The free agency period, across all sports, brings out the trolling itch in, well, the trolls, and the ultimate thrill in those trying to make it in the sports media game. The task at hand is filtering the trolls from the legitimate reporters, and preventing oneself from getting too excited over the prospect of team-x signing player-y, per the unnamed sources of @JohnSmith from ESPN’s unheard-of branch. Your level of skepticism pertaining to unknown names should be high during these seasons. But, there should be some cautionary understandings, as well.
Every tier-one reporter and insider that break news multiple times per day started out with zero credibility on their resumes. No followers, no history of correct reporting, and no check marks next to their names. As is the case with any career path, you start at the bottom and work your way up. Shams Charania, when guesting on Pardon My Take, revealed that he was just a beat reporter breaking deals of minimum significance before one GM gave him his first big story. The Bulls were trading Luol Deng to the Cavaliers for Andrew Bynum and multiple draft picks. His career accelerated upwards after breaking that singular story.
The reporter that you are dismissing now may be one of the biggest names in the game in ten years. Keep that in the back of your head.
“Lmao, your* not even verified dude *clown emoji*”
*Ah yes, you’re twenty-six years old and can’t discern ‘your’ from ‘you’re’, but I’m the clown.
In November of 2017, Twitter discontinued its verification process (although occasionally making exceptions for high-ranking political officials and celebrities that are new to the platform):
Verification was meant to authenticate identity & voice but it is interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance. We recognize that we have created this confusion and need to resolve it. We have paused all general verifications while we work and will report back soon— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) November 9, 2017
What this means is that there are thousands of credible individuals on the platform who report accurate information. But, due to the lack of a superficial badge next to their names, they are discredited as illegitimate and not worthy of the respect they deserve. Something that is completely out of their hands is effectively being used as a slight against them. Think about that.
Think about the individuals who are lucky enough to have the badge and consistently surface incorrect information or troll the users of the platform with intentionally false information. Their credibility is rarely questioned.
Don’t allow a virtual badge to dictate what you believe. It’s that simple.
My personal favorite.
There are three types of reporters that I’ve come across. The first type is the God-level voices known as Woj, Shams, Schefty, Passan, Heyman, and Ian Rapoport, just to name a few. They mostly talk to agents, players, and high-ranking members of organizations’ front offices.
Then there are the beat reporters. They typically talk to officials within organizations ranking below the general manager, teammates, and those non-teammates closely associated with particular players, and small-market agents. They usually only get information pertaining to one team, or, in some cases, a handful of teams in the same region.
Finally, there are bloggers. They work endlessly, hoping to gain the respect and the following of a well-connected individual. If they’re lucky, the occasional player, agent, or tier-one or tier-two reporter will follow them. Then, all they can do is send a respectful direct message and hope for a response.
Something to Lose
The point of differentiating the three groups is to highlight a pattern present across them–the sources providing the information have a lot to lose. It is for the protection of the provider that reporters do not, should not, and will not just offer up the name, phone number, and social security number of the source who gave them the information to any random Twitter user with a canine avatar.
The individuals leaking information have jobs to lose and relationships to fracture. Keeping the reported information on a “per source” basis, preserving trust with the source and helps the source avoid the consequences that may come from giving inside information.
So, it doesn’t matter how many times you ask for the name, blood type, and mailing address of the source. No one is giving that information up.
The Truth About Lies
“Lol, stop lying to people *clown gif*”
“Lol, this is a lie. *Attach link to Schefter tweet that says something different is happening*”
Actually, the person reporting that information probably isn’t lying. The truth is, a percentage of reporters much smaller than you think are making up stories. They’re well-aware that making stories up puts them in the same class as social media trolls, and no reporter wants to have that buzz word attached to their name. They have more important things to tend to than to think up random scenarios and build a believable framework that makes the lie plausible. In most cases, reporters end up looking foolish because the information they were truthfully provided with is found to be incorrect or the information they reveal never materializes to the point of mattering to the public eye.
Tier-one insiders get the information that the previously-mentioned entities want to give them–I didn’t say they get the correct information from the primary source. They get information that those entities want them to know about. What am I implying? It’s quite simple–there’s a lot that goes on that the tier-one insiders aren’t told about by their sources. Just because they report one piece of information that conflicts what a tier-two or tier-three reporter says does not mean that what the smaller name reported was a fabrication. At least one of two scenarios is far more likely. A) something changed and the domino effect altered the potential of the rumor coming to fruition, or B) those primary sources (general managers, owners, presidents, etc) do not want that information revealed to the public, so they don’t mention it.
Why wouldn’t they want it revealed? It can result in a public relations nightmare, harm the chemistry amongst the players, or create a breach of trust between the front office, coaching staff, and players. When that happens, the entire product suffers.
You would be shocked by the number of developing stories that never make it off of the shelf. So many never go public for at least one of three reasons. First, the reporter has no other source to corroborate the information with which they’ve been presented, so it’s not worth the risk of being wrong. Two, the reporter doesn’t hear back from the other source(s) in time to publish the story, and a bigger name gets it. Three, those within the organization will not give the reporter confirmation that the story is true.
An Informational Economy
Why wouldn’t they confirm the story? As mentioned previously, it may be a public relations problem, and it may be detrimental to the team’s success that season. But, there’s a third reason that isn’t so obvious–organizations will often barter information with reporters and other organizations. However, there isn’t always an extensive supply of information or stories to break. So, it’s best to conserve ammunition for when talking to other organizations or the premier reporters. By saving the biggest stories for the biggest names in the media, general managers can actually give themselves (and their teams) leverage when trying to extract intel about other teams from the media. Therefore, tier-two or tier-three insiders will attempt to confirm a story with the organization. But, the organization has very little reason to enable them if the reporter has nothing of significance to return the favor.
So, what’s the point? What am I trying to say?
Think about that first big story that you see from a tier-two or tier-three. You don’t recognize the name, and the individual has never had any stories in the past. They can’t possibly have any real sources, right?
Maybe. But, they could very well have had stories in the past that never made it online. They have a history, but no one knows about it.
Be Skeptical, But Be Fair
I’m not saying you should believe everything you see online. Respect and credibility is earned by working harder than the person in front of you. It is built by consistently delivering correct information and stories. That’s how it has always been, and that’s how it should be. However, it is ignorant and disrespectful to denounce or disregard information based on a lack of familiarity with the individual. It is more preposterous to do so based on the existence of a digital badge on their profile.
When all is said and done, information is acquired through work ethic, not followers.