August 26, 2016

What Passes for Journalism These Days?

  • Subline: Don’t believe everything you read online
Although the Facebook Post and the top of the web page imply the story's from ESPN, the actual link has nothing to do with ESPN. Although the Facebook Post and the top of the web page imply the story's from ESPN, the actual link has nothing to do with ESPN.

No, this isn’t a story about the dwindling fortunes of the news business. The reporters and editors I know are doing an amazing job with the resources they have. This is a story about the out-and-out fakes on the Internet.

For example, this Facebook item's headline says “Clay Matthews Suspended for 2016.” It implies that the popular Green Bay linebacker was suspended by the NFL for using performance-enhancing drugs. And source of the story, according to the small tagline at the bottom, was none other than ESPN.

So I clicked.

First clue: The web headline changed the story: “Clay Matthews Questioned About Off-Season Regimen, Investigation Sparks.” So, he’s not suspended.

The story, written by alleged Senior Staff Writer Ryan Hasman, leads with praise of Matthews’ strength, speed and versatility. The second paragraph: “However, Clay Matthews may be in trouble since the NFL is now considering banning a nutritional supplement that he has become very reliant on."

OK, so he’s not suspended. Not being investigated. The supplement isn’t banned.

What’s the supplement?

They’re glad you asked. The very next sentence delves into “two new products that are helping men get ripped and have more testosterone in a matter of weeks." In fact, the next 750 words are all about this great nutritional supplement. It ends with “RECEIVE A FREE BOTTLE OF XTREME TESTRONE."

Of course, the whole site is fake. ESPN has nothing to do with it. Clay Matthews has nothing to do with it. Similar fakes have been done to Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, JJ Watt and others.

This is worse that Clickbaiting and Newsjacking, which are misleading but not exactly dishonest. This site claims to be ESPN, and it slanders high-profile professional athletes. What can ESPN or these athletes do? Very little, I suspect. You can’t sue someone you can’t find, and the Internet is a great place to hide.

The lesson, I think, is for all of us to read everything with a skeptical eye. There are tons of good things to read online, but there’s also a lot of crap.