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A not-so-easily offended writer on where the real reporting still begins

To make money from bottom-feeding patrons, the racy, randy William Shakespeare wrote plays that often spoke, albeit poetically, of men’s junk, equipment, and packages placed in intimate conjunction with fair damsels’, ahem, laps. So what’s the big deal if A.J. Daulerio does the same thing five centuries later? The easily offended stayed away from the Globe, and now they stay away from Deadspin.com.

No one can be a sportswriter long and remain either easily or often offended by a day’s events. I wondered only one thing after reading, on Deadspin, a co-ed’s detailed analysis of her sexual adventures with Duke University athletes. I wondered if her Daddy asked, "For that, I’m paying 50 grand a year?" Deadspin, where Daulerio is editor-in-chief, also did the Shakespearean thing of riffing on a man’s private parts. In this case, the parts belonged to the graying, grizzled grandfather Brett Favre, who apparently did what many graying, grizzled grandfathers have done, which is hope a young woman would mistake him for the man he used to be.

Was I offended?

No.

Like grandpas who throw sorry passes, boundaries of propriety are not what they used to be, either. On television one afternoon, I heard the Victoria’s Secret model, Heidi Klum, explain to Oprah her breathless reaction on meeting the man who became her husband, the singer Seal. She first saw him "in bicycle shorts," if you know what she meant, and I think you do. My friend Jane Leavy, in her new book on Mickey Mantle, quotes the great Yankee explaining that in the clubhouse he was known as Mighty Mouse, "because I’m hung like him." Richard Ben Cramer’s biography of Joe DiMaggio came with anatomical precision. In my book about Muhammad Ali, I quoted a nurse who shaved and prepped Ali for hernia surgery. As she did her work down there, she said, happily, "You ARE the greatest."

No, I’m not offended.

But there’s a better question to be asked of a guy who writes about sportswriting for the National Sports Journalism Center website.

Would I have written about Favre the hound based only on the Deadspin report?

No.

Deadspin is not a credible news site and doesn’t pretend to be. I want information that has been reported accurately and verified. Instead, Daulerio’s website with its frat-house sensibilities reports whatever it’s told if what it’s told seems guaranteed to create the traffic that raises revenue. Sometimes, as with the original Favre story months ago, it reports the story even while saying it was based on an off-the-record conversation. All this can be fun for readers, and I’m as guilty as the next sportswriter in adding to Deadspin’s page views, sometimes reading stories that contain words I’m not yet old enough to say out loud.

Fun, yes.

Journalism, not at all.

That’s a fine distinction not easily made by today’s readers/users, many of whom have come of age with the Internet. My friend, the Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten, has said we’re in the Wild West phase of the 'Net where anything goes, the rules made up as we hurtle through the 21st century. If Daulerio and Deadspin want to pay subjects for information, their only quibble is the size of the check; in courtrooms, not to mention traditional mainstream newsrooms, information gained by cash is information not admitted into evidence or into news accounts. But it’s easy now to mistake the raucous fun of a Wild West Dot-Com for the trustworthy journalism of a Real Newspaper. Proof of that melancholy development came recently to the Indianapolis Star columnist, Bob Kravitz.

As he taught a journalism class, he asked his 22 students, "How many of you think the original Brett Favre story was a story, and how many think it wasn't?" His reference was to the story before the NFL got involved, when it was only Deadspin’s report of an off-the-record conversation providing unsubstantiated information that carried the attar of defamation.

Kravitz thought his class "would have a healthy debate, maybe a heated exchange of ideas regarding the state of journalism and the way all the rules — when there are rules — have changed. I thought some would decry the growth of the modern tabloid ‘gotcha’ journalism and others would applaud the independence and fearlessness of these new outlets such as Deadspin.com and TMZ.com."

Instead, 21 students said it was a story. I trust that Kravitz, in his kind and gentle professorial way, told those students they were wrong in every way they could be wrong. The original Deadspin report would not have been published by any reputable news organization, not even in this instant-information era when every media outlet is under pressure for page views.

It was not a story.

It was only a piece of gossip.

It was the start of a real reporter’s work.

Dave Kindred's latest book, "Morning Miracle," is an inside-the-newsroom account of two years in the life of The Washington Post. Now a contributing writer at Golf Digest, Kindred is a Red Smith Award winner and member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. He can be reached at inkstained1@aol.com. He can be followed at Twitter.com/DaveKindred and facebook.com/people/Dave-Kindred/509353295.  
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