When Deadspin’s Doug Brown published a long investigative story earlier this week into allegations of sexual harassment that brought down a University of Toledo coach, it landed on the local newspaper – the Toledo Blade. The Blade’s Ryan Autullo coverage of the event came shortly thereafter. And while it was clear that he had been working on the story for some time, it was Deadspin who got the hit. Inevitably, the blade felt the need to defend itself and why, as the local newspaper of the record, it wasn’t the first story in its own backyard.
Dave Murray, the editor-in-chief of Blade, has tempted Deadspin with a comment (emphasis added): “The difference between reporting this story from The Blade and Deadspin is that Autullo is a professional journalist who has cited sources and you can believe what he reports. “
Murray’s comment certainly sounds like he pulled out his jump-to-conclusions mat in a state of panic. Of course, Deadspin wouldn’t take this obvious weakness lying down. Deadspin editor Tommy Craggs responded to Murray’s diss in a comment on POLITICO:
“If Dave Murray has something to say about the veracity of our reporting, without which the story of the Blade would probably never have existed, he should,” Craggs fired back in an email to POLITICO. “Otherwise he’s just another asshole leaving bad comments on the internet.”
With both sides firing shots at each other, it was Murray who stepped back, saying in a later email to POLITICO:
“There are a couple of misunderstandings I’d like to clear up. Deadspin posted their story about the UT trainer on Tuesday at 2:45 am and The Blade posted their story on Tuesday at 7:13 am. We have an updated one today Story publishes editions of The Blade and this morning on toledoblade.com. We knew we could have rivaled Deadspin for the story and published the story on Monday, but Ryan Autullo, our sports writer, hadn’t confirmed a few key facts, so I made the decision to wait until he could confirm important parts of the story on the record, and we think it’s important to use named sources whenever possible.
My comments to a reader this morning should explain why we used the name of the young woman who texted the trainer to the University of Toledo. My comments about Ryan Autullo being a professional journalist using named sources should praise him rather than “discuss” Deadspin and his reporters. I have no idea of their professional background and I applaud their competition in this story. “
That email says “my PR department is really mad at me”. It sure looks like Murray had to quickly cover his tracks after spitting in public with Craggs. Not only was his newspaper finally beaten for publication, but also by a website where the “professional journalists” were not the caliber of the Toledo Blade.
Deadspin has more than proven its credibility as a sports news channel. More recently, the site breaking the Manti Te’o hoax brought national praise from ESPN, SI, CBS, etc., and missed the biggest story of the year right under their noses.
How did Deadspin manage to beat local and mainstream outlets on important news? Tim Burke, who co-authored the Te’o story with Jack Dickey, told me, “I think we are the premier website to publish investigative work outside the sports mainstream first.”
Deadspin has certainly earned its reputation over the years. Since the site is not a “traditional” news agency, the authors do not have the same posting restrictions. For example, regarding the Toledo story, they fully published Coach Kevin Hadsell’s lyrics, which could have earned him an A + at the Brett Favre School of Texting.
Since it was an older newspaper, the Blade decided that it had to stick with traditional standards of not only printing the coach’s refusal, but also leaving out the incriminating texts contained in Deadspin and rewriting certain elements of the story .
Kurt Franck, editor-in-chief of the Toledo Blade, even admits this in a letter to Jim Romenesko:
“Thanks to Blade sports reporter Ryan Autullo for compiling good sources and recording interviews with both the ex-coach and the sexual harassment-charged athlete who wrote the long list of text exchanges that he shared, and his ability to take in the full content of some of the more mundane texts that were broadcast, which in turn reflects the different audiences the two websites are targeting. “
That too seems like a backward compliment to Deadspin. “Hey, look, our sources were REAL, but you can print the F-word.”
Side note: Hadsell’s quote on the blade: “She initiated these conversations with me. I didn’t just have these conversations out of the blue. ”That’s a typical blame mentality, but hey, whatever helps him sleep.
Deadspin started out as a blog – and still sees itself as “sports news with no access, favors, or discretion”. The site doesn’t restrict its coverage for fear of offending people – and because of this, it can get in more detail, including things that local newspapers clearly leave out.
Brown’s story was very different from Autullo’s. Brown didn’t begin poetic nonsense about Hadsell’s good deeds in looking after his sister’s children while she was struggling with alcoholism. Brown’s picture of the situation was far more cutting than that of the blade. It paints a much uglier picture of Hadsell, who is an alcoholic himself, blackmailing athletes into staying on the team, forcing them to run when they refuse to, responsible for a range of eating disorders, and generally a bully. We can only assume that Autullo was forced to report certain things for some reason.
While the Te’o story may have been the unveiling of Deadspin to larger audiences across the country, their outbreak of the Toledo scandal proves they have the ability to do investigative journalism anywhere in the sports world. Due to their presence outside the mainstream and their ability to go where newspapers and networks can’t go, Deadspin is better equipped to spread some of these stories and hit local outlets. As Burke told me in an email:
“Doug Brown is just a better reporter than anyone at Toledo Blade. They can say what they want about “professional journalists” And that’s what I say as someone who is from the Toledo area and has been reading the newspaper every day for ten years.
I would say that any news organization based in and covering a region will never be able to adequately handle investigative news in that region because of the conflicts of interest that naturally arise between where you live and work. Because Deadspin is basically nowhere (yes, our offices are in NYC, but neither me, Doug, nor my Te’o co-author Jack Dickey live there, at least not officially) and we’re not constantly looking for future hits, we have more flexibility for covering these things. “
When it comes to Deadspin’s coverage, Burke puts it perfectly: Since they’re nowhere, they can be anywhere.