Apologies to the locals: this is pure meta.
I attended the third(!) Blogs With Balls this weekend in Chicago, where I talked to a great number of people, had a great number of drinks, and was on a panel. The five minutes which seemed the most relevant to people I talked to and were the most-discussed on the twitters afterward consisted of an interrogation of the ethics panel launched by Orson Swindle that I, like a member of Flipmode Squizzod,—which is the squad—popped up in the midst of to deliver a verse. This post is just a document of what everyone said and will avoid any opining, though my opinion is kind of obvious because it's part of the transcript.
Video here, with the relevant section at about the 21 minute mark.
We fade in as the ethics panel opens it up to questions:
JASON MCINTYRE (The Big Lead): Let's start with everyone's favorite blog… let's go with Spencer Hall first.
SPENCER HALL (Every Day Should Be Saturday): I just want to be clear—I'm taking notes for future reference—it's okay to use whatever you want as long as you get pageviews, right, regardless of ethics? [Aside: this sounds like a ridiculous strawman, but it was essentially what Josh Zerkle, Alana G, and McIntyre had argued throughout the panel, with the academic from Minnesota mostly concerned with how funny rape was or was not (her vote: not) and Jonah Keri being way too nice.] We're all clear on that? Right, okay. Anyone horrified?
The other thing I wanted to do is I wanted to ask about sourcing. That wasn't really a question, that was just a statement. I just wanted to have it and I have the microphone.
What do you do to source a rumor? What is a source for you? Do you advance faster than the standard three source or trusted source [garbled] in the media. What do you do, and what have you done in the past? This is two part question so you have to come back to me, and then I'll give the mic to someone else.
JOSH ZERKLE (With Leather): I personally don't like breaking stories. It's not something that's part of our format; it's not something I'm really interested in doing. It sounds like work. I'm not big on doing the research and following up and calling people on the phone… I'm not a phone guy.
To answer your question, it's something I try to stay away from. It's not really my bag; so many people do it better than me that I just try to stay away from it.
ALANA G (Yardbarker): Yardbarker really isn't in the business of making much original content except sponsored blog content and our athlete blogs. On behalf of bloggers in general, I think the three sources thing was a rule that came out of old journalism—they probably teach it in journalism school right?
JONAH KERI (Bloomberg, WSJ, many things): …And it might not be wrong.
ALANA: It's an arbitrary rule for what it is and if you want to have the kind of blog that just runs off one rumor that your cousin's person who works at the Q told you about Delonte [bangin' Lebron's mom] and you want to print that and you continually do stuff like that and you're able to make a successful blog out of that, then hey that works for you. And half your rumors are going to end up being false because you only rely on one source and in that case your credibility will be duly affected. Maybe if you're only half-credible you'll still get a lot of traffic because it's an interesting site. So I think it depends on… I think it will bear out in your credibility at the end of the day from your readers.
ZERKLE: Spencer, let me give you an example. This is something I found out about but never ran; I guess I can share it with everybody. [Laughter.] Not exactly breaking news here, but I was at a wedding in Cincinnati a couple years ago and I ran into a woman who had dated Shayne Graham, and she told me that every time Shayne Graham meets a woman he asks her if she's willing to sign a prenup.
KERI: The vast fortune of Shayne Graham! [Laughter]
ZERKLE: 970,000 dollars a year really goes quick. That by itself is really thin for a story, and I'm not going to be on the phone asking "did Shayne Graham ask you to sign a prenup?" It's more legwork and it's tough to put together a body of work, and then if you don't have enough to get a story… it's not a great use of my time, especially when I'm trying to do nine, ten posts a day.
ALANA: That would have been a funny nugget though, if you had just posted "hey, I have no idea if this is true, but my friend told me this story… could be totally false but I thought it was pretty funny, they might have made it up, but I thought it was funny." And then people have the comments, the jokes… that might not be your bag but…
ZERKLE: Yeah, but as I said I couldn't confirm it so I try to shy away from that stuff.
HALL: Yeah, but what would you [McIntyre] do? I mean, you break stuff. How do you verify a source?
MCINTYRE: Uh… it depends on the story.
HALL: Take the Mark Sanchez model story. [Laughter, including from McIntyre. Note: at this point Hall and McIntyre start talking over each other, so it gets a little confusing.] What did you do—
MCINTYRE: I did absolutely nothing. There are plenty of cases where I will do nothing and run with something and I'm wrong.
HALL: So you did nothing because…
MCINTYRE: I have made plenty of mistakes.
HALL: …I planted that rumor…
MCINTYRE: I wouldn't be shocked. I wouldn't be shocked.
HALL: …and you just ran it…
MCINTYRE: That's not… a few weeks earlier Deadspin had a story where—
HALL: That's true. On April First. On April Fool's Day. We just slipped that by the gate! We were like "maybe we can do this"!
MCINTYRE: Right. A few weeks earlier Deadspin ran a story about the Arizona State coach getting in a fight with Mohammed Ali and they basically got—
HALL: Right right right, but this is what you did. We're not talking about what Deadspin did.
MCINTYRE: But everybody makes mistakes on their blogs. Yes, that was a bad mistake. That's not even—
HALL: But it got you pageviews, right?
MCINTYRE: No it didn't. It didn't generate any pageviews.
HALL: It didn't? Then why did you post it?
MCINTYRE: It was the middle of a Tuesday. That's why I ran it.
HALL: That's why you ran it? Okay.
ALANA: But Spencer, people are still reading The Big Lead because they like the site and they think that it's worthwhile, and they know that Jason makes mistakes every once in a while.
BRIAN COOK (MGoBlog): I think the thing that Spencer seems irritated about and I'm honestly irritated about is that the ethics that are being presented by this panel are like "just do it." And that sucks for somebody like me who does break real news about Michigan sports and I have to contend with the idea that I'm a blog. And that's because of you. [McIntyre]
ADAM JACOBI (Black Heart Gold Pants): [claps feverishly]
EVERYONE ELSE: [crickets]
ALANA: Why do you have to be lumping yourself in with everybody else when you are doing stuff that's of a different quality or of a different…
HALL: [paraphrase, I was there but this is too quiet to make out.] But we're talking about advertisers here [referring to earlier panel] who don't see individual blogs.
ALANA: Right, but if you guys don't like what's happening with other blogs there's not much you can do to stop what I'm going to do on my blog. But you can promote what you're doing on your blog and better market to people what you're doing.
HALL: [inaudible, but given the response to this probably about the Sanchez thing again.]
ZERKLE: Was there any kind of follow-up to that? I mean, you're calling him out now but did you personally write anything after the fact saying "yeah I totally fooled the shit out of McIntyre." I mean, did you call that at all.
ZERKLE: Well, that might have been something to do, if you were concerned about the credibility.
NICOLE LAVOI (U of Minnesota): That's not ethical either.
HALL: What do you think I'm doing now?
ZERKLE: Well, it's two and a half months after the fact. So… good job, I guess.
HALL: This is in front of an audience.
SARAH SPAIN (ESPN 1000 Chicago, WGN, various other things): So is the answer basically that if your decision is to be a blog that isn't as ethical and does the funny stuff and that misses every once in a while, that's you're decision? That if your decision is to be a reputable blog that stands behind its sources and writes from a perspective that is all fact, then that is your decision? And the better man wins?
ALANA: Well, yeah. There's newspapers like the New York Times that are very reputable and very rarely make mistakes, and there are newspapers like the National Enquirer that tell you people are getting abducted by UFOs. And so those are two different markets I think by now, and the market has borne out that these have different levels of reputation, of credibility, and readers and advertisers know that.
KERI: I'm going to disagree with you on that. The New York Times is notorious for running stories with anonymous sources. And they're interviewing "high level government operatives" about whatever, the War In Iraq and they're saying "oh yeah, well, you know, there are Al Qaeda and so we're going to go to war and blah blah blah." We were basically led into something that was not justified because of anonymous sources. There are all kinds of mainstream media outlets—the biggest of the big, Washington Post, New York Times—I mean, I've written for a bunch of them and they make the same mistakes that bloggers do. Everybody lacks credibility.
ALANA: What I'm saying is that with blogs—I understand you guys' [Spencer/yrs truly] frustration because right now we are all blocked in together and people at Proctor and Gamble don't necessarily know who Deadspin is versus the Big Lead versus whatever, MGoBlog, so you know right now it seems like we're all being lumped together and you guys are feeling hurt by things that other blogs are doing. But if we do our jobs right it will all eventually bear out so that everyone has their own reputation, just like the National Enquirer has a different reputation from the Washington Post.
At this point the mic has worked its way across the room to yet another of the infuriatingly-thick-on-the-ground Ohio State fans, this one from Cleveland Frowns, and the throwdown ends.