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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

So much for "light posting." I'll continue to update over the weekend as coaching search things trickle in; nothing big but if there's news I'll post it.

11/14/1907 - Fielding Yost 1, New York Times 0

On November 14th, 1907, the New York Times announced that Michigan's current coach, beleaguered by accusations he had relied too heavily on one star player, had decided to hang up his spurs after the big season-ending game against Penn. The coach of a team in the south, a Michigan alum, was to replace him. The news, as they say, was fit to print.

Yost coached Michigan until 1926, winning national titles in 1918 and 1923. The New York Times overcame the embarrassment.

Late on December 7th, 2006, The Birmingham News reported that Rich Rodriguez had accepted an offer to become Alabama's head coach. I struck up an IM conversation with resident Alabama Fanhouser Pete Holiday, forwarding along the link and offering up congratulations for what looked like an excellent hire. Pete's reaction was interesting. Paraphrased, it was "that's the Birmingham News; it's worthless." Sure enough, Rodriguez announced he was staying at West Virginia soon after. Pete Holiday 1, Birmingham News 0.

Four days ago -- as much of the sports media world scoffed at this blog and its report that Lloyd Carr would retire -- ESPN, the AP, and a whole host of other outlets reported that Houston Nutt was gone based on a brief article at a local news station. The result? Not so much:

"It seems some media outlets chose to falsely legitimize baseless rumors today with unknown details from unnamed sources without first seeking the benefit of fact from the university," UA spokesperson Tysen Kendig said in a statement.
Score pending on this one; Nutt's probably gone anyway.

The lesson in all this: consider the source. The Birmingham News, apparently, is not a reliable institution. Political bloggers will argue the same about the New York Times or Fox News. Embittered quasi-journalists with subscription models to protect and about half of Official Journalists will argue the same about MGoBlog. Various kind commenters and this blog's track record will argue otherwise.

The obvious counter-argument is that other than the bit about "falsely legitimizing baseless rumors," that Arkansas spokesperson could have been speaking directly about me. The sources were indeed unnamed, the details unknown, and this blog did not seek the benefit of fact from the University. However, this is all in the richest tradition of the media. Anonymous sources have been the backbone of reporting for fifty years -- thanks to the Fanhouse, it took me sixty seconds to find three examples in the past day -- and I had anonymous sources with track records and details. If it was a rumor, everything the media does other than write down quotes from press conferences would be rumor. It's not a rumor.

Meanwhile, columnists and quasi-journalists groused that Carr should have "his day" and not be subject to these terrible rumors before the time came, as if Let's Be Nice was part of the credo of journalism.

Why did I post it? It was true. Why did others keep it quiet? Either to protect their access or because they didn't have the sources.

You pick the journalist out.

And, hey, I was right. Mostly. It would be nice if I hadn't backed out on the stridency of my declaration the next day based on some contradictory scuttlebutt. It was hard to stick to my guns with so much riding on it. I was nervous.

But Lord, give anyone a solid internet report that causes a kerfuffle and then two wishy-washy MSM things that say nothing clearly caused by the solid internet report and newspapers will leap to report it. A fairly typical example:
Earlier this week, PA Sportsticker reported Carr was leaning toward retirement with a formal announcement coming as early as next week, according to a source close to the program. Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday that "two industry sources with connections to the program" told him they believe Carr would retire after the season.
The website PA Sportsticker — which bills itself as “the global leader in sports information” — reported Tuesday that “Carr is leaning toward retiring as the Wolverines’ coach,” adding an announcement could come next week.
First, what the hell is the PA Sportsticker? And what kind of track record does it have? And does Teddy Greenstein know anything? I mean this honestly: Teddy Greenstein knows two guys who "believe" Carr would retire after the season. I know 107,501 people who believe the same. "Believe" is not news. "Expected" is not news. "Is" is news.

Meanwhile, ESPN led that night's 6 PM Sportscenter with the "is" news, attributing it to "internet reports." This is because ESPN is an awful corporate monolith with no ethics whatsoever. Anyone who expected better hasn't been paying attention.

Much of the focus in the blogosphere has been on the pure evil of the MSM when it comes to giving bloggers their due, but it wasn't pure evil. Several people linked: Cory McCartney at SI, Dennis Dodd at CBS Sportsline, Tom Dienhart at TSN, the New York Times, and the Daily. Jim Carty provided a nice blog post yesterday. Most of the "internet rumors" pettiness came from local papers and, of course, ESPN.

(As SMQB details, ESPN's bias is not so much against blogs or the internet; it's against everything that isn't itself. Over the past few years ESPN has proven time and again that they will steal scoops and claim them as their own no matter their provenance -- no matter how implausible it is that Mark May has learned anything. Bloggers and newspapermen alike can join hands and sing a song of omitted attribution, credit assigned to talking heads instead of scouring fingers.)

Virtually none of the aforementioned save the Daily and, oddly, Dienhart managed to reference the post without getting some snark in, but whatever. I have personally ripped on every single one of the above guys or institutions; I can take some eyerolling about BLOGS(!) as long as readers are given the opportunity to judge this site on its content, which I believe speaks for itself.

That's all I'm asking, and all blogs should ask for: a chance to be judged on their merits. If newspapers and other media outlets refuse to allow your readers access to the primary source you're referencing, this is not "responsibility." You have replicated the "rumor" and passed it on; you have contributed to the maelstrom. You've made it worse by allowing it to flap in the wind, unsourced, instead of tied to a specific, very blamable person.

Ignoring the source of news is not journalism. It's the arrogant assumption readers that are incapable of judging the trustworthiness of a source for itself, the fear that once loosed into the great wild yonder they will find your content tepid, and the tacit acknowledgment that meritocracy is very bad for you.

So source it.

PS: It has been brought to my attention that recently, this blog neglected to properly attribute the evocative picture of Ohio State coming in wholly unfettered on Mike Hart. This was an oversight: it's the work of Vijay from iBlog For Cookies. From time to time, I end up with something from a message board or email that I have forgotten the provenance of; if this ever happens please notify me and I'll make sure you get credit.