        • Joel:

          That’s fine. But I wrote other things about the coverage beyond the 80 percent quote. I was responding to Craggs’ answer relating to me. Basically, he called me an idiot.

    • Actually, I was a journalist for a long time. Those amber-entombed ethics are very nice. I’m sure the people at Newsweek (and The Daily, and National Geographic Adventure, and PC Magazine) admired them greatly.

  5. Hi Ed. I’ve been trying to get in touch wth Cragg for more than a month to appear on a workshop I’m doing next week in New York on how college sports writers can be more prepared to cover controversies on campus. Do you have a phone number for DeadSpin? I don’t see one on their website. Thanks

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