Sad State of Affairs What’s Being Passed Off as “Journalism” These Days

I’ve held off on commenting publicly about being the subject of “reporting” by the wannabe writer behind the BR Report. There was a “report” published on this guy’s site that linked me to a number of statements about my former employer, Bleacher Report. (And where the writer admitted to creating a fake persona to trick me in to further correspondence).

Then, another “report” published today.

It pains me to link to this trash, but it provides context for my next 3,000 words. This BR Report post today mentioned a lot of people by name and attributed statements about them to me. That compelled me to write this post.

Beyond my initial five emails, none of what this guy published came from me. I had five legitimate conversations with the person behind BR Report that spawned from my initial blog post slamming Tom Ziller’s uninformed critique of Bleacher Report. He/she hit me up on Twitter asking for “answers” related to a post on the BR Report site concerning a private conversation between BR college football editor Rich Thomaselli and former writer Danny Flynn.

None of what he published in his two pieces that include me came from me. If he’d had an actual conversation with me, he would have actually discovered that.

I made a series of mistakes here. I should have never engaged this writer. The BR Report has been a hatchet job since the day it began. I naively believed that I could have a dialogue with the writer that would lead him/her to do more informed reports, to give the full picture of what Bleacher Report is.

There have been too many accounts of Bleacher Report out there that have not been fair or balanced, and largely, the assumptions made by those who attack the site’s business practices have been inaccurate.

But, I started a dialogue with this “writer” nonetheless. I exchanged five emails with the writer (which you can read below), each of them making clear that I would not have any meaningful discussion with the writer until he gave me a name other than the “Bleach” moniker he/she had used. The conversation ended when Bleach refused to give up a name or have a phone conversation. Or so I thought.

I was on disability leave for much of my final four months with Bleacher Report, battling a very serious illness that left me bedridden and very weak for most of May through July. One of the things that kept me energized during that time was a number of spirited debates I had with a friend about the merits of BR. He would later tell me that he’d sparked many of the calls just to get me fired up enough to fight through the illness I was dealing with. He was also my lifeline to the outside world, as I gave him access to my email accounts to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Without his help .. well, I don’t know what I would have done.

The topic of the BR Report came up quite often. I told him about the exchange I had with the phantom editor of the site. It led us to a debate on the state of journalistic ethics nowadays and what the norms are in terms of publishing and not publishing private conversations and what constituted something actually worth reporting. He argued that there were no ethics in today’s world. I argued vehemently that there were plenty of young reporters who still care about ethics — even if they are self taught bloggers, you don’t need to go to J-school for that. It’s a simple internal barometer of right and wrong.

Well, I later found out that my friend set out on a very slippery slope to prove me wrong. He logged in to my account and continued the conversation with the BR Report hack, who proceeded to give my friend a false name and told him that “you’re one of three people who know my true identity, so I hope I can trust you.”

My friend used just enough details from conversations I had had with him combined with a lot of outlandish statements that any legit journalist would check out before publishing (something about BR wanting to start a lifestyle channel comes to mind; it’s just plain idiotic for anyone who knows BR’s strategy to date). But then again, giving the Thomaselli/Flynn email that was published, that would be giving the BR Report hack way too much credit.

I’m not passing any buck here. I don’t blame my friend. He never thought any of that would be published, especially since he – like me – often said the conversations were off the record. (Another term that may be getting lost in today’s murky ethical pool, but I digress.)

This whole thing ultimately makes me look bad. My explanation is some kind of double catfish situation, where the one trying to fool the BR Report writer gets fooled right back. It is a mess and a lot of it is just plain stupid, but it reflects poorly on me.

More importantly, a lot of the statements made were derogatory toward former colleagues that I had and still have a great deal of respect for. I could go through point by point in what this jerk published on what I actually said and what was made up, but suffice to say, anything said about BR colleagues was made up.

Many encouraged me to write a rebuttal after the first piece involving me this writer published on BR Report. I just thought would be taking this hack’s bait and it’s just not my style. Instead, I wrote an email to those folks whose opinion I truly care about, to make sure they knew I was not the bitter gossip portrayed in these posts.

That email, published below, contained the five-email exchange I had with “Bleach”.

——-

If you’re getting this, you’re one of the few folks I actually care about in terms of what was said on The BR Report. Short story: that just wasn’t me. I know BR Report has very little credibility, but just in case …

I responded to a tweet from this BR Report guy who goes by Bleach as a twitter handle. He saw my post responding to Tom Ziller’s post and wanted some answers to some of the posts he’d put on BRR, specifically the piece targeting Rich Thomaselli. Refused to give me his name beyond Bleach.
This set off a five-email “blast” on Aug. 29-30, as I was still steaming about the Thomaselli post. I shouldn’t have responded to this guy, period. That’s on me. Just a bad idea on my part. In my response, I think I made myself more of a target.
The Turner stuff about the transition sounds like something I’d said to a friend in one of our many phone debates about the merits of BR. I own that. Shouldn’t be out there publicly, but that’s my bad for talking about it at all with anyone. I was upset after ending my B/R relationship and used this friend as a sounding board. So if there’s any morsel of validity to any of this in terms of sourcing, it may have come from my friend. Sounds far fetched, but that’s about all I can come up with. I’m still trying to get to the bottom of this. {I later found out, as stated above, that it was indeed my friend who had this exchange with Bleach.}
Anything else, it’s not me. Most of the other stuff just sounds stupid and petty and bitter, and that’s just not my style.
I ended my time with B/R amicably. If I really wanted to go low road, I could have made a big public spectacle without the help of The BR Report (about what, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t have needed this guy’s help).
Here’s the emails I sent to the BRR writer:

Aug. 29, No. 1:

OK, so before I answer questions and do anything on the record, I’d like a real name beyond Bleach.

I think Deadspin has taken a number of pretty pathetic potshots over the years. I could question as many of their practices, but going blow-for-blow just doesn’t get us anywhere if there’s not a baseline of mutual respect.

King and I have almost five decades combined in media, so we’ve been around the block asking these type of questions and answering them.

Bottom line, it’s the owners choice as to whether they cooperate. As I said in my piece, there are times when I would have done things differently on the PR front.

It’s their call as to whether they answer those questions. I’ve never seen any kind of breakdown of SB Nation’s writer base either. It’s their call as to how much of their model they want to divulge.

If, for instance, someone ever came at B/R with an honest comparison of SB Nation vs. Bleacher, they might be game for that. I know personally, I would feel much more comfortable that I would see a fair and balanced analysis done that way.

When you are singling out one company, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

As I said to Tom and in the piece, and as I believe Rich eluded to, some of the traffic tricks that SBN has pulled are so much more ridiculous than anything BR has ever done.

But it’s a part of the narrative that has never been explored. So that alone makes most if not all BR folks not trust that they’re getting a fair shake. SBN has by and large gotten a pass to date.

Hit me back with just a baseline of who I’m dealing with here and we can go from there.

Thanks-
Tim

….

Aug. 29, No. 2:

Again, off the record for now.

I can tell you this. You’re not going to get a whole lot from me related to Thomaselli. I don’t respect that a private conversation between writer and editor was published, that the editor’s name and freakin photo were put out there but you copped out with “The Writer.” That’s just not valid journalism.

You felt perfectly fine messing with a guy’s livelihood there with seemingly no regard for it, so the writer should be put in the same spot.

I’ve dealt with the writer, Danny Flynn. He has blown off paid assignments and shifts, left the editors in the lurch multiple times when he wanted to be a fan at a game live instead of a professional writer.

He left the site once after an unbelievably unprofessional meltdown with editors. Rich gave him another chance because Flynn was really hurting financially.

And this is how he repays him? Brilliant.

So if you’d publish Danny’s name with that original piece and put his career in jeopardy just like you did with Rich, you might get me to bite on the valid questions behind that exchange.

….

Aug. 29, No. 3:

Bleach,

Once again, everything below, this is off the record.

Gotta tell you, seeing your piece on the BR videos doesn’t really make me feel like there is a chance of a balanced article.

Leitch has been a BR hater for a long time, a great guy overall and we’ve had very cordial email exchanges because we’ve worked with and have mutual friends.

If he wants to throw out resumes when he sees Bleacher Report, it’s his prerogative. But he’d be missing a lot of high-quality writers.

But to use him as your source of media hiring BR writers, again, it’s a circle of haters continuing the hate. He paints a pretty broad brush in terms of “many, many others feeling the same way.” And you allow that comment to just linger out there without backing it up. To use a Deadspin guy on a Deadspin site (may not be technically, but you’re using Deadspin’s CMS so perception is that it’s a Deadspin site), it’s just lazy. We all know how Will feels, he wrote vitriolic pieces about BR at Deadspin and SoE.

If you had any more sources like from the Star Ledger or ESPN or NBC, just as random examples, instead of the incestuous circle of BR haters, it would come off as much more sound reporting.

And then you take a kid busting his ass to make it in the industry and you and Leitch have a good laugh. How is that useful reporting?

Leitch is a great writer, but there was a time when he was Josh Schoch. So to be tearing down a kid in print who apparently just walked in to a trap by trying to answer questions honestly, it’s pretty pathetic.

He told you he’s being paid, so instead, you start attacking his credentials.

I would LOVE to know how much SB Nation or Deadspin, for that matter, pay writers. I ran the budget. I know how much we paid writers and I feel pretty comfortable betting that in total, we paid writers more than either SB Nation or Deadspin last year.

In terms of writers moving on to other paid positions, I hired a good majority of the paid writers on the site and mentored many more unpaid writers. So I know they have moved on to other writing positions in the industry.

I know BR used to keep a directory of folks that have moved on to other media gigs, so I know it exists. But again, given how you handled Schoch, I would be very resistant personally to serving you up any other names to tear down.

….. 

Aug. 29, No. 4:

One last point, since I am catching up on your blog. Again, off the record.

B/R acknowledged the idea that writers might be pissed off about bringing in outside writers during our first wave of lead writer hires and our second wave of lead writers. I know. I had the conversations with countless writers. But these new writers were, at worst, new competition for paid gigs for our “homegrown” guys; and at best, a new bar to aspire to in a meritocracy among talent.

And in terms of homegrown talent, I could rattle off a large list of guys that have been promoted from unpaid to FT contract status (making a very solid livable wage).

As for Matt Miller, I love the guy personally and professionally. As much as I got tired of hearing Matt Miller this, Matt Miller that as the only human mascot of the success stories, I’m the first to say he is an incredible talent.

If you’re not willing to accept the premise that he got his big break and became truly nationally known because of BR, I don’t know where we go from there. He himself says he owes his career to BR.

People ARE reading you, but I can tell you that people at BR have largely been laughing at you, the same way you and Leitch had your way with Schoch. They just didn’t do it in articles published on the Web.

Your work comes off as so blatantly biased, and then you ask why you’re not being allowed to ask questions.

The vast majority of things you have put out there as “fact,” they are inaccurate. I have tried to offer up rebuttals in these emails to give you some clear off-the-record background information. But I have to say, the more I get caught up on your work, the more I just keep finding inaccuracies.

But I’m going to have to be convinced you’re actually interested in practicing legit journalism before I said anything on the record. For all I know, you could be Danny Flynn.

…..

Aug, 30, from Nose Bleeds:

Your rant was quite lengthy, so I just pasted it into Word and went to work on responding to everything.

Please, if we do proceed, let’s detach ourselves from emotion and “you” statements. Thank you.

Best,

Bleach 

….

Aug. 30, me to Bleach:

Again, off the record.

I wish you luck in your reporting. If you’re saying you are Danny, well, I wish you luck with your career but it’s hard to take you seriously beyond a revenge play.

I think there’s morsels of truth in some of what you’re saying, but your basic tenets of journalism are very shady. To start with, you as the reporter do not get anonymity when talking to a source. It’s not lazy of me to ask and I shouldn’t have to search it out. It is you being a responsible journalist. I highly doubt you got to Jim Bankoff without giving your name. If we can’t develop a basis of trust by knowing each other’s names, there is really nothing more to say.

I’ll respond to your points if and when we can establish that base level of trust. If you can’t trust me enough that I won’t reveal your name to anyone, there is no point talking. But don’t condescend me saying to take emotion out of it. That Thomaselli post was about as low as it goes and you were messing with a guy’s livelihood there. There is a much more professional way to go about that.

——–

That’s my full exchange with the writer. Initially, before I had talked to my friend, I thought my email had been hacked, which is why I responded to Bleach from my other email, letting him know that the conversation he published was with an impersonator.

Bleach published another part of the false exchange today, even after I had emailed about the situation. He/she said in the BR Report post today that I’m likely making excuses.

If I had things to say publicly about Bleacher Report, I’d own them. Again, there’s partial truths in his post today about my thoughts on writers, because some of that is exactly what I said to my friend. Would I ever want to see any of that published publicly? Of course not. I would never look to publicly attack writers that I had a lot of respect for. And anyway, I was largely responsible for hiring each of these writers, so whatever happened from there is on me.

Moreover, there’s timeline issues with these false exchanges with Bleach. I’m not going into all of it, but one of the more amusing discrepancies comes in an email that says I’m in the mountains and mostly out of cell range. But at the same time, I sent a tweet  after seeing “The French Connection” at my local theater.

Bleach also says that because the emails were in one chain, it had to all come from me. That’s technologically ignorant. If someone has your sign-in information on Gmail, it would still all appear in one chain.

I don’t know what my future in journalism is. There’s a lot of what’s going on right now that disgusts me and makes me ashamed to be part of the industry. So perhaps I go another route. All of this BR Report crap might hurt my chances of getting future work in the industry. If I’d seen this stuff about a perspective hire, I wouldn’t want to work with them. I’m certainly embarrassed to even be linked with it.

At its core, I still love the feeling of committing good journalism and reading good reporting. It takes me back to sixth grade when I first fell in love with newspapering and set out to make it my career.

When I see pieces like Bleach passed off as journalism … well, even if it didn’t involve me, it would discourage me. If this is the future, if these are the fast-and-loose rules today’s journalists are playing by, it might be time to find a new career path.

I’m sorry to those diehard defenders of B/R who read this BR Report debacle and thought I’d sold them out. To them, I’d say I’m still the Tim that implored you not to hit Twitter and lash out at every detractor. I still take a great deal of pride in my work with B/R and am honored by the hard work you put forth in building Bleacher Report.

If I cared enough about this Bleach writer, I’d seek some legal recourse for this mess (though given his/her anonymity and false email account, I think my efforts would be in vain). I’ve always believed in karma. If this is the set of moral rules this Bleach hack is playing with, he or she will be exposed soon enough.

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