The Instant Historian: Confirming Dez Bryant Rumors Exist Is Now Journalism?
Mike Florio did a radio interview. He mentioned rumors among insiders about a “Ray Rice-type” video involving Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant. Adam Schefter, also on radio, noted he’s been investigating the rumor since September. Mike Florio doubled back with a blog post about Adam Schefter confirming the rumor’s existence. An unfounded rumor became a full-fledged story, without anyone taking ownership or responsibility for it.
It has been a while since the Instant Historian attended a journalism ethics class – Twitter did not yet exist. Folks were worried about “blogs.” It was basically the Bronze Age. But, standard operating procedure then, when presented with a multiple-hand rumor no one had verified was don’t fucking report that. Don’t tiptoe around reporting it on a technicality. Don’t update the public with your reporting progress on that which you cannot report.
Reporters now operate as multimedia superstars. The medium for information has become irrelevant. The vetting process may be different for a written AP-style article, a tweet, or an offhand comment on TV/Radio/Podcast. But, how the information is processed and disseminated, with social media, is one and the same. Radio-chatterer Mike Florio should not be publicly discussing something blogger Mike Florio won’t publish on his website.
This sort of incident stems from a cavalier sports reporting climate. Reporters rely almost exclusively on anonymous sourcing. Often, it’s one-source gossip. Much of the information is inaccurate. All of it is leaked with a clear agenda. The public is left ignorant of relevant context. That would not fly in any other vein of journalism. Anonymous sourcing is meant to be used as a last resort.
Most of the time, this works out fine. Trade rumors and draft speculation are trivial matters. NFL coverage is entertainment, not dispensing vital public information. Fans are in it for the soap opera. Absurd, baseless speculation is part of the fun.
Trouble comes when NFL news gathering practices cross over to serious news with real life ramifications, legal or otherwise. Outside sports, consequences are real. Accuracy and context matter. Serious situations require proper sourcing, vetting and confirmation before reporting, or blathering on a radio interview.
A video purportedly showing domestic violence is not some interesting bit of trivia to shed light on a contract impasse. Particularly, when you have no evidence it exists and you have merely heard other people have heard the video may exist.
Whether it meets the legal or technical definition for slander is beside the point. Florio de facto implicated Dez Bryant for a crime with no reportable evidence. It doesn’t matter that Bryant is just a football player with a checkered past. That’s a gross abuse of journalistic power. The story may prove true. That does not justify the ethical disregard with which this story came out.
“Insiders” may be talking about something. News is when you can verify it.
On Llamas and Dress Colors… Yesterday happened. It proved something. At least it should have, as scores of identical jokes streamed across your respective timelines. Twitter is not a cross-section of life. It is an ephemeral, self-referential cesspool where journalists hang out. Stop treating it as the former.
America was not discussing dress colors. Social media was. Then media outlets covered it like news. Now, fulfilling the prophecy, America will be discussing it. The Instant Historian will be gritting his way through conversations about it with non-Internet savvy relatives in the coming weeks. We blame you.