Deadspin Shows Again That New News Media Can Do Investigative Journalism

from the better-than-the-masses dept

If you sit down quietly, wherever you are, close your eyes, quiet your heart, and listen closely enough, you'll be able to hear someone somewhere talking about how journalism is dead and the internet killed it. Even some of traditional news media's players draw an odd distinction between paper and web content. More specifically, there are many who question where investigative journalism will go once traditional news finishes its death convulsions and the web is what's left.

Well…it will go to the web, of course. And for those who believe investigative journalism and the internet go together about as well as peanutbutter and meatballs, one of the biggest stories circulating the sporting world right now should disabuse you of that notion, because it was Deadspin that independently broke the story of Notre Dame's Manti Te'o's fake dead girlfriend (I never get tired of saying that), while the traditional news sources completely screwed the pooch and possibly even sat on the story. If you're not familiar with this tale of intrigue, well, it's just freaking strange.

Te'o was whipsawed between personal tragedies along the way. In the span of six hours in September, as Sports Illustrated told it, Te'o learned first of the death of his grandmother, Annette Santiago, and then of the death of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. Kekua, 22 years old, had been in a serious car accident in California, and then had been diagnosed with leukemia. SI's Pete Thamel described how Te'o would phone her in her hospital room and stay on the line with her as he slept through the night. “Her relatives told him that at her lowest points, as she fought to emerge from a coma, her breathing rate would increase at the sound of his voice,” Thamel wrote.

It'd be a heartfelt sob story if…you know…Lennay Kekua existed. Unfortunately, she does not and did not. Instead, it appears she was the creation of a failed athelete who was associated with Manti T'eo. Given the way the narrative was infused with T'eo's bid for the Heisman Trophy, reasonable speculation currently centers on whether T'eo was in on the hoax and used it to further his own aims. Lest you think that breaking this story took some trivial amount of internet sluething, that's not the case.

But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper. Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar's office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there's no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.

All of those photographs—with one important exception—came from the private Facebook and Instagram accounts of Reba [false name], whom we found after an exhaustive related-images search of each of Lennay's images (most of which had been modified in some way to prevent reverse image searching)…Then, in a series of lengthy phone calls, Reba told us everything she knew about the classmate, a star high school quarterback turned religious musician named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.

Deadspin then went on to do in depth reporting on Tuiasosopo, including speaking with many people who know him and have knowledge of his antics and ties to T'eo. For those who are not impressed with this, seriously, follow the link to the piece at Deadspin, because the amount of content they were able to build around their investigation is insane. At worst, it's a hell of a story about a horrible college sports scandal.

But Deadspin, often maligned by the same traditional media that pretends they're the gatekeepers of investigative journalism, wasn't deaf to the failings of those same people. They put out a separate post, detailing every last failing the news media engaged in prior to their piece about the T'eo/Kekua story. Traditional media were played for suckers and it took a new media blog to make things right. As they note in their piece, the media wasn't just duped by this hoax, they amplified it.

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Comments on “Deadspin Shows Again That New News Media Can Do Investigative Journalism”

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shane (profile) says:

Old Media

The problem is they never were that good. Centralized as they are, they fall into the trap of doing the bidding of their owners. They are, in fact, selected for promotion in no small part based on their track record of anticipating what is wanted from them and doing it without asking. It gives the higher ups a metric f-ton of plausible deniability when accused of manipulating coverage. They’re always under pressure to complete stories on a deadline. The facts are secondary.

Nut Job says:


They did it to themselves. With every hit-piece, every slanted article, and every witch hunt. PPL turned to the internet where they could be detective and read all sides and find the truth for themselves.

When someone says something on the internet, you have hundreds if not thousands of fact checkers either confirming what you claim or calling your bluff. Their voice can be heard.

When you have MSM spewing lies what can you do? Write the editor? Yeah good luck with that.

Years and years of corporate journalism, and being a government mouthpiece have driven PPL elsewhere.
Yeah it was great for them when we had no where else to go, but those days are long gone.

shane (profile) says:


Reminds me of the concept of “being at your law six handed”. In the old days, if you made a claim, you needed six people to vouch for you in court.

There’s not one fact checker, there’s many. The whole community. And if you weren’t honest, the others who vouch for you are held accountable as well.

On the internet, that accountability turns out to be which sites, groups, etc turn out to be right the most.

aidian says:

There's no investigative journalism here...

Everything you described about Deadspin’s reporting is admirable, but I don’t see any particularly investigative reporting.

They looked at the basic records one would in that situation. They made a couple of phone calls. It would be a day or two of work (or actually a half day’s work spread out over two days, because you’d spend so much time playing phone tag and waiting for callbacks).

What they did was good, solid work. It’s not really what I’d call investigative work (though they did blow open a hell of a story). This is New Yorker or Harper’s level fact checking.

shane (profile) says:

Re: There's no investigative journalism here...

This is an honest question, so please don’t misread me. Are you in the business at all? To what extent are the resources of a large media organization helpful to the fact checking process?

I’m also interested in how useful the internet would be in terms of war correspondence. Again, just out of curiosity.

If you don’t know, no worries… Just pondering life’s little mysteries.

aidian says:

Re: Re: There's no investigative journalism here...


There are a couple of magazines that have always done awesome, fanatical fact checking of every little detail. They would of demanded to see a death certificate or something for the girlfriend. But most news organizations have never routinely fact-checked assertions made by lots of people — they report the assertion and then tack on “he said” and call it a day.

The thing is, what Deadspin did is what you do when you’ve got a reason to actually, you know, do some actual reporting on something. It shouldn’t be noteworthy. But in today’s media environment there are fewer and fewer people to actually do reporting.

Anonymous Coward says:

It is the lazyiness of the MSM along with the strong bias that most display that got me away from newspapers and tv and turned me to the internet where I might find a foreign source less bias where they have less interest or less to gain.

I no longer seek MSM news to find out what is happening in the world. Combine that with internet news is typically not day old before you get it and you find one of the reasons that old school newspapers aren’t doing that well.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“you’ll be able to hear someone somewhere talking about how journalism is dead and the internet killed it”

let me FTFY

you’ll be able to hear someone somewhere talking about how journalism is dead because they sold out to those they used to investigate. They gleefully report on tripe and ignore the elephant in the room shitting on the ideals of a free press informing the public.

Ninja (profile) says:

Epic win. A small bit of fact-checking would prevent quite a few news from going live with the wording they do. Sometimes the report is mostly right but a few facts are left aside.

There was some sort of riot in the building site of Jirau hydroelectric power plant a while back in Brazil. The main journals (radio, television, internet and written included) reported it as some vandals had set the workers housing on fire (the main TV journal classified it as “acts of vandalism”) and that was it.

I never gave it much thought but at the time I heard about it I thought there was something fishy. A while later I read an independent journalist who went there and did some awesome investigative work. He found out that the big infra-structure companies that won the public auctions to work for the Government was doing several things wrong.

The workers were hired all over Brazil and when they arrived the company would not pay the wages promised. These workers could not remain unemployed and had to accept the work anyway. There was also a clear distinction where the site supervisors would take in hookers and other women even though it was clearly prohibited at the site. (High court, low court treatment). Ordinary works would also be denied transportation to the nearby cities to deal with personal problems or even their obligations towards the state. Or worse, would be denied transport to get to the site and when they got there late (due to the lack of proper transportation offered by the companies) they’d lose the entire work day.

Those who stood up for their rights were either fired or persecuted.

The riots started when one worker was denied transportation to deal with a personal issue (I’m not sure now but it had something to do with his children but I’d need to check out). The bus driver scorned the man and the workers revolted and broke the entire bus. Then several housing facilities and others were set on fire and destroyed.

You see, it’s not mere vandalism acts… But only those who went there and did proper investigative journalism didn’t echo what the mainstream media was parroting all over.

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