DL384: Brian Cook of MGoBlog on BwB3 & Blog Ethics


Brian Cook of MGoBlog and The Sporting Blog was on a panel at Blogs with Balls in Chicago. It was not the panel on ethics, but if you watch the video, his voice makes a cameo somewhere after Spencer Hall got into a little blog tete-a-tete with The Big Lead’s Jason McIntyre. That’s at the 24:00 mark (or thereabouts).

Seriously, watch the exchange between Jason and Spencer, which spills into the rest of the panel and includes others in the crowd (including Cook). It will give you some context. Or, go to MGoBlog as Cook transcribed the entire thing.

Look, ethics are somewhat of a sliding scale, depending on the site, right? See, there are different kind of ethics. Spencer challenged McIntyre for his lack of ethics in checking sources and running a story based on a made up email and a cursory Google search on April Fool’s Day. Spencer claims that illustrates The Big Lead’s lack of ethics in checking sources and being a responsible journalist, making the case that other sites — like SB Nation — suffer when bigger blogs act so irresponsibly.

Cook and I discuss the flip side, as well. I got an email (from someone in the industry) asking me if I thought what SPENCER did was ethical at all? He made up a story and sent it to a rival site in hopes that story would be run, then used the ruse to prove his point that the site was unethical.

So, as was posed to me, Cook and I discuss which was the less ethical act. And is it that easy?

Much of our conversation branches off of Alana G’s comment on the panel that blogs should be able to write whatever they want as long as they explain it could, in actuality, be a made up story. Whatever gets you pageviews, she explained.

That. Is. Insane.

She told Josh Zerkle that if he thought it would drive traffic he should have run a story about an NFL player’s personal life that was sent in, but he didn’t have time to check the source or do his own follow-up. All he had to do was explain it could be made up, she offered. As Cook points out, that’s about as unethical as you can come off on a panel about blog ethics.

To be fair, Alana has written a recap of her comments and some clarifications. Please read them on here site, by clicking here.

Again, it all goes back to what your audience expects and what you feel your responsibility is. Does Gawker care if Deadspin posts a story that is factually inaccurate or just care that it collected a million eyeballs? Is it okay that TBL decided a gossipy story about Mark Sanchez and who he was dating was worth posting based on an email and no fact checking because, as he put it, it was a Tuesday (note: it was actually a Thursday)? Is it okay that Sports By Brooks posted countless images of Steve McNair’s scantily-clad mistress AFTER the murder-suicide?

We also talk about the responsibility of writing about an internet rumor that’s not true, even if you write “this is not true.” It’s one thing in the case of LeBron James’s mom and Delonte West, but when Deadspin wrote about the rumor going around Villanova’s basketball team that had similar implications, wasn’t the sheer act of debunking it actually spreading the rumor to far more eyes than would have ever seen it in the first place? To some, the “this isn’t true” is muted by the “hey look at this.”

It’s not just those sites, but an argument that Spencer used against TBL and Cook explained on this show is that the bigger houses DO affect the property value for the rest of the neighborhood. If people don’t trust or respect the biggest blogs around, how will the average person be expected to trust what the smaller ones write?

Ultimately, Cook’s point — and the genesis of him coming on the show — is simple: athletes are people, so no matter what the story is, you might want to make sure it’s true before you go and ruin their lives. That, on its base, seems pretty ethical.

As always, there’s more to this show. You’ll have to listen to hear it all.


One quick five minute rant about how Stephen A. Smith is so out of touch it’s mind-boggling to imagine he has as many jobs as he does. He Tweeted today that his show on Fox Sports Radio would touch on Bryce Harper getting drafted. This is what SAS wrote:

I’m up starting my day everyone. Raring to go. Heading to Boston for Game 3 of the NBA Finals today. Not before the Stephen A. Smith Show though. On the docket: NBA Finals. Strasburg debuts for the Nationals. And this kid Bryce Harper. Draft No. 1 in MLB Draft. Skipped 2 yrs of H.S. to get his GED so he could ultimately play college and pro ball earlier and NO ONE SAYS ANYTHING??? What the Hell is that???  via web

I replied, as did others, that EVERYONE was talking about that when it happened. It was, in fact, a HUGE STORY. Every sports pundit in America had an opinion on what this meant for the future of college sports and high school sports and, heck, down to the pee wee leagues. This was THE story for a while.

Of course, SAS backed off, suggesting that he knew it was a big story, he was just debating whether or not it was HOTLY DEBATED. Guess what, Stephen A? It was. If you think otherwise, you weren’t paying attention.

Oh, that’s right…you weren’t paying attention. Of course his plan is to use the fact, in his mind, that nobody was talking about it (when everyone was) to claim that if it were a black kid (which it wasn’t) everyone would have been talking about it (which they were, but he wasn’t paying attention). And, as he writes, “Of course, I’ll get accused of being the race-baiter instead of pointing out something so flagrantly obvious.” (Which he is.)

I’ll tell you what..something about this is flagrantly obvious, that’s for sure.

Thanks for listening.

Tags: , Brian Cook, Ethics, MGoBlog,

8 Responses to “DL384: Brian Cook of MGoBlog on BwB3 & Blog Ethics”

  1. Yinka Double Dare says:

    “So if you agree that statement is ridiculous, do you see why I feel it’s also ridiculous to argue that TBL should match MGoBlog’s standards?”

    The top of my browser when at The Big Lead: “Sports News and Rumors”

    The top of my browser when at Deadspin: “Deadspin, Sports News Without Access, Favor or Discretion”

    If The Big Lead and Deadspin want to claim to be news, then they should probably match the standards of news. Or at least clearly label posts with crap sourcing as UNCONFIRMED RUMOR. As probably the two biggest and most visible general sports blogs, when they don’t give a crap about sourcing it just makes Buzz Bissinger’s spittle-flecked rant on HBO look, well, almost reasonable.

    I mean, it’s obviously within AJ’s and Jason’s right to run those sites as they see fit, but it really does make life harder for some of the other bloggers when they play fast and loose with the facts and their sourcing.

    On the other hand, With Leather is usually so loaded with tits that I don’t think anyone would take Zerkle seriously for news (at some point even the casual viewer can probably tell when the site isn’t really holding itself out as an actual news source), so he probably doesn’t have much to worry about, yet bizarrely, apparently he’s the one that actually wants some level of confirmation before he’d post something.

    My head is spinning.

  2. Ben Koo says:

    Great podcast guys.

    This brings back a memory for me back from when I worked at Yardbarker. We had an advertising partner who wanted to run some ads but not on blogs in general and in particular those with User generated content (unmoderated comments).

    This was 2008 so things have changed.

    What someone proposed was that we take some of our highest quality blogs and throw them into a bucket called “media sites”. Oddly enough Mgoblog was going to get thrown into this bucket which is something I didn’t agree with at the time.

    It had the word blog in the title and at the time used blogger as its CMS platform. Just because it’s extremely high quality and the thought influencer for UM football, did we really have to take off the blog label.

    I don’t remember what happened, but it definitely speaks about how the expansive blog eco system is forced to gain credibility together under the same umbrella.

    Brian and many others lead the pack as successful, ethical, and diligent bloggers while the other side of the spectrum is also seeing a great deal of success. I don’t think there will ever be any solution to avoid this type of friction but its definitely a positive step to have this type of discussion and the social pressure from peers in the space to try to reform/police this niche as it does become more culturally and commercially viable.

  3. Alana says:

    You said “Bloggers seem like they want to be taken seriously.” I would say SOME bloggers want to be taken seriously. Some don’t. This is my point.

    I think MGoBlog strives to follow strict journalistic standards and also be entertaining — that’s great, and Brian does a good job of that. TBL does not strive to follow strict journalistic standards, and as a result, he has less-than-reliable stories that are also entertaining. However, just because he doesn’t have strict journalistic standards like a newspaper, doesn’t mean he has to throw all ethics out the window. Jason has said he sits on plenty of tips that he can’t verify when he feels the story would be harmful if he gets it wrong. In your earlier comment you characterized me as saying I think it’s “ok to destroy an individual’s character.” No, I don’t think that at all! If there’s a rumor about an athlete getting a DUI or having an STD, I think that ALL bloggers need to verify that story carefully before running with it. I can’t speak to every story TBL has ever run or got wrong, I was only speaking to the one that was the subject of the panel — Mark Sanchez dating a model. In my opinion, nothing in that story destroys anyone’s character.

    By the way, Yardbarker has never used “Rapelisberger.” That kind of name-calling is not in keeping with the usual tone of our site. But I personally don’t see a problem with the word.

  4. I think Alana needs to be defended here because the bloggers who are questioning her ethics seem to be ignoring an important piece of context. Alana was the only person with a law degree on a panel called, “A Legal and Ethical Primer to Sports Media,” and with that came pressure to dissect the panel’s topics as a lawyer might. I watched the panel live on Justin.tv and I actually thought Alana did a great job of this, which didn’t surprise me. Alana is a very clear-headed thinker, and she habitually breaks down issues as objectively as anyone I’ve ever come across. To an audience of non-lawyers more prepared for a discussion about ethics than legal issues — and commendably guided by strong opinions about where to draw ethical lines for themselves and their own blogs, I can understand how some of Alana’s summary of the different paths available to sports bloggers might have come across as callous or too-casual. But to extend that to an assumption that Alana herself is unethical — or operates unethically as an employee of Yardbarker — is just wrong.

    During the panel and in her subsequent blog post, Alana never suggested that any one ethical approach is better than another. She didn’t make a value judgement in either direction. Her goal was not to tell other bloggers where to draw the line, or even really to clarify where she draws it for herself or her company. Instead, she tried to lay out different strategies that have proven to work for different bloggers, and to describe the legal and business environments that different types of bloggers operate within.

    Her ultimate point was that every blog is different. Bloggers needs to consciously choose where to draw the line for their own site, and to understand and deal with the consequences of their actions, whether that’s legal action or a reputation blow. Somehow this was received as a personal endorsement of unscrupulous reporting for the sake of page views. But I know Alana well, and I’ve debated with her enough about how to treat specific stories to know that this is not her style or her agenda. As just one example of this, Alana and her team choose NOT to highlight or promote the Gloria James/Delonte West story after it broke, despite the facts that: 1) it was by far the hottest rumor of the weekend, 2) Yardbarker had just launched a new “Rumors & Gossip” feature on our homepage, and 3) the blog that “broke” the rumor was a Yardbarker Network blog. Alana sat on that story and others because they crossed a line that Yardbarker set for itself as a media outlet (if I may be so bold).

    Dan, I actually agree with you that Alana’s suggestion to Josh that he should have run the Shane Graham story (which, by the way, we all effectively just did by perpetuating this example), came across as over the line. But based on what I know about her, I guessed that she would have said it a different way if she’d had another chance, and I hope others will give her the benefit of the doubt when reading her explanation in the comment above.

    We’re not the first ones in history to get caught up in messy nuance and semantics during a debate about ethics. If we’re going to have this conversation, we owe it to each other to really try to understand the points being made around the table, and the motivations of the people making them.

  5. WolverineWill says:

    I should have clarified the statement better, so I’m sorry.

    My point is that shouldn’t bloggers try to hold themselves to the highest standard when it comes to ethics and reporting? Shouldn’t Brian’s blog, one that is both entertaining and diligent, be the baseline?

    Bloggers seem like they want to be taken seriously and then there is a “blogging” convention with an ethics panel where 60% of the participants are basically saying “Ethics? What the fuck are ethics? If it’s a Tuesday and I need hits who cares if I post something that isn’t sourced.”

  6. Alana says:

    Thanks for making my point for me. If you read my entire paragraph, hopefully you’ll see the point of my “Gee MGoBlog is boring” hypothetical statement is to show how ridiculous such a statement would be. So if you agree that statement is ridiculous, do you see why I feel it’s also ridiculous to argue that TBL should match MGoBlog’s standards?

  7. WolverineWill says:

    I watched the ethics panel stream and read Alana’s blog post as well as Brian’s response and all I have to say is yes Alana, you. Are. Insane.

    Ethics is not about doing whatever you can get away with to increase hits or boost your bottom line, yet you keep on justifying your decisions based on these two qualifiers.

    In what parallel ethics universe is it ok to destroy an individual’s character in the eyes of the public with no sources just to increase hits? The fact that your organization will protect certain athletes from minor stories but have no problem with Rape-lesburger makes me wonder: If Big Ben was a YB blogger would you have the same opinion?

    In regards to your statement: “Gee, that always-true MGoBlog site is so boring, it’s bringing blogs down in the eyes of advertisers who are looking to advertise on fun, edgy, gossipy sites.” Obviously you do not read much of MgoBlog, and the logic behind this statement is so backwards I am in disbelief. Ethics is not a fluid concept that ebbs and flows with how your advertisers feel about your content.

  8. Alana says:

    Good conversation about this topic. Here are a few points I’d like to make…

    I think you guys misunderstood my point about the Shane Graham story (that I was “protesting” Josh’s unwillingness to run it) — I probably didn’t make that point very clearly. I acknowledged that posting those kinds of rumors are not Josh’s “bag,” so I wasn’t intending to suggest that Josh SHOULD have run the story. If it’s not what he wants to do, he shouldn’t do it, no question. What I meant was that he (or a different blog in a similar situation) COULD have, and if he had, I personally wouldn’t have had a problem with it. I know that some people will disagree on that line I’ve drawn — to me the story was a funny rumor that would be harmless if couched as an unverified story; to other people it seems like a potentially harmful story to Graham. If the story had been “My friend heard Shane Graham has an STD” I would have felt differently — I wouldn’t have thought it was ok to post (and by the way, a story like that could be deemed per se defamatory from the legal point of view). Athletes are indeed people, as you pointed out Brian. If a thinly-verified story could do real injury to someone (even a public figure like an athlete), I would question the ethics of posting it. We probably disagree on what stories could do real injury.

    I hope you guys both read my blog post (Dan, thanks for linking it and mentioning it). Like I said there, it’s true that a lot of advertisers/leagues/etc don’t differentiate between us and lump sports blogs together. I guess what I don’t understand is why some people feel it’s the obligation of sites like TBL to change their reporting/verifying standards to match the strict standards of diligent sites like, say MGoBlog. Couldn’t one argue that MGoBlog ought to match the entertainment value of sites like TBL? “Gee, that always-true MGoBlog site is so boring, it’s bringing blogs down in the eyes of advertisers who are looking to advertise on fun, edgy, gossipy sites.” Of course, I would never make that argument because I don’t think either blog should try to match what the other is doing — they can both be good at what they do, which is different.

    As I also said in my post, I think it’s good that Spencer Hall called out TBL for his mistake (although the fact that he planted the mistake was problematic, as you talked about Dan). We need bloggers like Spencer and Brian to voice their social disapproval of TBL’s mistakes in order to ensure TBL’s reputation is duly affected. I think it’s great that bloggers speak out about others. And when someone speaks out about TBL running the Sanchez model story, I’ll defend TBL’s decision to run it, because I personally didn’t find that decision to be problematic.

    As for Terez Owens’ Delonte’s story, you guys talk about it as if it was confirmed that it was made up or as if the story has been proven false. Has there been more news on that front?

    One final point, regarding the “three source” journalism rule, I didn’t say it was “outdated” (I said it was “arbitrary” for blogs) — in fact I think if you’re striving to break reliable news like the New York Times, it is a good rule. As someone pointed out on a comment on Brian’s post, decades of journalism has produced that rule. But TBL isn’t striving to be the NYT. Neither is Perez Hilton, or the National Enquirer. So I’m not sure why we would apply NYT standards to a site like TBL. If MGoBlog is striving to break reliable news like the NYT, then I think MGoBlog should apply those standards and should tout them to its readers and advertisers as a way to elevate MGoBlog’s reputation.

    Dan, I would be happy to appear on the show if you’d like to talk further with someone who says things you deem to be “insane”! You should reach out to Pete too if you’d like another Yardbarker perspective.