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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  1. icon
    Ninja (profile), 21 Jan 2013 @ 2:50am

    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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