Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Deadspin: pseudo-journalism at its worst

Let me preface this commentary on Deadspin with semi-standard boiler-plate:

1. I read Deadspin compulsively every day. Almost exclusively for the Drew Magary content; he leads the league in laughs.
2. Say what you will about Will Leitch, but Deadspin was far better under his stewardship, back when they actually used to talk about sports, and not just how ironic and/or post-modern the editorial staff's view of sports is.
3. I think for every 100 comments on Deadspin, the break down is as follows: 49:49:2 :: offensive for the sake of being offensive : patently unfunny : laugh out loud funny. (Still a better ratio than any recent episode of Family Guy.)

Today, Deadspin kicked off what they're calling The Search for America's Dumbest Student-Athlete. Deadspin's head-editor, A.J. Daulerio, stated the goal of the mission:

to show how your university is, in some cases, probably doing more harm than good. We won't name you, but we will name the dumb-dumb, if necessary.

In theory, I like what they're trying to do. The facade of the student-athlete (especially, but not limited to, Football and Basketball) is such a laughable farce that the NCAA deserves to constantly have its balls busted for it. However, the methodology that Deadspin is using is anything but scientific. At the very best, they might turn up enough anecdotal evidence to make a thin argument that certain universities aren't doing a good job at preparing student athletes for the real world.

However, if you're at all familiar with this blog, then you're well aware of the fact that anecdotal evidence is almost completely useless in arguments like these. In the two pieces of "dumb" student athlete work posted so far, barely any context has been given. We don't know if they were first drafts, what grade the athlete received, etc. All we know is that a college-athlete wrote something really dumb, and the college in question may or may not be culpable.

While the lack of scientific integrity is bothersome, the much bigger concern is how readily apparent it is that this whole exposé is merely another vehicle for belittling and laughing at those who happen to be good at sports. In just the second post (I'm not going to link to it, but I'm sure you can easily find it), the student-athlete's name, school, picture, and (just in case the player's identity was at all in doubt) team profile page were all provided to the Deadspin readership. Daulerio claimed that he would only "name the dumb-dumb, if necessary," and yet, Daulerio's already done so for seemingly no other reason than to provide a name and face to mock.

This feature will undoubtedly draw a lot of criticism, which will be met by Daulerio and his apologists hiding behind the veneer of a high minded journalistic mission, a mission which is still-born due to its childish manner. A few months will pass, and everything will be forgotten, before Deadspin contrives some way to lower itself deeper into the gutter, and its place at one-half notch above a supermarket tabloid will be further secured.


Biggus Rickus said...

In fairness to the athletes in question, given the degradation of writing skills in general, are they really that much worse than a lot of other college underclassmen?

pnoles said...

Re: Family Guy - nail on the head.