Journalism

No access, no peace

The continually unfolding Manti Te’o scandal offers an incredible case study in evolving notions of journalistic “objectivity” as outsider news outlets—like Deadspin, which broke the story—become increasingly mainstream. Deadspin has always argued that its irreverent attitude, which has entailed many thinly sourced stories that would never make it into a newspaper or magazine, actually allows for a different kind of objectivity than the he-said-she-said print media style. The site’s motto is “Sports news without access, favor, or discretion.” It implies that there are, in fact, great benefits to working without “access,” the professional relationship with athletes, coaches, and agents that keeps news stories stocked with quotes about god, “giving it my all,” and being a team player. Journalists with access—and I’ve experienced this in terms of access to city officials, police chiefs, etc.—argue that preserving it is paramount because otherwise they would have nothing to report. Deadspin upends this notion; it contends that its lack of concern about maintaining access in fact offers a greater degree of objectivity, as it can burn bridges with abandon. “Access” becomes a mark not of institutional knowledge and professional reputation but, rather, of sycophancy.

Each of these perspectives represents a side of the contemporary journalist’s self-projection: the expert insider or the gadfly. But Deadspin’s leading role on this media-wide scandal shows just how much these two sides are now constantly working together. As web news sites become more mainstream, consumers expect their news to contain both access and no-access perspectives; they toggle back and forth between the two approaches. I’m not sure if this reveals a more objective objectivity, or the fallacies of both positions.

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