My biggest story, 15 years later

Courtesy Bleacher Report

(This is adapted from my original post five years ago)

Fifteen years ago today, I was breaking the biggest story of my journalism career.

It was March 3, 2003, that the St. Bonaventure University men's basketball team became embroiled in a scandal. I was covering the team for the Olean Times Herald at the time, and covered the scandal from start to finish. It was my biggest story. It won me a national writing award.

In so many ways, it was the biggest story of my life.


ST. BONAVENTURE - Several people in the Reilly Center expressed the same sentiment - Monday was a dark day for St. Bonaventure University.

The St. Bonaventure men's basketball team forfeited six Atlantic 10 wins on Monday because it had an ineligible player, junior center Jamil Terrell, on its roster. In addition, the Atlantic 10 conference declared the team ineligible for the conference tournament, which is scheduled for next week ... 

Last week, Bona declared Mr. Terrell ineligible after the NCAA ruled that he did not meet eligibility requirements for junior college transfers. Specifically, Mr. Terrell does not have an associate's degree, as required by NCAA rules. Instead, he has a certificate in welding.

-Me, The Times Herald, 3.4.03

The story really began in late February. Just before a Bona-GW game at the Reilly Center, the school issued a press release that a question had been raised about Terrell's eligibility. The fact that he had a degree in welding from his junior college had been floating around all season, but it had never been confirmed or pegged on-the-record. Now, this was very clearly the issue.

A few days after that game, I was in Philly, covering the Bonnies' game at Temple. I wound up sitting next to Linda Bruno, then the A-10 Commissioner, who filled me in on the conference's planned hearing that Monday.

On Monday, then-Bona coach Jan van Breda Kolff took his spot on the weekly Atlantic 10 conference call. Mike Harrington, the college hoops reporter at the Buffalo News, was on him from the start. "Did you enlist the help of the University president to declare Jamil Terrell eligible?" he asked pointedly, repeatedly, in a classic performance.* I had already been digging into the story. That call sent me into overdrive.

(Mike later told me that he had been kicked off the call by an overzealous operator who was concerned that he, Mike, was badgering the coach. Ray Cella, the A-10's legendary PR chief, got Mike back on the call within minutes. Mike and I talk about this story on the latest episode of The Other 51)

Later that afternoon, after the sanctions, I tracked down Terrell's junior-college coach, Gerald Cox. He told me that he had sent a letter to St. Bonaventure, and every school recruiting Terrell, that the player's degree was not the equivalent of an associate's degree. "They knew what they had," Cox told me.

I was the only reporter who had quotes from Cox in his story. I'm still damn proud of that.

After doing a lot of reporting, I stopped by my apartment for a quick break. I put on the Empire Sports Network, which was doing a standup outside of the RC. The reporter mentioned at the end of her report that the players were meeting at that moment.

I flashed on a scene a few years ago, when Indiana fired Bobby Knight and the players admitted they considered boycotting a game. "They're voting on whether to play their last two games," I thought.

I went to campus, found nothing. I went to the office, and while putting together the story about Terrell's recruiting and the sanctions, and conducting one of the last interviews with then-school president Robert Wickenheiser (who admitted to being at the center of the scandal), I made calls and found out that, apparently, players were leaving campus for spring break.

The next morning, I had to work a pagination shift for our afternoon paper. I quickly did my page and then got the RC for the scheduled practice. The team was supposed to practice before busing to UMass for a game. I got to the gym, and John Wawrow of the AP was there. He had heard the same rumors. We spent a bizarre day at the gym, trying to figure out who was here, who was gone, what was going on, having players refuse to talk to us, walk through the stands to avoid us, before finally admitting what had happened. Players had left campus. They were refusing to play the team's final two games.

ST. BONAVENTURE — The silence spoke volumes.

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team was scheduled to start practice in preparation for its Wednesday night road game against Massachusetts. But except for a rack of untouched basketballs, the gym was empty — silent except for the hum of the lights.

The Bonnies never took the floor for practice. They never boarded the team bus for Amherst, Mass.

They ended their season a week early. In a stunning and unprecedented move, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team’s players decided not to play the final two games of the regular season. The school backed the move, announcing Tuesday afternoon that the team would not play its scheduled games this week against Massachusetts and Dayton. Those games go in the books as forfeit losses.

A once-promising season for the Bonnies ended not on the basketball court but in a conference room in Hopkins Hall with a press briefing.

- Me, The Times Herald, 3.5.03


What strikes me the most, 15 years later, is how different the actual journalism was.

There was no social media. Twitter and Facebook literally did not exist yet. Newspapers were online, of course, but it was very different. This was still a time when the online edition was a complement, a bonus, an extra. It was repurposed content from the print edition.

Looking back at how I covered the scandal, everything was built around the next day's story. They were long, in-depth stories that I'm damn proud of. But the atomic unit of my work was that story. At some point during the day, I sat down with all my notes and crafted a story.

If this story happened now, I wouldn't do that. This story would come together incrementally. There'd be no waiting for the next afternoon's paper. I'd be writing constantly, updating the story with each new morsel of information, keeping things alive on Twitter. When I talked to Gerald Cox, that quote I included above wouldn't have been saved for Tuesday afternoon's paper. It would have been on Twitter seconds after he said it, or at worst seconds after I hung up the phone. The player boycott? That would have been all over social media that night and day. The story in 2003 was crazy and confusing because no one knew what was happening. This story in 2018 would be crazy and confusing because there would be so much noise, between players Tweeting, blogs opining, Tweeters snarking, etc.  In 2003, journalism was story-driven. In 2018, journalism is increasingly process-driven.

That's not to say one is better than the other. It's not to say that the way we did it in 2003 was right and pure, and that today's news is wrong and tainted. It's the way of the world. Things change. Technologies evolve. Paradigms shift. I know there's a part of me that's very glad that Twitter didn't exist in 2003, because it would have made that challenging story even harder to cover. I also know that in many ways, the new technologies would have made my coverage of that story better and more useful to my readers.


I've toyed with the idea of writing a book about the scandal. My wife's told me I should do it for years. Two other books have been written. I played with the idea, corresponded with an agent about it. But it never happened. Part of the reason is that I could never think of The Big Idea of the book. What's the big hook, the big story, the thing that makes someone who doesn't know St. Bonaventure from Bonasera the undertaker want to read the book? I'm not sure. Plus, having helped three professors write books, I've seen the insane amount of work that goes into a truly great non-fiction book. I haven't had that in me. Yet.

In a lot of ways, this story 15 years ago defined who I was as a journalist. It's among the first things I mention when I discuss my career. It's the one story almost everyone knows about, at least in passing. I'm proud of breaking this story, of the work I did.

That my journalism career peaked at 25 is sad in some ways. But that story is what helped me get my next job in Binghamton, which led me to meeting and eventually marrying my wife, which led to our daughter being born.

It was the biggest story of my career. And it helped me start writing the story of my life.

'When the music's right:' An appreciation of Gary Smith

Gary Smith, the legendary Sports Illustrated feature writer, announced his retirement on Monday. Simply put, Smith's on the shortlist of best sports writers of all time. He's also in the conversation for best magazine feature writer of all time — in any genre. There are two sports writers whose work was supremely influential in my career — Charles Pierce and Gary Smith. They're very different writers, but the common thread for me was reading their work in college (and even now) and just shaking my head, thinking "Jesus. How do you do that?" It's like a young songwriter listening to Rubber Soul or Abbey Road and realizing that this is how it's supposed to be done.

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Picking out a favorite Smith story is like picking a favorite Beatles song. Three stand out to me: his feature on a dying Jim Valvano; his profile of a retiring Andre Agassi that I always loved; and his story about Richie Parker, a high-school basketball star who was accused of sexual assault. The Parker story floored me when I first read it - I ripped it out of the magazine, and it's still in a box in my basement. I openly aped the structure of that story in one of the first big features I wrote as a sports writer.

What I admire most about Smith is his silence. In our age of transparency, of writers describing how they got their story, their tricks of the trade, their struggles in writing, Smith didn't indulge in that. He's not on Twitter. He doesn't write about the story behind the story. He's wonderfully old school in a way that's not self-indulgent or showy. He doesn't brag about how he's old school. He doesn't embrace debate. He simply works and reports and writes. He doesn't become part of the story. He's a storyteller, the best we've had in our business. Joe Posnanski called him a magician, and that's a pretty apt description.

In the preface to a collection of his stories, he summed his attitude up beautifully. It's fitting that a tribute to his writing should end with Gary Smith's own words:

I hate explanations, and maybe that's a clue right there. When the music's right, no one needs an explanation, and when it's not, no one wants one.

On awareness, and a gift


"Are you guys going to have another kid?"

Every now and then, I get this question. Friends at school, colleagues at a conference, they'll ask about my daughter and then want to know if my wife and I have plans for a second. It's an innocent, natural question to ask. But it's one that always used to give me pause, make my stomach drop just a little bit. I never knew how to answer it, so I'd laugh, shrug it off, make a joke about being in school or how one is enough to handle, etc. But lately, I've been being honest with people.

"Well, our daughter's an IVF baby, so ..."

And people understand.


This week is National Infertility Awareness Week, the advocacy week sponsored by, which advocates for awareness and financial incentives for couples who have fertility issues. They advocate both for adoption and for fertility treatments like in-vitro fertilization. I've never been a huge fan of "raising awareness" — it always seems so passive, so nebulous — but this week matters to me and my family. Because this week is why my family is the size it is. We have our daughter because of the skilled, miraculous hands of Dr. Robert Kiltz and the wonderful people at CNY Fertility Center, and the incredible patience and skill of Dr. Dhruv Agneshwar and the amazing nurses at Sante.

Raising awareness here matters, because infertility is one of those topics people just don't talk about. It's misunderstood. It's extremely personal - probably the most personal, emotional medical issue a person can have (particularly a woman, with how motherhood is defined in our culture).  Treatments for it aren't generally covered by insurance, and they are extremely expensive. Even the best treatments only carry a 25% success rate. Not everyone wants to have kids. But if you do, and you can't, it's a devastating feeling.


We tried for more than two years to have a kid. My wife, who's the strongest person I've ever met, put her body through sheer hell in that time. Surgery. Pills. Injections. Blood draws. Early morning exams and procedures. If there's any doubt my wife was born to be a mom, that process disproved it.

Finally, after so many years, tears and frustrations, we did a round of IVF. Ten days later, Feb. 7, 6 a.m., my wife jumped on me in our bed, waking me up with the biggest smile I've ever seen on her or anybody's face. She was holding a pregnancy test. Positive.

My daughter being born was the best moment of my life. But that moment, seeing my wife and that test, was the happiest moment of my life. Bar none.


Our daughter's 3 1/2 right now. She's awesome. She's frustrating. She's smart. She's all attitude. She's creative. She pushes. She loves to sing. She screams at us when we sing the wrong part of the song. She's pretty like her mamma.

There are tough times. Of course there are. But when those times come, it helps to think back. Back to the waiting room at CNY Fertility, to the couple we were and the couples we saw there, hoping and praying for a miracle. Back to those two years of prescriptions and procedures, of wondering if this would ever work. Back to the early mornings and late nights, to the tears and the silence and the hopes. Always to hope.

If you'd have told us back then that we'd be fighting with our daughter over who gets to sing Gaston and LeFou on the radio, we'd have taken that. In a heartbeat.

Because every screaming fit, every frustrating tantrum, every skipped meal  and messy room and bathroom accident is an absolute gift. It's a miracle, is what it is.

And that's the real awareness of National Infertility Awareness Week. It's not just about the big issues. It's about me being aware, every day, of just how lucky I really am.

Newhouse Sports Media Center to host diversity forum

Chris Kluwe

Hello again. My work on my doctoral dissertation the past few months has, unfortunately, made me put this blog on a kind of hiatus. But the Newhouse Sports Media Center at Syracuse University - of which I'm honored to be a part - is hosting a wonderful event on diversity in sports media I wanted to share with you.

"Making the Calls: The State of Diversity in Sports Media in 2014" is scheduled for Feb. 26 at the Newhouse School in Syracuse. Among the panelists will be Chris Kluwe, the former Minnesota Vikings' punter and activist for gay civil rights, who wrote for Deadspin a few months ago that he believes he was released in part due to his very public support of same-sex marriage. In addition, regional and national reporters, writers, broadcasters and editors will be on hand to discuss the importance of diversity in sports media, the challengers and issues that we as an industry face.

There will be individual panels involving management and decision makers; journalists and broadcasters; advocates; and women's issues. A complete list of the panels and panelists can be found here.

The event is free, and runs from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. If there is going to be live streaming or a webcast, I'll update this post with that information. The official hashtag is #MakingTheCalls

Manti Te'o: One year later

Manti Te'o (AP photo)

A little more than a year ago, the sports journalism world was "rocked" by the Manti Te'o scandal. The revelation by Deadspin that the girlfriend then-Notre Dame star football player didn't really exist allegedly exposed the fatal flaws and sins of sports journalism. One observer even called it "an embarrassment to sports journalism." OK, that was me. I put rocked in quotation marks in the first paragraph, because a year later, it seems like one of those stories that blows up, gets everybody talking, and then ... disappears. Think about it: Every now and then, you'll hear Manti Te'o's name during a Chargers game. You may make a Manti Te'o's girlfriend joke every now and then. But that's it. And the critiques, criticisms and calls for reform in sports journalism have ... well, they haven't yielded anything.

That's one of the findings my colleague Carol Lielber and I discovered in our study of the reaction to the Te'o story. We found that the proposed solutions to the problems that caused the Te'o story were, in essence, journalism-school bromides. Reporters should have followed up. They should have looked for the girlfriend. If your mother says she loves you, check it out. And so on.

And on one level, these critiques are absolutely correct. Reporters should have dug deeper. They should have looked for the girlfriend. They should not have reported fiction as fact. But they never answered the next question: What next?

If you're a reporter and you find out that the girlfriend doesn't exist ... what do you do then? Is this Do you write around it? Do you just ignore the girlfriend altogether, even after she's become a part of his story? Do you get in touch with Te'o and confront him? (Really? In the moment, do you do that? Do you confront a guy over his allegedly dead girlfriend not existing?).  Do you include the questions in your story? Is Te'o lying?

To me, the story disappeared because the narrative changed. When Deadspin broke the story, it was hinted at or thought that this was a fraud. That Te'o was in on it that he had duped the media. But as the story came out, Te'o claimed he had been catfished, and that became the narrative.

That change changes our reaction to the story - and, in a way, to the journalism that enabled it. If Te'o was involved in the fraud - if he tricked reporters into thinking he had a beloved dead girlfriend to make himself look better - then it's easy to criticize the journalists for not finding the story. Then the critiques are absolutely correct. The story is an embarrassment to sports journalism.

But if Te'o didn't know - and for the purpose of this post, let's assume he didn't - then it becomes more complicated. Then you're asking reporters why they didn't dig up the truth on something that even the subject of their stories didn't know. And if you really want to, you can go down an epistemological rat hole and debate the nature of actual vs. relative truth (if the story is true to Te'o at the time he's telling it, is that the truth even if the girl doesn't exist? This is what grad school does to you.)

And it builds to the question: If you do what you're supposed to do on this story, and find that the girl doesn't exist ... what do you do? Do you tell Te'o that the girl he believes he loves isn't real? Is that your job? What do you owe your sources and your readers?

(In a way, this is what happened with the Caleb Hannan/Dr. V story on Grantland, with very tragic results - although it's not a huge stretch to see how this could potentially have happened with Te'o. Maybe not to the tragic extent it did here, but it's possible to think out the steps where this hoax is exposed not on Deadspin but as a reporter found out and started questioning Te'o.)

In the end, this story became a curiosity, an interesting footnote. Once the story turned into Te'o being tricked, it felt like it became less important, less of a big deal. It hasn't led to any great changes in the way sports journalism is practiced or consumed. It's easy to point to it as an isolated failure - hey, the guy was tricked, we just reported what he said - rather than as a symptom of anything greater.

Which is a missed opportunity. The Te'o story could and should have been a chance for the sports journalism community to really stop and pause. To look at our routines and practices, to see if we are too reliant on the word of our sources, if harsh deadlines lead good reporters into bad situations. To look our story selection processes, to see if we fall too fast and too hard for easy, predetermined narratives. It could have been a chance not for revolution, but for reflection on what we do and the best way to do that.

But the story changed, the world moved on, and an important conversation was never had.

Richard Sherman and why we do post-game interviews

Richard Sherman (AP photo).

From Joe Posnanski:

Why do we ask these players (and coaches) questions so soon after they were under fiery hypnosis, so soon after they were smashing into each other and breaking bones, right as the adrenaline is draining and the pain is beginning to surface? And, more, why do we expect their answers to fit our expectations?

Post-game quotes and interviews are, in my opinion a classic example of institutionalized behavior in sports journalism. It's the subject of my dissertation. When I tell people I'm writing about institutional sports journalism, their eyes justifiably glaze over. But this is what I'm studying - the routine practices of sports journalism. I don't have any data to support this yet - these are just my thoughts and impressions from my years as a sports reporter and as a grad student studying this stuff.

There are reasons for sports journalists to do interviews after the game. One of the main ones is the fact that it's just what you do. It's accepted as a part of the job. Sports reporters are trained, through education and socialization, that interviewing players after the game is a part of the job. It's the sign of a true pro, a true journalist. To not do it is almost unthinkable - even though, as many people have pointed out today and other times, most interviews just yield cliches and banal descriptions.

This doesn't mean that doing post-game interviews is wrong. But the fact that it's done without thought to its efficiency or effectiveness, that it's done because it's what others do and because it's the way things are done, make it to me a potential example of institutionalism in sports journalism.

Why do we do it, Posnanski asks? In part, I think, because it's what we've always done

"This line ... feels particularly inhumane."

Hannan makes no claim that her identity as a trans woman has any bearing on the golf club she invented or the scientific background she inflated. And yet it sent a chill up his spine. It’s this line that feels particularly inhumane. Dr. V is a con artist and a trans woman. Hannan, though, conflates those two facts, acting as though the latter has some relation to the former. It seems that, in his view, they both represent a form of deceit.

Slate's Josh Levin on the Caleb Hannan/Dr. V story. Rather than write my own thoughts, which mirror Levin's, I'll point you to his piece and say "What he said."

Why do sports writers keep getting burned by fake news?

The other day, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports got embarrassed on Twitter. Rosenthal - who’s actually a very good reporter - retweeted out a report of a Tim Hudson contract extension that turned out to be bogus.

A headshot of

It seems like every so often, something like this happens. False information is put out on social media (almost always Twitter), a reporter at a legacy media outlet picks it up and shares it, and then it’s proven to be wrong. It leads to mocking, hand wringing, and general Helen Lovejoy-ness.

It’s easy to mock the reporters who fall for this - and they should be mocked for not doing their job correctly - and the schadenfreude is particularly strong when it’s a national reporter who gets burned. It’s also easy to fall into normative judgements about how social media is ruining journalism or j-school bromides about how it’s better to be second and right than first and wrong.

But what really interests me is why this keeps happening? Why are reporters getting burned by bad info online?

Part of it is the culture of the scoop. Scoops are the goal of reporting. They’re professional currency for journalists. You are judged by how many stories you’ve broken, by the quality of stories you’ve broken*. Part of it is journalism ego - wanting to be first.

(*I wonder how much that’s changed over the years, particularly in sports, and what kind of impact the internet, with its emphasis on breaking news, has had on that culture.)

But I think there’s something else at play here, and it’s an attitude that my good friend Dr. Molly Yanity articulated in a Twitter discussion about this topic.

@Jimmy_Sanderson@CadChica@SportTechie@bpmoritz@SportMediaProf I used to blog abt my chase for news. "Sources have told me..." etc. ...

— Molly Yanity (@mollyyanity) November 20, 2013


@Jimmy_Sanderson@CadChica@SportTechie@bpmoritz@SportMediaProf ... That stuff wasn't published in the paper until it was dead to rights.

— Molly Yanity (@mollyyanity) November 20, 2013


It’s an attitude that has surfaced in my own research. Reporters view print as something that’s almost sacrosanct, worthy of top-notch ethics and sourcing. Online? It’s very different. Reporters seem to have more lax standards online. They’re more likely to put rumors, “things I’m hearing,” bits of news from sources, online and on Twitter. It’s almost as if online is viewed as more ephemeral, so standards are a little more relaxed, whereas print is seen as permanent, so standards are higher. I’ve called it the hierarchy of print - print is viewed as the most important part of a journalists’ work, with online coming second. Online work is viewed as the work-in-progress, the notes, the real-time info, but the real news comes at the end of the day with the story. It’s why I called one of my papers “The First Draft of Journalism,” because that’s how several sports writers I talked to viewed blogging.

It’s an interesting, institutionalized value in journalism that may help explain why these things keep happening. It’s not that journalists don’t take their reporting online seriously. They do. It’s just there are different institutionalized standards for print vs. online. Understanding that the standard most reporters have for online news appears to be more rough draft than polished product may help us understand why reporters like Rosenthal seem to keep getting burned.

The Sports Guy and expectations

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A few weeks ago, after the Red Sox won the World Series, Bill Simmons wrote a lengthy piece for Grantland in which he connected two generations of Boston sports legends - Bill Russell and David Ortiz.

At least, that’s what he tried to do.

The first half of the column recounted Simmons’ earlier visit to Russell’s house, where he interviewed the Celtics legend.

He tried to connect it to Russell’s relationship to Boston writ large, but to me, he failed. He failed, because this passage felt like the centerpiece of the story:

“Where’s Bill?”

Russell’s voice.

“Where’s Bill?”


I stood up.

“Come here. I want to show you something,” Bill Russell said.

For better or for worse, the first part of this article seemed to be built around that point. It seemed built around Simmons showing off that he had been in Bill Russell’s house, that Bill Russell knew his name and wanted to show him something. It was showing off, bragging - and doing so not to serve a larger point, but rather just to show off.

Which is a shame, because the second half of this article - the section on Ortiz - is marvelous. It really is. It captures everything that Simmons does well. It captures what Simmons brings to the sports media marketplace of ideas. It captures what it’s like to be a Boston fan, to be a fan of these Red Sox this year and to have watched this run. The money graf:

But when Ortiz grabbed the mic on that Saturday and screamed, “THIS IS OUR FUCKIN’ CITY!!!!!,” I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of an athlete. It was perfect. Nobody knew what to say that day. How do you sum up 237 years? How do you sum up that week? How do you sum up two evil scumbags ruining the city’s most special day? How do you show the right respect and empathy for the victims while also tapping into the spirit of the city itself? David Ortiz figured it out with five words. And he’s not even from Boston. It was amazing. Maybe “Boston Strong” was born earlier that week, but no. 34 gave it an exclamation point.

That’s great writing. That’s what Simmons does so well, and that’s the promise of what he does and those who have followed him - looking at sports from a fan’s perspective, capturing what it feels like to root for these teams, to be a part of this.

It’s too bad it came after hundreds of words of showing off.


I posted this observation to Twitter the day it came out, and more than one person called me out on it. Their basic gist: What do you expect? It’s Simmons. That’s his move.

There’s some truth to that. But I think it’s a dangerous truth.

I think high expectations are generally a good thing. Whether it’s my students, people in the world, or (in this case) media members, I think it’s good to have high expectations of people. I think the minute we start lowering our expectations is the minute we start settling for substandard content. When the Richie Incognito/Martin story first broke, Richard Deistch of Sports Illustrated kept track of how the NFL pre game shows covered the story. A few readers Tweeted him, asking if he was really expecting

Expectations can be good. We should expect more, not less. One of my problems with the whole Johnny Manziel story, back when Johnny Manziel was a thing, was the notion that he was acting like an average college sophomore. He’s not an average college sophomore, he’s the leader of what’s in effect a professional franchise and he’s posed to make millions at an actual professional franchise. I think our expectations for his behavior and attitude should be higher than that of an average college sophomore.

Same in the media. Like it or not, Bill Simmons is probably the most read and most famous sports writer in the U.S. today. I get the sense this is especially true for younger writers and fans, who have grown up reading him and not realizing just how revolutionary his approach was a decade ago. To use the parlance of academia, he sets the agenda for what people think a sports writer can and should do. I don’t think it’s unfair, or wrong, to hold him to a higher standard.

Which means publicly crediting him for excellent writing, like the Ortiz section of the Boston story.

And means calling him when his writing becomes selfish braggadocio.

Study on Manti Te'o story published in sports comm journal

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A little news update: I’m very honored to announce that a study Carol Liebler, my advisor and colleague at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, conducted over the summer has been published in the most recent issue of the International Journal of Communication and Sport.

Dr. Liebler and I studied the response of journalists and media critics to the Manti Te’o fake-girlfriend story, looking to see how they explained how this story got told, through the lens of news repair. In a nutshell, we found that reporters’ work routines were cited as the primary cause for Te’o’s story getting told and retold as truth, even though it wasn’t true. We also found that, for the most part, reporters and media observers were not very self-critical in their coverage. They tended to blame others, rather than themselves, for the mistake.

I believe this is one of the first - if not the first - study published about the Te’o story.

The article was published in a special edition of the IJSC dealing with 21st century sports communications professionals. My thanks to Dr. Liebler, who served as first author and did much of the heavy lifting on this article, to the Newhouse School, for supporting our research over the summer, and to guest editor Ted Kian from Oklahoma State for the chance to publish our findings.

Dave and Busters and The Sport Ethic

Dave and Busters

On the face of it, it’s such a stupid story. The New York Jets’ decision to take a Saturday night field trip to Dave and Busters before their game Sunday at Buffalo looks like one of those silly little stories that gets reported and blown up because everything dealing with a New York team is a story, and everything dealing with an NFL game is a story, and everything dealing with a New York team’s NFL game is really a story.

But looking at it a little more, it’s actually an interesting little case study.

First things first: Is it even a story? Of course it’s a story. One of the primary news values is deviance, or something happening out of the ordinary. A pro football team canceling its night-before-a-game meetings to go play and eat at a Dave and Busters is out of the ordinary. Of course it’s a story.

Just because something’s a story, though, doesn’t mean it has any great significance.

Had the Jets won the game, the narrative would have gone along the lines of how the field trip loosened the Jets up, shook them up, helped them relax before beating a divisional foe. Since they lost, the narrative becomes whether the Jets took the game seriously enough or weren’t prepared, or because it gave the Bills extra motivation after being disrespected.*

(* As a Bills fan, I was more offended at the Jets’ choice of restaurants than anything else).

Neither is true, of course. The Jets didn’t lose the game because they went out the night before the game and had relatively harmless fun. They played terribly, the Bills played well. That's the way sports goes more often than we in the media care to admit.

What’s interesting is how many of the stories, columns and blog posts I’ve seen this morning point that fact out. A quote from The New York Times:

“The few hours the Jets spent playing Skee-Ball and Pop-A-Shot had no direct effect on the outcome Sunday, a 37–14 loss to Buffalo in the swirling wind at Ralph Wilson Stadium.”

From ESPN:

“The New York Jets weren’t blown out Sunday by the Buffalo Bills because they spent a couple of hours Saturday afternoon at a Dave & Busters in a Buffalo suburb – a team field trip that has garnered far too much attention.”

What’s striking, though, is how every story kind of goes out of its way to say “It had no impact … but.” It’s kind of like they want to say it had an impact, but know that it didn’t but it still fits a kind of narrative to the game. The Post wrote about the perception of the trip being bad, not the actual trip. Again, from The Times:

“But in the wake of this embarrassment, and surely with the benefit of hindsight, it seems as if the Jets’ time Saturday night could have been devoted to a different pursuit.”

Which brings us to our old pal, The Sport Ethic.

There are two parts of The Sport Ethic at play here: The first is the notion of forsaking everything else for the good of The Game. This is a story that runs counter to that norm. Instead of an individual’s behavior, it’s the team’s in question. The norm, the accepted behavior, is for a football team to hunker down the night before a game. To meet, to watch film, to strategize. To avoid distractions. To focus all your energy on tomorrow’s game. By going to Dave and Busters for some harmless fun, the Jets violated this part of The Sport Ethic. They made it look like they didn’t care about the next day’s game - which is why there’s been such reaction to this.

The second Sport Ethic notion is winning. Winning is the only thing that matters. Again, had the Jets won, this would have been a little side note, maybe a sign at the Jets’ ability to relax before a divisional road game. But they lost - got killed - and so it looks different. What would have seen as a positive is now seen a negative, simply because of the result of the game.

A seemingly stupid story, the Jets’ trip to Dave and Busters is an indication of how ingrained The Sport Ethic is in sporting culture, and in sports media culture.

The culture we've created

Richie Incognito, Jonathan Martin

Let’s start with a thought experiment.

Let’s say that Jonathan Martin had done to Richie Incognito what so many fans, NFL personnel executives and even writers feel he should have.

Let’s say that, in the face of the hazing, bullying, racial torments, extortion and everything else that Incognito has allegedly done, that Martin stood up to him and decked him. Manned up, as they say.

Do you think - really think - he’d be universally praised?

Or would he be condemned? Would he be punished, suspended, and possibly released by the Dolphins? Would be be branded a malcontent, a hot-head who couldn’t keep his temper in the face of locker-room talk, a problem youngster who attacked a veteran team leader, a thug, a black guy who attacked a white dude?

How do you think Martin’s manning-up would have been received?

This is the culture we’ve created.

All of us. Sports fans. Sports media members. This is the culture we’ve created. A culture where anything goes in the locker room, where the only allowable responses to alleged vile teasing, hazing and bullying are either stoic silence, passing it along to the next generation, or physical violence. Where asking for help, especially with potentual mental and emotional issues, is considered “weakness” (in the words of one NFL personnel manager).

This is the culture we’ve created by, through the media, fully accepting and perpetuating The Sport Ethic. A core of the sport ethic is to put the team above everything individual. And that’s what this is. It’s accepting be a part of a team, and being part of that team means taking abuse and responding to it by giving it back. That asking for help, especially with potential mental and emotional issues, means you don’t have the necessary strength or courage to make it. That you’re not a real man.

This is the culture we’ve created by relying on current and former players as sources and commentators. The practice is useful for any number of reasons both pragmatic and philosophical reasons. Players are important sources to quote. But the players have accepted The Sport Ethic. It’s part and parcel of being an elite athlete. And it’s natural to relate their own opinion and experiences in locker-room situations. Having grown up in those locker rooms, of course they’re more likely going to question Martin’s lack of action. Incognito’s behavior was not overly deviant - it was in fact, reportedly sanctioned by the team’s coaches as an attempt to toughen Martin up. But by relying on these players as sources and commentators, we as media continue to give a voice to The Sport Ethic. We in the media tacitly sanction The Sport Ethic as the way it is, the way it should be, the only way there is.

There has been some excellentwriting on this story questioning that ethic, questioning whether or not Martin did anything wrong, and in fact was right by not “manning up.” That’s been excellent to see (although it’s telling that, in Mike Vaccaro’s excellent column, the player he spoke with remained anonymous). But it still feels like a minority point of view.

The general sense still seems to be that Martin should have taken matters into his own hands. That a violent response is the only responsible response. That the way to act in a locker room is either to fight back like a man or sit there and take it like a man. That faced with alleged hazing, bullying, tormenting and extortion, the only proper thing he should have done was, in the words of a respected writer, slap the crap out of his tormentor.

This is the sporting culture we’ve created.

Sports Illustrated's failures.


By now, you've probably either read or read about the five-part Sports Illustrated investigation into the Oklahoma State football program the magazine published last week. It's been interesting to see the reaction to the series unfold over the past week. Anecdotally, it feels like people aren't so much talking about the allegations or revelations in the series but about the series itself. And I think that speaks to the larger point, and to one of Sports Illustrated's major failings here.

On a more tactical level, I wonder about SI's decision to publish one story a day, instead of the entire series at once. I'm sure there were reasons for this (digital page views, keep SI's name in headlines for a week, drop new "bombs" every day instead of all at once), but it seems like it backfired on them. It gave players time to claim they were misquoted, or their quotes were taken out of context. It allowed other sites to point out holes and flaws in SI's reporting. It built up the hype for the series so high that nothing could live up to it.

More to the point, the magazine failed to ask, and answer, the most important questions.

Why Oklahoma State? Why now?

In my news writing class, we just finished a unit on nut graphs, background and context in news stories. The point is to supply context to the reader, to take the facts laid out in the story and connect them to the larger issues or the ongoing narrative. If the lede tells you what is happening or has happened, the nut graph explains "OK, here's a reminder of why this is important."

Sports Illustrated didn't do that here*. It never sufficiently answered the question of why it was investigating Oklhoma State and why now. It sort of hinted that it the series was a look at how a program emerged as a national power, but there is no connection made, no correlation or causality between the allegations listed and the Cowboys rise to prominence.

(In fairness, Monday's story about the fallout does do this, to an extent: Perhaps most alarming: the disregard the program showed for players once their services were no longer deemed necessary. Too often the discourse about corruption in college sports revolves around the players' ill-gotten gains -- cash handouts, no-show jobs, free sneakers or tattoos. Lost in the discussion: the pain suffered by many of those same players, who leave school feeling hurt, used and abandoned Often, the names of the discarded will ring familiar only to a team's most ardent supporters -- who really remembers Artrell Woods? -- and that is the point. Says a former assistant under Mike Gundy, the Cowboys' coach since 2005, "They're basically being used. Once they're no longer of any use, they're gone."

Although, it should be noted that the first four parts of the series were about the ill-gotten gains that SI is now saying are really irrelevant.)

I wrote about this the day the series began, but it was never answered: Is Oklahoma State an outlier, a rogue program? Is the program indicative of what it takes to be successful in college football? Failure to answer those questions - or even adequately address or raise them - was one of Sports Illustrated's biggest failings.

The other, for me, was failing to see the forest for the trees.

The series read in a lot of ways like Raw Recruits, like any of the groundbreaking investigative journalism into college sports from the 1970s and 1980s. It felt almost dated in a way. It seemed like magazine felt the allegations of paying players, fixing grades, using sex to  lure recruits* and drug use were so tawdry, that they were shocking.

They aren't. Not anymore.

(The reaction to the sex story - "Duh, people have sex in college? - was predictable. And it angered me. I'll admit, my worldview changed the day my daughter was born, but there's a bigger issue here. The issue is that that kind of behavior, the existence of Orange Pride and similar organizations, perpetuates this culture where women are objects and prizes to be awarded to men who do well in sports. It's not that college kids are having sex. It's that women are have sex in service of men's sports (even tacit service). It perpetuates a culture that lectures women on how to avoid being raped instead of telling men "don't rape women.) It seems like people kind of feel like this is status quo in college sports, like this happens at every program (or at least a lot of them).

I think as a sporting culture, we should be ready to move beyond the nuts and bolts and look at the bigger issue. Sports Illustrated had a chance to do that, and went for the "shocking" headlines.

What this series could have been was a bigger-picture look at college sports and our sporting culture in 2013. The story about players getting cash could have been a deep dive into the underground economy in college sports, and the growing movement against amateurism. The story about grades could have looked at big-time sports' place in higher education. The story about drugs could have been an examination about the always contentious debate about drugs in society. The story about sex could have looked at sports' ongoing role in the objectification of women and what feminists call "rape culture." The series did none of that. It focused so much on the "scandal" of the precise allegations that it overlooked the larger cultural issues that need to be discussed..

Imagine a series in which one of the leading sports journalism outlets in the country looked at college sports through a cultural lens? Where instead of supposedly shocking revelations, we got to the larger issues facing sports and sporting culture?

That would have been a series worth talking about.

Admiring and questioning the SI series on Oklahoma State


This morning, Sports Illustrated released the first of a five-part investigative series into the Oklahoma State football program. The first story, released on Monday, centered on how players are paid under the table by both coaches and boosters. Future stories will focus on academics, drugs, sex, and the fallout.

I'm writing this based on only the first story, and I come to both praise and criticize Sports Illustrated. It is possible to do both at the same time. It's possible to admire aspects of the reporting while still raise questions about the story as a whole. There is a lot to learn from this story, and there is a lot to question as well. 

First, the good: This is an undeniably beautifully reported piece. George Dohrmann and Thayer Evans did a spectacular job in the reporting of this story. Notice the details - the specific amounts of money players received, how and why they got paid. When I teach my students news writing, I'm constantly preaching to them "show, don't tell." This piece shows you what happens at Oklahoma State.

Also, notice what's missing - anonymous sources. Everything is on the record. The reporters got players who are willing to put their names to the allegations. That lends credence to the story. In a day and age when reporting based on "sources" seems to be the rule, rather than the exception, it's wonderful to see an investigative news story. The legwork, the time, and the effort that went into this story is remarkable. The nuts-and-bolts journalism of this story is sensational.

Now, for the problematic aspects.

For one, there's no real context given to the investigation as a whole. There's no answer to the questions "Why Oklahoma State and why now?" In a story about the series, SI editors say that the series examines the rise of a program to national prominence, but I don't think that's enough. One of the early criticisms of this story on Twitter has been "Duh, doesn't this happen everywhere?" And while that's no reason to not investigate wrong doing, the story doesn't do a good enough job answering the "Why Oklahoma State and why now?" questions. Is this program representative of a top-tier program? Is this what a program needs to do to become a top program? Is this an anomaly, a rogue program? The story doesn't answer the questions. That's admirable in a way (you report what you know, not what you think), but it's a huge unanswered question that hangs over the story.

Second, and maybe the larger issue, is this: Players being played is presented in this story as a bad thing, a clear violation of NCAA rules. But there is no discussion of the millions and millions of dollars Oklahoma State has earned as an institution, and coaches and administrators have earned as a result of their success at football. It's the classic investigative piece into college sports, detailing how players are getting paid* without asking the larger question - does amateurism make sense in the context of the NCAA?

It's interesting to see a story like this now, when it feels like the tide is turning against the NCAA status quo, both in the public and the media. 

There is a lot to question about the SI piece, and a lot to like as well. It is possible to do both. It's possible to hold contradictory thoughts on an issue. There is a lot to admire about the reporting, the legwork, the writing and the work Dohrmann and Evans put into this story (and presumably the rest of the series). There are positive lessons journalism students can take from reading this story.

And yet ... I wrote this sentence a few months ago, but it seems relevant to repeat it today: Is good journalism that tacitly endorses a corrupt status quo good?

ESPN and Frontline: This is bad


The news today for ESPN is not good.

Pressure from the National Football League led to ESPN’s decision on Thursday to pull out of an investigative project with “Frontline” regarding head injuries in the N.F.L., according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.

Assuming this report is true, this is devastating to the network. ESPN's journalistic reputation will be irrevocably harmed by this. Even if some of the details of today's piece in The Times aren't true, the perception is out there, the damage is done.

This is bad. This is worse than embrace debate. This is worse than anything Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith could say. Those guys are paid to be entertaining, debating clowns. This is a network deciding to disavow itself of journalism simply to avoid making its sugar daddy mad. This is throwing all the hard-working, dedicated people at ESPN who care about journalism under the bus. This is the worst thing a media organization can do, especially one that claims to be a news organization - pull out of a news report not because of factual errors or questionable reporting simply because it makes the powers-that-be mad.

Taking a bigger picture, this also confirms every snide thought and condescending comment people have about sports journalism, that it's the work of fans and not real journalists.

There's no defense ESPN can offer on this one. With this decision to value its billion-dollar contract with the NFL over everything else, ESPN has forfeited the right to claim itself as a home for sports journalism with this decision. The politics of journalism can be complicated, but the root purpose of journalism is supposed to be speaking truth to power, to be a voice for the voiceless.

ESPN, with this decision, valued the powerful over the truth.

This is bad. This is very, very bad.

Johnny Football's fundamental question


I'm a college football agnostic. I grew up in Buffalo in the 1980s, where there was no D-I football. I went to St Bonaventure, which hasn't lost a football game since 1951 because it hasn't had a football team since 1951. I've been to one D-I game in my life, an that was UConn vs. Buffalo. Without that personal connection to the sport, I have neither the interest nor the passion that fuels so much of this sport.

Because of this, I've been detached from the summer of Johnny Football. What Johnny Manziel does or doesn't do in his spare time, what parties he does or doesn't attend, how much he does or doesn't drink*, doesn't really interest me. Wright Thompson's feature story on him was, of course, sensational, but that's about the extent of my interest in this story.

(*-One of the annoying aspects of this story to me is how people who defend Manziel claim he's doing nothing that an average college sophomore doesn't do. Here's the thing: Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy. He's the biggest star in college football, a future NFL quarterback who's going to make many millions of dollars. He is, by no definition, an average college sophomore. I don't care if he drinks or has fun, but it's not wrong to hold him to at least a bit of a higher standard).

On Sunday, Outside the Lines broke the story that the NCAA is investigating whether or not Manziel was paid for signing autographs, which would be a clear violation of NCAA rules.

There is some excellent reporting in the story, by Darren Rovell and Justine Gubar. Chief among the good reporting is this:

While college athletes are frequently asked to sign autographs in public places, and those autographs often end up for sale on eBay, the amount of Manziel product that flooded the memorabilia market overall following the BCS title game was overwhelming, memorabilia dealers told "Outside the Lines." ... Officials with both (memorabilia) companies have told ESPN in recent months that they stand by their guarantee that they believe the signatures, some with inscriptions like "Gig 'Em" and "Heisman '12" are genuine. Online verification databases show a single lot of 999 signed Manziel photos numbered sequentially. JSA authenticated 248 items and 376 items that came in in two batches that also are numbered sequentially. Industry insiders say this indicates the signings were done in large quantities intended for wholesale.

That's great reporting - it answers obvious questions the reader would have and lays out the information in specific detail.

And yet ...

There's something missing from this story.

$37 million.

That's the amount of media exposure a Texas A&M study found that the school received from Manziel's season last year. $37 million. And that's only in "media exposure." That doesn't include tickets sold, merchandise, donations, increased revenue for both the school and the businesses in College Station, etc.

Rovell and Gubar do note Manziel's "value":

The value of Manziel is clear in the memorabilia and appearance market: Independent merchandiser Aggieland Outfitters recently auctioned off six helmets signed by Manziel and Texas A&M's other Heisman Trophy winner, John David Crow, for $81,000. Texas A&M's booster organization, the 12th Man Foundation, sold a table for six, where Manziel and Crow will sit at the team's Kickoff Dinner later this month, for $20,000.

The school has committed to renovating Kyle Field, which will push seating capacity to 102,500 by the time it is completed in 2015. Texas A&M officials have said that donors, who make annual contributions of $80,000 to $100,000, have purchased all but two of the 144 suites in the stadium.

Nowhere in the story is the fundamental question addressed: Should the NCAA be investigating at all? Is the NCAA rule fair and just? Is it right that everybody is actively making money off of Johnny Manziel's football skills except Johnny Manziel?

At a time when the NCAA's economic system is literally on trial, this story calls out for that kind of context. It could range from point out the fact that everyone's making gobs of money off this kid, but the kid can't trade his own signature to an outside vendor. It could be more pointed in calling out the inherent hypocrisy of the NCAA's stance.

OTL didn't do anything wrong with this story. It's very well done. It's worth pointing out that they are simply reporting on an ongoing NCAA investigation. It's a straight news story, not an anti-Manziel column. In a lot of ways, it's excellent journalism.

But is journalism that even tacitly defends an indefensible position itself defensible?

Every sports department needs a Nate Silver


The big news in the media world this week is Nate Silver’s move from The New York Times to ESPN. Silver, whose 538 blog brought statistical modeling to the political world, will be in charge of his own mini media empire at the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports.

I’ve been a big fan of Silver’s for a long time. His book, The Signal and the Noise, is one of the few non-school books I made time for this past year, and it’s excellent. I remember having a discussion with a professor of mine who in the few weeks leading up to the election was very skeptical of President Obama’s chances to beat Mitt Romney, and I expressed confidence because the models Silver ran showed Obama as the likely winner. The professor was amazed at the outcome after the election, I was not.

The news has been a big shock and big topic of discussion in media circles. There’s been a vein of "Why would anybody leave covering real news for sports?!?!? that both annoys and amuses me. Margaret Sullivan, The Times’ public editor, wrote that Silver never quite fit in to the newspaper’s culture.

Which says so much more about the culture of The Times, and of newspapers in general, than it does about Silver.

This is nothing new, as Silver’s work was widely critiqued around last year’s election because it went against the narrative that the race was too close to call. The criticism that Silver was a math nerd just crunching numbers but not doing the work of real journalists is nothing that hasn’t been around sports journalism for the past decade, since Moneyball hit. The work that Silver and other bloggers do does not fit into the traditional journalism paradigm - which is just a fancypants way of saying that it’s not considered “real journalism” by reporters and editors. The work may be interesting. It may be important. It may be accurate and informative. But it’s not journalism. Journalism involves talking to people, working your beat, doing shoe-leather reporting, using a notebook and all other manner of journalism cliches and practices.

But the question facing all of us who are interested in media is this: In a digital age, does the traditional journalism paradigm work? Or even better, should it?

Part of the complication here is that when you suggest this, traditionalists get defensive about their practices and routines. That’s probably why, as Sullivan wrote in her post, three journalists at The Times wrote to her criticizing Silver and his work. It’s even stronger in sports, when anytime any stat more advanced that RBIs gets brought up, there’s a backlash that “nerds are ruining sports.” (Seriously, listen to Mike Wilbon anytime an advanced stat is mentioned on PTI. It’s like a personal affront to him).

Here’s the thing, and it can’t be stressed enough: This is not an either/or situation. Traditional journalism and the work Nate Silver do can, and should, live side-by-side. I don’t know of any media scholar or observer who thinks that we should do away with on-the-ground, shoe-leather reporting. That will always be critical, whether it’s at city hall or the ballpark. But what’s wrong is the notion that that is the only way things are done. Nate Silver provided his readers with more important information that any political pundit, or any reporter recycling the same campaign stump speeches. By any standard that matters, that’s journalism.

That’s what we need more of.

That’s why I think every sports department needs a Nate Silver. I don’t mean that every sports department needs somebody who is fluent in advanced statistics. That’s not seeing the whole board. What sports departments (and newsrooms, but let’s keep the focus narrow here) need is the ability to think differently. To go beyond the traditional journalism paradigm and to make things that are cool, exciting, and informative.

How great would it be if every sports department had a dedicated advanced stats reporter producing reports that complimented - or maybe even contradicted - the traditional narrative.

Imagine a newspaper where reporters and columnists openly argued with each other in print. I'd read that.

— Chanders (@Chanders) July 22, 2013

I think that’d be cool. Or how great would it be if a sports department had someone watch every home game from the stands, and report from there rather than the press box? Or somebody who had the fan beat, monitoring just what fans were saying on blogs and social media?

The specifics are less important than the big picture. The big picture with Nate Silver isn’t that stats are better than “real journalism.” The big picture isn’t that reporters don’t matter. They do. The big picture is that we’re in a new media age here. The old methods are still important, but maybe they should live alongside new ones instead of looking down on them. The big picture is that to better serve our readers in 2013, we as an industry need to move beyond the way we’ve always done things.

The big picture is that in 2013, not fitting in to a newsroom’s culture may be a badge of honor.

Disney princesses and Wimbledon champs: Changing our sexist culture

Marion Bartoli

My daughter's 2 1/2 years old and in the middle of a huge princess phase. (One of the by-products of having a girl is an encyclopedic knowledge and critical eye of Disney movies. Don't get me started on The Little Mermaid) She has several princess dresses that we've gotten from second-hand stores, friends, family members. She loves them, to the point of never wanting to take them off. On one hand, I don't mind this. I love that my daughter loves princess things so much. It makes her happy, and you don't mess with happy. And it's fun when we go out to the mall or the library, and she wears her big princess dress and her plastic tiara and people stop dead and marvel at how cute she looks, all dressed up as a princess. It's one of my favorite things to do with her. On the face of it, it's harmless and cute.

But there's a subtext that's starting to bother me. It's that she's getting this attention because of her princess costumes. Because she doesn't get the same kind of her attention for the way she knows all of her colors, or her insane vocabulary, or her politeness.

It speaks to something about our culture that the most compliments my daughter gets come when she dresses up like a pretty princess.


I bring up this personal stuff because it's been on my mind since Marion Bartoli won Wimbledon on Saturday. Sadly, her first Grand Slam victory has been overshadowed by some of the dunder-headed and sexist comments a handful of male media members have made about Bartoli and her appearance.

On a British live radio broadcast, John Inverdale said: "Do you think Bartoli's dad told her when she was little, 'You're never going to be a looker, you'll never be a [Maria] Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight'?" On the American side, Greg Couch wrote that Bartoli's wining was bad for women's tennis:

 Bartoli — more hard truth — is not going to sell in the U.S. She doesn’t have magazine looks and plays in an ugly way.

Moment lost.

Moment lost? Really? Yes, if you want something to package and market. Something to drive ratings, get Web clicks and jack up rights fees.

Now, we'll take as fact that such comments are terrible, sexist and wrong, and naturally point out that male athletes are never judged by their looks on the scale of women's athletes. (And let's be honest, Andy Murray isn't exactly a dreamboat.)

Couch writes from the "Hey, I'm just being honest" position, which is both understandable and annoying. To his credit, he does lament this fact, writing that "In our celebrity culture, we're admiring the wrong things. And a personal story like Bartoli's — of self-expression and individuality — is simply, unfortunately, going to be lost." Full credit for that point.

But here's the thing: Media don't just reflect our culture. Media create our culture. Media created the culture in which women athletes are judged as much by their looks as by their skill. Couch could have just as easily written this column from the point of view that Bartoli should be celebrated for her victory, even though the mainstream sporting culture is more focused on the celebrity aspects of women's sports. Doing so might have contributed, even slightly, to a shift in our sporting culture.

Bringing up things like this tends to make a lot of guys defensive. No, there is nothing wrong with admiring a beautiful woman. Nobody's saying that. On the face of it, it's harmless. It's like the people at the mall who melt when they see my daughter in her princess dress.

But when that becomes the dominant narrative and dominant aspect of our culture, that's not right. When that becomes the only way a woman gets attention from the culture, that's not right.

Media often reflect this culture. But media can, and should, do more to change this culture.

"The first draft of journalism"

Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 9.55.15 PM

One of the first research projects I did when I started grad school was a study of how sports journalists use blogs. This was back in 2010, and I later presented the paper at the AEJMC Southeast Colloquium in 2011 and later had a version of it published in the Convergence Newsletter, published by the University of South Carolina. I say this not to brag, but to point out that the confluence of blogging and journalism - particularly from a sports perspective - is one I’ve given a great deal of thought about and work into. And I thought of my research and that paper - titled “The first draft of journalism” - in the past few weeks as the New York Times announced that it was starting to phase out a number of its blogs, including a number of its sports blogs. It made me think about how blogs fit into journalism.

It’s important to note that I’m taking about journalism blogs here - blogs that appear as a part of a traditional, mainstream news site. It’s not a blog like this one, but rather a blog on, say, The New York Times.

It’s interesting to think of blogs as new media, but in many ways, they were the first new, social media format to permeate what we now call traditional media. In media sociology, we call this “normalizing” - a concept first identified by Jane Singer. She found, in studying how journalists used blogs in covering politics in and around the 2004 presidential election, that journalists were “normalizing” blogs. In other words, they were taking this new media format and shaping it to fit the pre-existing norms, values and practices of journalism. This is also happening with Twitter.

In doing my research, I found that the reporters I talked to used their blogs for six different types of posts: Breaking news items; pre-game posts (starting lineups, key injuries, etc.); post-game posts (the final score; stats leaders, etc.); opinion or analysis about events on the beat; in-game observations; and a category that can be termed fun stuff (either off-beat aspects of sports, or the melding of sports and pop culture).

When I did my study on blogs, Twitter was just starting to become popular among journalists. It was at the time where Twitter was making the leap into ubiquity among media. One of the reporters I interviewed said that what he typically put into a blog post would now become a series of Tweets (practice observations, the lineups, etc.). One of the conclusions I came to (one I hope to continue studying soon) is that for these reporters, the blog was becoming sort of a journalistic middle-man - a place to put something that maybe needs a little more depth than a Tweet but that doesn’t fit into the daily news cycle or the daily story.

Looking at it through 2013 eyes, it’s interesting to see how reporters viewed their own blogs. There’s this interesting separation between blog and journalism, even as they use a blog as a part of their journalism career. I know I felt this way - there’s stuff for the blog, and then there’s stuff for the paper, and they’re different. The paper is the place for real, serious journalism. The blog can be a place for serious journalism. But it can also be a place for fun. It can be a place for news and notes - especially news and notes that aren’t considered “worthy” of the real story.

It’s telling how separate we kept our blogging and journalism worlds. Remember the title of my paper: The first draft of journalism. That’s how one of my subjects said he thought of his blog. It’s a great description, and it’s also incredibly telling. The blog is not journalism. It’s the first draft, it’s the start. The real stuff comes later, and that’s in the paper.

It’s a distinction that I wonder is still valid or important, especially now that more of us are reading news digitally. Should reporters be concerned about that line between blogging and stories anymore? Those lines are incredibly blurred. The biggest story of the year was broken by a “blogger.” ESPN has a series of NFL “bloggers” who are really just beat writers for each division. Just this past week, my hometown Buffalo News had a series of posts on its Bills blog from the NFL rookie information camp. They were written like stories, felt like stories.

Where does blogging end and journalism begin?

It’s harder and harder to tell.

And maybe that’s the point.

Maybe instead of focusing so much on the self-imposed differences between the forms, we should do more to mix the two, blending the fun and format-freedom of blogs with traditional journalistic rigor. Maybe instead of thinking of blogging (and even Twitter) as The First Draft of Journalism, we should be looking at them as just … journalism.

The worst sports journalism of 2013 (so far).

Screen Shot 2013-06-30 at 9.02.54 PM

I don't like using this blog for "best-of/worst-of" lists in journalism. But something I read this morning is the worst thing I've read in the sports pages in ... maybe ever.

It's from Mike Lupica's column about Aaron Hernandez in today's New York Daily News.

The first paragraph:

Aaron Hernandez will get the same chance everybody else in this country charged with a crime gets: To prove he’s innocent of the charges against him. In Hernandez’s case, it means he gets to prove that he is not a premeditated killer, a punk with a gun who also happens to be a star tight end from the NFL.

Take a second to re-read that.

The lead sports columnist at the New York Daily News - one of the highest-profile, best-known, most-widely read sports columnists in the country, one of the members of The Sports Reporters - writes that a defendant in a criminal case in the United States has to prove himself innocent.

Except, you know, that's not how the courts work. In fact, it's the opposite of how the courts work. (Aaron Hernandez doesn't have to prove anything. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.)

The fact that this is so highly placed in such a high-profile column by such a high-profile columnist makes this the worst thing I've seen in sports journalism this year.

(H/T to Mike Sielski for first pointing this out on Facebook today.)