A Journalism Upset Proves The Game Has Changed

January 16th, 2013 by Matt Friedman

Not long ago, the website deadspin.com was just a place for sports geeks, by the thousands, to read snarky commentary or rip on the “old guys” in sports media. Today, it’s the site that broke a bona fide investigative report that will permeate sports and become a major national story.

Late this afternoon, this story broke about Notre Dame star linebacker Mantei Te’o, whose story of overcoming adversity made him as close to a household name as there has been in college sports in many years. Deadspin reports, in classic old media investigative fashion using new media tools, that the story of Te’o's girlfriend’s death, extensively reported by sports journalism stalwarts like Sports Illustrated, ESPN and a legion of Notre Dame beat reporters, was a hoax.

The PR takeaways on this will become more clear in the coming hours and days. But here are two right away:

1) Notre Dame, having been contacted by Deadspin for comment, knew what was coming. The University issued a statement saying that Te’o was actually the victim of the hoax (although without detail). That is a complicated message to deliver in a statement – as well as hard to believe – and not the way that a crisis like this should typically be addressed, when facts and reassurance are paramount.

2) For PR professionals, don’t believe this “journalism is dead” garbage. Journalism, at times, feels like it can appear just about everywhere. Take an investigation by a blogger as seriously as you would a “big brand” news organization. This story proves that when the fundamentals are followed and an audience is in place, news can be made by the underdogs, and very quickly.

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