A Jun 22, 2012 piece in the South Dakota Argus Leader by Matt Zimmer covering absurdity and scandal within the Sioux Fall’s Indoor Football League team appears to have been “reproduced” on June 25 by Gawker Media sports blog Deadspin. Not only does Deadspin not credit the Argus Leader piece, but also it appears the writer, Dan Gartland, attempted to cover his theft.
The giveaway is that the Argus Leader contains the following quote from the embattled coach:
“’I guess the only way to compete with success is to pull them down to your level,” said Storm owner Todd Tryon. ‘It’s stunning that (other IFL teams) would go to these lengths instead of taking the proper steps to improve their programs. It’s apparent they’ll do whatever it takes to bring us down.’”
Meanwhile, Deadspin repackages the quote thus:
“‘I guess the only way to compete with success is to pull them down to your level. It’s stunning that (other IFL teams) would go to these lengths instead of taking the proper steps to improve their programs. It’s apparent they’ll do whatever it takes to bring us down.’”
And then this quote in the Leader from the attorney:
“He testified that he was used by the Colorado Ice and that their sole purpose in bringing him in was to bring dirt out on the Storm,” Abdallah said. “The decision simply isn’t supported by the evidence, and the timing is very disturbing, coming the day before the playoffs begin. This appears to be a continuing pattern of certain teams trying to gain an advantage over a team off the field that they can’t beat on it.”
And on Deadspin:
“He testified that he was used by the Colorado Ice and that their sole purpose in bringing him in was to bring dirt out on the Storm. The decision simply isn’t supported by the evidence, and the timing is very disturbing, coming the day before the playoffs begin. This appears to be a continuing pattern of certain teams trying to gain an advantage over a team off the field that they can’t beat on it.”
The giveaway that Gartland knows he’s in the wrong is that Deadspin links and credits the quote to news station KELO here. Except that KELO only ran the final portion of the
coach’s owner’s quote: “It’s apparent they’ll do whatever it takes to bring us down.”
Asked about the source of the quotes, Zimmer told me via email, “It was a quote given to me over the phone, and it ran only in my piece. Same with the quote from the attorney. And the background information surrounding the case.”
Meanwhile, compare two earlier paragraphs. The Argus Leader:
“Korey Askew is a defensive back who spent the first two weeks of this season with the Storm and never played a down or was paid by the team. But Askew was later signed by the Colorado Ice, who had Askew sign an affidavit acknowledging he was provided transportation to team charity events.
“But that’s not even where things get interesting: Askew was only on the Storm’s roster for the first two weeks of the season. He then signed with the Colorado Ice. The Ice made him sign an affidavit saying the Storm provided him with transportation. Shortly after he signed the affadavit, Askew was released by the Ice.”
The misspelling of “affadavit” in the Deadspin piece does not mean it was not repackaged.
To add insult to injury, Zimmer said that KELO is his competition, which means Deadspin was not only stealing from the Argus Leader, but in an attempt to cover up the theft, it was crediting the paper’s competition for the scoop. Ouch.
Emails to Gartland asking for an explanation were not returned. Gartland is one of Deadspin’s interns.
UPDATE: Somebody at Deadspin got the message and plopped in a credit to the coach’s quote “And he also said this, to the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls:”
No update note added and the piece still doesn’t source the attorney’s quote.
Second UPDATE: Gartland writes in:
“I had included a link to the Argus Leader’s piece in my article but it seems that it got taken out in the editing process. I believe the editor who looked at the piece before it went live was planning to put the link higher in the story, but simply forgot to re-insert it. I’ve edited the post so it links to the Argus Leader three times. Sorry for any confusion. I sincerely apologize to Matt. I certainly didn’t mean to take credit for his reporting. We at Deadspin owe these local reporters a lot for doing what they do in reporting these smaller (but still very interesting) stories.”
And there you have it. Just another case of an editor accidentally removing a link in a way that just happens to make the bit of reporting look almost completely original when in fact it was almost completely a rewrite.
Disclosure: I have written for Deadspin on two occasions.
Seeing as how Deadspin’s published “correction” to my questions about plagiarism (above) was as much focused on me (and Jason Linkins at HuffPo) as on the correction itself, I will try to keep this focused on the piece.
Deadspin’s “corrections” amount to adding a text link in the third paragraph, a single line of copy before the coach’s quote: “And he also said this, to the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls:,” and a final bracketed block as the bottom that simply reads “[Argus Leader].”
Deadspin’s correction strategy uses the same strategy as the author’s original email to me. It plays down the gravity of the error–”inadvertently left out a link” in the Deadspin piece; “it got taken out in the editing process” in Gartland’s original email to me.
The last time I heard the “Whoopsie, honest mistake, we just forgot the link” was last year when Rolling Stone said that missing attributions in Matt Taibbi’s profile of Michele Bachmann were, of course, in the original piece, but then were somehow removed in the editing process. Like the Deadspin piece, Taibbi’s profile included other attribution (including some original reporting) but left out the piece from which the most core information had been taken. A more recent echo was at the Washington Post, where a WaPo writer caught borrowing heavily from an earlier Discovery News article told iMediaEthics.org that she “forgot to both credit and link,” that it was “an honest mistake and am saddened to see it portrayed otherwise.” She concluded to iMediaEthics:
“I have worked as an aggregation blogger for almost a year now at the Post, and I have always properly attributed my sources in my reports. I have gone over what happened Friday many, many times, and I am still not certain how I left out the Discovery attribution, except that I was working too fast. It was an important lesson to learn.”
Take a look at the original Deadspin piece and then how it was corrected with the link that was “inadvertently left out.”
That’s not nearly the same thing. And the clunky way it was shoehorned in to cover up the original doesn’t even address the one-paragraph earlier quote from the attorney.
The question is why KELO was ever attributed at all since it contains no additional information not in the Argus Leader piece. In fact, it appears the KELO piece attributes a general accusation against the league’s timing to the owner, when in the original Leader piece it is part of a direct quote from the team’s lawyer. The answer, of course, is to give the impression that the Deadspin piece is not just a complete rewrite of the Leader’s original that the writer–and now the editors–have tried to pass off something else. The “[Argus Leader]” note at the bottom is a quiet admission of this.
Even Argus author Zimmer’s original take on the piece wasn’t that a simple link had acidentally gone missing. As he wrote to me originally, “It seems the deadspin writer either read my entire story and chose not to cite it, or someone submitted bits and pieces without saying where they came from.”
The Editors conclude with the excuse that “…we were asleep at 11:36, and in the morning we were still trying to figure out what had happened. But when you’ve decided to broadcast a halfassed accusation about the most serious journalistic crime there is, every second counts.”
Ignoring the academic debate about burning a source as the “most serious journalistic crime,” Deadspin’s to-the-minute timeline doesn’t note that a correction to the piece was made at around 11:10 p.m. In fact, the author of the piece, Dan Gartland, emailed me at 11:21 p.m. saying that “I’ve edited the post so it links to the Argus Leader three times.” Gartland’s additions (seen above) were sloppy at best, and I speculate the editors chose to do the “Abe Sauer is a Dishonest Cretin” response in a totally different post and divert attention elsewhere rather than bother correcting the original piece and essentially correcting a correction (which, by the way, still contains no actual correction notation.)
Also, while Gartland originally tole me (above) that “I had included a link to the Argus Leader’s piece in my article but it seems that it got taken out in the editing process. I believe the editor who looked at the piece before it went live was planning to put the link higher in the story, but simply forgot to re-insert it,” Deadspin Editor Tommy Craggs told HuffPo, “Kid forgot a link. That’s *IT*.” So, who forgot it again?
It’s unclear who “The Editors”–who don’t have the stones to use their names even while leveraging a giant media platform to name me (and Jason)–are, but Deadspin’s current editors–Tommy Craggs and Tom Scocca–have long and distinguished careers hitting any and all media for exactly this sort of thing.
On a more general note, since Deadspin brought up its ” “standard house style,” I will note that its linking “style” is, at the least, extremely dodgy and intentionally misleading. Unlike it’s sibling blogs Gawker, Jezebel and Gizmodo–all of which use blue or red–Deadspin embeds its text links using a color that’s nearly identical to the color of its text with no other call-out, effectively making spotting attribution a blinding affair. Even HuffPo–which Deadspin takes to task in its correction as a notorious aggregator (as if being not quite as bad as somebody else excuses the whole practice)–publishes its links in visible contrast to the text.
A question: Why is it when a piece with a number of links happens to “inadvertently” be missing one, it’s so often the one that is easily the most borrowed from? Are we at a place where editors–especially those at aggregation heavy publications–can just say “We forgot a link” despite a lot of evidence to the contrary and that excuse is wholly acceptable? Apparently.
Of course, since Deadspin’s “correction” and address to the piece above never actually links to the piece above (or the HuffPo piece it skewers) I guess we’ll never know.
An interesting final note. Before the Deadspin “cretin” piece went up, Managing Editor Tom Scocca emailed me to ask if I had ever worked “in a newsroom.” At the time, I thought the question odd and I told him that I had (I worked at a trade magazine and, unpaid and not on staff, at the Daily Cardinal at UW Madison). Maybe what he was looking for was a guard against legal action, who knows. I do have to hand it to Deadspin’s “Editors” regarding this wonderful bit of tagging: