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
    Mike Masnick (profile), 18 Jan 2013 @ 4:52pm

    Re: Link Problem

    I think you linked your second link to the same article as the first accidentally.


    Dah! Fixed the link mistake. Sorry about that, and thanks for pointing it out.

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