Yesterday was exciting for baseball fans because of all the trades that went down prior to the non-waiver trading deadline. It was also exciting if you like to see major media figures getting bamboozled by fake Twitter accounts.
Deadspin writer Barry Petchesky was like a Plutarch of major media figures getting bamboozled by fake Twitter accounts Thursday. First he chronicled Jim Bowden getting fooled by a fake Joel Sherman tweet that had Marlon Byrd going from the Phillies to the Yankees. Then he told the tale of ESPN’s on-air talkers talking up a Ben Zobrist deal that had been tweeted by a fake Bob Nightengale account.
Bowden, a former general manager who now works for ESPN and SiriusXM radio, somehow didn’t notice, or didn’t care, that the account supposedly belonging to the New York Post’s Sherman only had a handful of followers, or that the last letter of Sherman’s first name was a capital I, not a lower-case L. Byrd hadn’t been traded to the Yanks, and no one was reporting that he had except that fake account, so it was pretty obvious where Bowden got his information when he tweeted, without attribution, “Yankees acquire Marlon Byrd.”
Bowden, Petchesky writes, then went on a kind of Twitter odyssey, variously deleting, altering, reinstating and redeleting different Twitter accounts.
A little later, on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” deadline special, host Jon Sciambi reported that the Rays had traded Zobrist to the Pirates, which hadn’t happened. Petchesky speculates that a producer handed Sciambi the report. If true, Sciambi can’t be faulted. He was on the air and had to trust the info he was getting, though like Bowden, he also didn’t credit his source, instead acting as though his information simply existed, with no origin.
The tweet was supposedly from USA Today baseball writer Nightengale, but whoever spotted it clearly didn’t notice the account name, @Daily_Tunez, which doesn’t sound like Nightengale, or the following tweet, which was a profane “gotcha.”
None of this happens if people verify and attribute everything.
It’s easy to spoof a Twitter account: You can use any photo you want in the avatar, and any name you want in the Name field. See what I mean?
— King Kaufman (@king_kaufman) August 1, 2014
But it’s also not that difficult to spot a spoof. You have to pay attention. You have to make the effort. But a few seconds can keep you from getting bamboozled—and becoming part of Barry Petchesky’s opus.
Events in the U.S. media in the past week make this a good time for a reminder: Copying from Wikipedia is just like copying from anything or anybody else. The source doesn’t matter—a news story, Wikipedia, a press release, a crowdsourced site like Yahoo Answers. If you didn’t write it yourself, you need to attribute it.
Otherwise, it’s plagiarism, and Bleacher Report’s policy on plagiarism is unambiguous: Zero tolerance.
At the end of last week Buzzfeed fired political writer Benny Johnson when it was first discovered that he had parroted Wikipedia in a post, then Buzzfeed’s investigation “found 41 instances of sentences of phrases copied word for word from other sites,” according to editor Ben Smith’s letter to readers.
Then this week FishbowlNY, citing a “tipster,” showed how New York Times writer Carol Vogel’s lede on a story about an exhibition of Renaissance painter Piero di Cosimo’s paintings was lifted nearly word for word from Wikipedia.
At least one prominent writer doesn’t think what happened at BuzzFeed is such a big deal. Gene Weingarten at The Washington Post wrote this week that when material is simply boilerplate and being used for quizzes and listicles, it hardly matters. “To be guilty of theft,” he writes, “one must steal something of some intrinsic value.” He goes on to say that he hates real plagiarism, and draws the distinction clearly.
It’s pretty simple, at BuzzFeed or at The New York Times: Write your own stuff; when you can’t or won’t, make sure you attribute and link.
I don’t take Weingarten’s point at all. His argument that material taken from Wikipedia lacks “intrinsic value” is ridiculous. If it has no intrinsic value, then why did you steal it and use it?
At any rate, the reminder: If the words aren’t yours, attribute them.
Want to hear a scary story? This one makes “Friday the 13th” look like a sweet fairy tale.
That is, if your primal fear is … trusting Wikipedia.
In “I accidentally started a Wikipedia hoax” on The Daily Dot, EJ Dickson confesses that as a college sophomore in 2009, she and a friend named Evan had made up something and added it to a Wikipedia article.
As he recalled when I called him later that evening, “we were stoned out of our minds” and had just come from the McDonald’s drive-thru to get chicken selects when we decided to edit Wikipedia pages for various semi-obscure children’s book authors.
Here’s the scary part: The thing they’d made up? Five years later, it was …
The made-up thing was that the children’s character Amelia Bedelia was “based on a maid in Cameroon, where the author had spent some time during her formative years. Her vast collection of hats, notorious for their extensive plumage, inspired Parish to write an assortment of tales based on her experiences in North.”
Even the typo, the missing word “Africa,” survived for half a decade.
It was total bullshit: We knew nothing about Amelia Bedelia or the author of the series, Peggy Parish, let alone that she’d been a maid in Cameroon or collected many hats. It was the kind of ridiculous, vaguely humorous prank stoned college students pull, without any expectation that anyone would ever take it seriously.
But it was taken seriously, repeated many times over the years in the media, including, incredibly, by Peggy Parish’s nephew, Herman Parish, who had taken over from his aunt as the author of the Amelia Bedelia books.
Isn’t this what people fear about Wikipedia? Some prankster adds some jokey “fact,” and then someone repeats it, and someone else repeats it, and eventually someone respectable repeats it, like a relative of the person in question or a writer for a respected news organization, and then those plausible repetitions get repeated and the thing becomes a fact for real.
Dickson refers to Joseph Goebbels saying that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes true and concludes that the old Nazi may have been a sociopath but there was something to that idea after all. I found myself reminded of the famous quote from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way, even after the “fact” has been live on Wikipedia for years. “Given the tone of the writing,” Dickson asks, “and the fact that Evan and I didn’t even cite a source, why would no one see any red flags?” She asks a Wikipedia editor, who doesn’t know but offers theories about how if the subject is obscure and not one of interest to the internet-savvy, and the falsehood not too outrageous, the lie can slip through the cracks.
But if you know your stuff about attribution and verification, you’ll see that red flag and be stopped by it. Whether it’s Wikipedia or that respectable news organization, if there’s no attribution, you keep digging till you find the origin of the fact. If you can’t find that origin, if you find yourself running in circles from reference to reference without finding a source, you shouldn’t use the fact, or you should be clear that you’re not sure about its provenance.
So: Feeling safe now? Reassured? Happy? You got a good scare and now you’re ready to get on with your life?
Here’s the part where the hand reaches up from the grave:
In this case, the current author of the books, the nephew of the woman who was the subject of the false “fact,” had taken to repeating the falsehood. It’s completely reasonable to assume that Herman Parish knew what he was talking about when he talked about his own aunt, that he hadn’t internalized a lie added to Wikipedia as a prank.
Sometimes, you can’t win. The horror …
The Baseball Hall of Fame honored Roger Angell this weekend with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, its writing honor. Angell is the first writer so honored who was never a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Never a beat writer, Angell wrote long, literary essays about the national pastime for the New Yorker beginning in 1962. It was a side gig. His real job was as the New Yorker’s fiction editor.
Like many baseball fans with a taste for great writing, I discovered Angell via his books, collections of his New Yorker work. I believe the 1982 collection “Late Innings” was the most recent at the time I first heard of him. Angell is widely seen as the greatest baseball writer of all time. I’m not sure I agree. As much as I love his work, I’d have a hard time putting him above Red Smith in his prime, in the 1940s and ’50s.
But Angell beats Smith in not having had a prime to pass out of. He’s as good today as he was a half century ago. Read his recent essay, This Old Man, which is not about baseball but about being 93 years old.
The Cards, the best defensive team in the National League, were stinko, with three infield errors, two of them by shortstop Pete Kozma. The pattern of the game became clear when the veteran Cardinal starter Adam Wainwright could only smile wanly after allowing a feeble pop by Stephen Drew to drop like a thrombosed dove at his feet, to begin the Sox’ second. One never knows, do one, as Fats Waller said.
Here are two good pieces about Angell on the occasion of his Spink award: Richard Sandomir’s in the New York Times and Tom Verducci’s in Sports Illustrated. Sandomir wrote short after Angell’s Cooperstown event Saturday, Verducci wrote long in advance of it. And Verducci’s piece reads almost like Angell could have written it.
Ken Doctor, who writes about the journalism business, or, as he calls it, “Newsonomics,” for Nieman Lab and others, looked into the hot “movement” in journalism in a post headlined “The newsonomics of how and why.” By how and why, Doctor means explanatory journalism.
That’s the buzzword, or buzz phrase, I guess, of the moment in the biz. FiveThirtyEight, Vox, The Upshot, Q.E.D. and, the news hook here, the Washington Post’s new Storyline are all part of an explosion of “explainer” sites that have launched amid much fanfare in the last year.
This isn’t unusual in high-level analysis of trends in journalism: Doctor doesn’t mention sports media. Also not unusual: He could have.
Try this: Make a list with two simple columns. On the left, write Who, What, When, and Where. On the right column, write How and Why. Then, go to any news site — local, national, or global — or even to a print newspaper and see which questions the stories you see answer.
At most news sites, the hashmarks will fill up quickly in the left column — slowly, if at all, in the right one. That’s the column for explanatory journalism — the new craze of the past year, but built on ideas as old as good journalism itself.
What’s up with this craze? Doctor asks David Leonhardt, the Pulitzer-winning founder of The Upshot, at the New York Times.
One big reason, he said, is the explosion of easily available data. Another: the more conversational tone of the Internet.
Does it sound like they could be talking about Bleacher Report, or any of the other sports sites that rely less on those first four W’s that drove old-school sports reporting—centering on gamers—and more on analysis and opinion and that fifth W, why? Sports is pretty big on data—wins, losses, individual and team stats, salaries. And a more conversational tone than can be found in traditional news stories has been common in sportswriting for decades.
Leonhardt points out that explaining, trying to fill in the how and why, is hardly new, and offers the names of some writers who have been doing that sort of thing for a long time without anybody calling it explanatory journalism. Doctor lists them:
The New Yorker’s Jim Surowiecki, The Wall Street Journal’s David Wessel, The Washington Post’s Steve Pearlstein, and Felix Salmon, formerly of Reuters and now at Fusion. It’s no accident those are mainly business writers; that’s Leonhardt’s own background. The complexity of business and economics demands better connecting of the dots. But so does so much of the rest of the news. (The Upshot, for instance, has already excelled at covering health care—and the World Cup.)
A lot of sportswriting is business writing. Think of free agency, trade deadlines, salary caps, transfer windows, stadium debates, franchises moving or threatening to do so. And a lot of the best sports analysis does what Doctor writes the best explanatory journalism does:
When most readers say they expect journalists to tell them what’s happening — whether that’s the latest outrages reported out of Kharkiv or city council in Kalamazoo — they mean connect the dots. No, they don’t want opinion — they want to know how the facts fit together to make an understandable whole.
Not just opinions, but connecting the dots. How and why. Two simple questions that today’s media world is revolving around.
Five years ago, I wrote that the “Future of Journalism is endless panel discussions about the Future of Journalism.” I’m not yet convinced I was wrong, but I still enjoyed this short video on Politico in which chief White House correspondent Mike Allen talks to Don Baer and Alan Murray about a study they’ve done about … well, you know.
Politico doesn’t make clear what this study concludes, but it sounds like Murray and Baer found the same things that most people who study the Future of Journalism and How People Consume News find. Video is important. Brands are important. Mobile is important. People tend to trust media outlets whose coverage aligns with their own political views.
Here are some of their more interesting comments in the heavily edited conversation:
Baer: Here’s the thing about brands and trust. Unlike in decades past, it’s a much more fickle thing. You can lose it very quickly and it’s much harder to earn. In an age of social media, you would think that would make it that much harder for people, individual voices and brands to stand out. If anything, they stand out more.
Murray: I think the vast majority of journalists and news organizations still think of themselves as producers of content. We create great content and then somebody out there will use it. I think you’ve got to turn that upside-down and say, “What service am I providing you, the reader.” It’s a very different way to think about the business than journalists are accustomed to.
Murray: One of the things I find fascinating about the social media world is that data, facts, get shared. We’re creatures of the written word. We love the written word. We think that’s a great way to convey information, and it is a great way to convey information. But the digital world gives you an opportunity to engage people in so much more interesting and deeper ways, and actually create a better-informed public.
This is going to be a short post, because all I’m going to do is point you to another post. And then when you get to that post you’re going to have more to read than you can get to in a year.
OK, I don’t know you. More to read than I can get to in a year. Yes, let’s talk about me.
As part of a website redesign, the New Yorker has put every story published since 2007 online for free, as well as selections—a lot of selections—from it’s archives, which date to 1925. In the fall, this note from the editors says, the New Yorker will go to a metered paywall.
In the meantime, various and sundry publications have been posting collections of links to the New Yorker stories you must read. And Wednesday the Awl one-upped everybody by collecting the collections:
I count 231 stories at that link. All kinds of stories: Profiles, fiction, tech, sports, education, food, religion. You name it. In book form, those stories would fill up, what, 15 volumes? Twenty? You remember the advice that gets repeated around here a lot: Read everything. Read, read, read.
Well, why not dig in to a couple million words from the magazine known for nearly a century as home to some of the best writing in American letters?
Buzzfeed asked 20 established writers of color for their best advice to writers just starting out. The resulting 39 answers make for enlightening reading. For anyone.
Here are the three questions Buzzfeed asked:
What piece of advice would you, as a writer of color, give to burgeoning writers/journalists of color?
What do you know now about being a writer of color that you wish you’d known when you first started?
Is there anything you did as a writer starting out that you now regret?
Read a lot of what interests you, and don’t feel bad if what interests you isn’t the cover of the New York Times every morning. Obviously you should keep up with world events, but don’t think that being able to speak at length about every A1 Times story is necessarily important. Write more than you read. Do things/go places that make you feel scared. Don’t be afraid to be passionate and earnest; detached irony is dead. Treat interns and HR people and everyone else in your office with the same level of respect you give to your direct colleagues and boss. Be as kind as your constitution will allow to everyone both in and outside of your office. Get into the habit of talking to people and asking them questions about their life, and don’t do the thing where you zone out of conversations until it’s your turn to speak — actually listening to people and the world around you is like 35 percent of being a good writer. Don’t surround yourself only with other writers/journalists/media people; self-imposed insularity is the fastest way to smother your creativity. And don’t stress out about ingratiating yourself with The Media Scene. A lot of the parties suck.
That’s one answer. As you can see, there’s a lot more than one piece of advice in there. And there are 38 more answers after that, many of them just as rich and wide-ranging.
Not all of the advice is directed only to people of color. Some of it is—like “Don’t let yourself become their ‘token’”—but words of wisdom aimed at some people can have value for all.
A CJR Behind the News piece asserts that “Twitter and factchecking don’t mix during debates.” Televised presidential debates, that is.
Writer David Uberti, citing a University of Texas study, points out that “most journalists resort to either stenography or snark when live-tweeting presidential debates.” That’s because everything’s moving too quickly to check facts on the fly.
You often have to, say, find some data and do some math to check a fact, and these things take time. By the time you’re able to show that Candidate A was playing fast and loose with the facts, the debate will have moved on to other subjects. It might even be over.
What’s this have to do with sportswriting?
Preparation. Thinking ahead. That’s how some organizations deal with the speed problem. Sportswriters don’t often factcheck assertions on the fly, but we do cover events in real time, and the more prepared we are, the more likely we’ll have something interesting and on-point to say at the moment it needs to be said.
Eugene Kiely, director of FactCheck.org, said claims made in presidential debates usually require several hours to verify in their entirety. Some corners can be cut, he added, though doing so requires both instinct and preparation. Before debates in 2012 began, two staffers would “come up with a list of anticipated issues based on the debate topic—economy, foreign affairs, etc.—and write up potential tweets,” Kiely said. “And if these issues came up, they could then just send those tweets out.”
Instinct and preparation. What might happen at an upcoming event that would lead to a trenchant and timely tweet or live-blog update?
Buzzfeed editor in chief Ben Smith visited the Nieman Foundation at Harvard back in February and gave a talk about the state of online media.
As we discuss all the time around here, online media changes quickly, and it’s been five months, but I think we can still derive some value out of this ancient document, “12 Things BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith Thinks You Should Know about Journalism.”
That piece has an hour-long video of Smith’s conversation, but if you don’t have that kind of time, it helpfully pulls out a dozen of his best points. Here are the ones that caught my eye:
One of the advantages of starting from scratch is that you can rethink beat structures. Gay rights is this huge story of the last 10 years, but it’s covered as a B-list beat at a lot of publications just because it always has been. For us, it’s very much a frontline beat and we’re able to hire the best reporters who really own that beat.
This is a huge point. An important question I think the people in any media organization should be asking themselves, constantly, is: “If we were launching today, how would we do things?” It’s a great way to keep up—or catch up—and avoid getting bogged down in legacy issues. That is, “This is how we’ve always done it.”
Each story has a potential audience and if it’s a story about Ukraine or a story about lobbying in D.C., there are maybe tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people who might, in an ideal world, share and read that story. If it’s a feature about rebuilding a house in Detroit, there may be millions. If it’s a list of cute animals or something that’s about a universal human experience, there may be tens of millions. We think: What’s the possible audience for this piece and let’s try to hit that whole audience.
Similar to the points made by New York Times sports editor Jason Stallman, as discussed in a B/R Blog post last week. Who’s the audience? What do they want? We can of course substitute different types of sports stories for “Ukraine,” “lobbying in D.C.” and “rebuilding a house in Detroit.”
You can’t trick people into sharing things. They have to really like it and be proud to share it.
If you’re in the social mix, what you’re getting is an individual story that has punched through because it’s really good. It doesn’t really matter if you’ve heard of the writer before.
If you want people to share your stories, make them original, interesting and good. That’s all you have to do!