Today I learned a hard, valuable lesson about what I do here at Bleacher Nation. I know some of you will think that I’m being dramatic or too hard on myself, but I’m not. I screwed up today, and I have some explaining and apologizing to do.
For those who missed it, I wrote today about an alleged conversation that a BN’er overheard in his apartment building. The conversation involved Carlos Marmol and his agents, and the possibility of him being traded from the Cubs. The BN’er tweeted the information, and after considering its newsworthiness, I ran with it. As I do with that kind of thing, I threw up the usual caveats: I can’t verify this. I wasn’t there. The BN’er may have misheard. Etc., etc. Given the seriousness of the quotes involved, that’s when my red flag should have gone up.
To my mind, what I was writing about was the simple fact that someone out there in the Twitterverse says he heard these things. I was not writing about the fact that Marmol definitely did say them. It was like writing that someone says he saw Theo Epstein in a Starbucks, even if I can’t verify that he was actually there. The mere fact that someone is saying it is interesting and newsworthy.
But that was completely unfair of me. When I write something like that, I have to understand that it will be read as “Marmol did say these things, because I’m a professional writer and I wouldn’t write it if he didn’t say it.” It was read that way by many people, in large part because, after weighing the evidence, I said I had no reason to doubt that Marmol had actually said these things or had this meeting. The truth, of course, is that I don’t *really* know it, and I said as much. I know only that someone Tweeted it. And shouldn’t I hold myself to a higher standard than that?
Here’s the bottom line:
It is unfair for me to hide behind “well, I was simply writing about what someone else said, not claiming that the person actually said it,” and then simultaneously ask to be treated as a professional. I can have one or the other, but not both. This dichotomy didn’t occur to me until I was getting blasted for what I’d done, and that is my biggest failing: I just didn’t get it. We learn from our mistakes, and I’m learning. But this is a lesson I probably should have already understood. I should have been the second guy, not the first guy. For that, I apologize to Carlos Marmol, to the Cubs, and to you. I will do better next time.
The truth is, navigating this new media landscape is really freaking hard.
I started this site more than four years ago, when I was an anonymous lawyer in Ohio just having some fun in his spare time. You write from a very, very different perspective when that’s the case. And that lasted for several years. I grew up as a blogger in a world where I was divorced, by one layer, from the people/stories/rumors/whatever that I was writing about. I didn’t have, and couldn’t have, access, and that informed the way I wrote. If something was out there to be discussed, well, damnit, I was going to discuss it. This is the Internet, right? The Cubs didn’t have a clue who I was or care a lick about what I said, so I could write whatever and however I wanted. I think I was always fair, but I probably wasn’t always thoughtful. I had that freedom.
It can be hard to unlearn your previous process, especially when the “learning” is so very public.
Bleacher Nation has grown very large. It is widely read, both in the volume of Cubs fans, and the types of people who read it. I wouldn’t say that I sometimes forget that fact, but sometimes I don’t consider the implications of that fact when I write. As I swiftly move to cover something breaking or fresh, I often reside inside my “blogger” helmet, where I’m just writing for a concentrated contingent of hardcore fans who understand that I’m just shooting from the hip, because that’s what “bloggers” do.
I can’t keep doing that. Sure, I can – and will – still write “differently” about the Cubs than traditional media, but I’ve got to stop thinking of myself as operating in an insular bubble. When I write something – especially something about a player allegedly saying he wants out of town – I have to realize that it’s going to spread widely. That means I have certain responsibilities, whether I choose them or not. The greatest responsibility I have is to be fair in everything I write. That’s a responsibility I failed today, and I’m getting slapped with a hard lesson as a result.
If I had an opportunity to do today all over, I would have figured out a way to get in contact with someone, anyone about the alleged meeting, and I would have asked some questions. The fact that I’m not entirely sure who I would have contacted – I don’t have a lengthy rolodex of numbers, but I’m sure I could have figured something out – is just an excuse, and I’m not going to make it. In my do-over, I would have found someone at the Cubs to offer a comment, or someone at Marmol’s agency. Yes, they would have likely denied the story and suggested that there was no meat there to write about. They might have been right, and the story might never have been written. But at least then, if I chose to write the story anyway, it would have been fair. What I wrote today was not fair to Carlos Marmol, the Cubs, or to you.
For that, I am sorry. I’m always learning and trying to do my best.