Te’o debacle sheds light on journalism

While I interned at FOX 5-MyFOXNY over the summer, one of my co-workers handed me some great insight on journalism. “If you want to be a journalist, always remain skeptical.”

What we see with the Manti Te’o “hoax” is a case of skepticism being ignored. Sports is the perfect medium for an inspirational story: Xavier High School football team following Hurricane Sandy, Chuck Pagano’s return to coaching after battling cancer, Eric LeGrand’s determination to walk again. These are a few of many stories in sports that personify humanism in sports and illicit emotions from fans.

Manti Te’o’s story brought me to tears and to hear his story was a hoax left me in complete shock. A man who stole the hearts of college football fans and a nation used this story as a springboard into Heisman Trophy conversation. Even though he did not win the Heisman, this story was an integral part in voters. Andre Ware, Heisman Trophy winner and ESPN analyst, stated on College Football Live that Te’o’s story played a huge role in his vote for the Heisman Trophy.

Yet, scrutiny should not only rest on discovering the truth behind the Te’o debacle, but also on journalism as a whole.

As an aspiring journalist, before I ever write, I make it a goal to see if the information is reliable and valid (Journalism 101). Te’o’s “hoax” is an example of journalists ignoring this principle and taking the word of Te’o without investigating the existence of Te’o’s girlfriend. His “genuine” account of her death was so compelling that none of us ever once questioned the validity of her death. There may be some reasoning behind it though.

Jackie MacMullan, an NBA columnist on ESPN.com, said on Around the Horn, that journalists are jumping from story to story nowadays with the motto of “Get it First” with social media unlike years ago where journalists took some time to gather the facts for a story like Manti Te’o’s. With the evolution of social media, Twitter and Facebook have become mini-news sites. Everyone posts a status of how they are, what they did during the day, a story they read, it is the new age of journalism. If a story is leaked out like the Deadspin report about Te’o, social media booms and all of a sudden, the journalist is compromised into finding enough information for a quick story.

Manti Te’o does not seem like a villainous character. He was a catalyst as to why Notre Dame was such a force in college football this past season as well as appearing in the National Championship game because of the emotional impact and leadership he possesses. However, it will take an extended period of time before I as an aspiring journalist, or any other for that matter, can trust anything he says because with performance-enhancing drugs already a big deal in sports, now, stories such as Te’o’s could follow on the “must wonder” list

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