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Ethical sports blogging takes another hit with Deadspin's Favre/Sterger story

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For better or worse, Deadspin is considered one of the leading sports blogs, and as such, they're dragging the genre down the toilet bowl once again with their story about embarrassing messages supposedly sent by Brett Favre to Jenn Sterger of Versus (I won't link the article, I'm sure you can find it). It's another damaging blow to the credibility of independent sports sites.

It's not about the scandal (personally, I couldn't care less about Brett Favre), it's the "reporting" here done by A.J. Daulerio, which limbos right underneath an already low standard which passes for celebrity news these days...

A couple months ago, I looked in despair at the "sensational headline vs. responsible news reporting" situation in light of a panel discussion at this year's Blogs With Balls conference. On the question of how to treat potentially embarrassing, unsubstantiated information, most observers felt that there it should be commonplace that a blogger treats the material with a certain amount of respect, at least to make sure that if they were going to run with something, they had the proper backup.

Hypothetical situations were discussed about running a story heard about an NFL player all by itself without confirmation, and again, most people seemed to think that was bad form. The exception was Alana G from Yardbarker whose stance leaned in the direction of "go with whatever draws clicks" (there was a little nuance in there, but not much).

In today's case, a tale is all Daulerio has to run on. His article recounts information he was told by Sterger, under the direction that it was not meant for publication. He doesn't have any of the alleged photos or messages to share. He claims to have heard an odd, goofy voice mail that Favre left for Sterger, but that's it.

But soon after Jenn told me this story, she balked about releasing the photos or voicemails she still had on her computer. They were still on her computer because they were fun to laugh at amongst friends, but she never planned to sell them or use them to bolster her profile. We invited her in into the Gawker Media lair many times to have a nice discussion about what we could do with the photos and how they could be presented and how she wouldn't look bad in the process if she just had fun with it. Alas, that didn't happen. When this Favre conversation first took place, Jenn started on Vs.' "The Daily Line" show so this wasn't the added publicity she wanted or need at the time. Plus, she really didn't want her name attached to this whatsoever. And I was told by her to keep my big mouth shut.

Daulerio even admits that at this point he doesn't have anything worth running, and decides to persist. This is understandable, can be applauded - digging for verfication/further info is completely appropriate:

I agreed, but still persisted because I'm a dick and it's an incredibly funny story, but one that didn't really hold any real weight unless she either gave us the A.) photos B.) voicemails C.) attached her name to it.

After another push from Daulerio, Sterger opens the door to participating, but he doesn't actually get the go-ahead before running with the story anyway:

[Sterger]: I can... as soon as I get this thing [her Blackberry] back and running.. or you could meet me in person on my way to studio in a few hours.

[Daulerio}: So I'm gonna say she's settled on C. There's no turning back now. But who knows? Jenn and I never connected yesterday, either in person or on the phone. Maybe those photos will surface at this point since I assume many people would like to hear her side of this story, given it's a helluva lot more interesting than any retirement rope-a-dopes.

In the end, Daulerio has nothing but hearsay, but he obviously wanted to run a TMZ-style story before anyone else could. Why couldn't he have waited a few more hours or one more day to meet with Sterger? Perhaps she had something to clarify, or actual evidence that he could post. He'll assuredly draw huge traffic to Deadspin for a day or two out of this (here in Nashville, his former colleague Clay Travis is hyping this on afternoon sports radio as a Tiger Woods-like story), but what damage has he done to his professional status in the long run?

If you had confidential info that you wanted to talk about with someone but didn't want to see published, would you share it with A.J. Daulerio, or anyone at Deadspin for that matter? And lest you think "what's the big deal, you tell a writer something, expect to see it in print," there's inside info shared all the time on the expectation that it won't be published. It often is used to point a journalist in a particular direction for further digging, or can provide context and background to other info.

Those are easily understood guidelines, but A.J. took the short cut to cheap clicks with this story.

UPDATE: I'll give Deadspin a small sliver of credit for rounding up the criticism they're getting from around the 'net (including this post), but that doesn't excuse the conduct.

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