New Media Playground
Even if you’re not a sports fan, GQ’s profile of Deadspin editor-in-chief A.J. Daulerio is worth reading because it’s such a perfect distillation of the clash between old and new media cultures. Deadspin’s raison d’etre is remarkably similar to the founding rationales of many politically-driven blogs and news sites. It exists to provide an alternative to traditional outlets – think Sports Illustrated or The Washington Post – that sometimes develop close relationships with their subjects for stories. In a political context, this closed ecosystem is problematic because cozy relationships between reporters and politicians can discourage or dilute negative coverage. In sports, the dilemma for traditional media is similar: How can you write about Brett Favre sexually harassing a sideline reporter when you’ve spent the past decade deifying him as the quintessential All-American sportsdude? Can your audience really trust you to objectively cover LeBron James if your network just produced his midsummer television spectacle?
Partly by choice and partly out of necessity, sites like Deadspin are stuck outside the tent. Instead of developing sources, they pay for stories. Instead of softball interviews, they write scathing criticisms. Outsiders are better positioned to go after stories that tarnish famous athletes or establishment figures, but the downside to this approach is that in their haste to distance themselves from a traditionally deferential sports media, internet outlets will discard or ignore just about every journalistic convention out there.
Deadspin put up a video of two drunken fans having sex in a public bathroom because, well, why not? Daulerio published unconfirmed rumors of sexual harassment at ESPN’s studios in a fit of pique. The problem with this free-for-all approach to sports journalism is that it’s self-defeating: “Why should I read Deadspin? All they do is publish shots of Brett Favre’s cock and random videos of drunken fans.” See what I did there? I conflated a perfectly legitimate story that no established media outlet would touch – the Favre-Sterger incident – with the fratboy antics Deadspin occasionally will indulge in. It’s an easy way to discredit the website, and that’s too bad. Media outsiders play a vital role, but when they devolve into freelance rumor-mongering or cater to their audience’s worst instincts, they discredit their own efforts to hold the establishment accountable.