A Fake NBA Story, A Weird Commenting Experiment, and Tribe Reporters At Home — Cleveland.com Did Not Have a Very Good Week

click to enlarge A Fake NBA Story, A Weird Commenting Experiment, and Tribe Reporters At Home — Cleveland.com Did Not Have a Very Good Week
Screenshot of now deleted story
It's been a rough recent stretch for the fine people over at 1801 Superior Ave.

Things kicked off when the digital marketing outlet got fooled by a fake story claiming that NBA commissioner Adam Silver threatened to pull the 2017 All Star Game out of Charlotte if North Carolina didn't repeal its harmful and disgusting anti-LGBT bill that was recently passed amid national disgust. The problem, of course, was that it didn't happen. Someone at Cleveland.com spotted the fake ABC News story — with a URL beginning with abcnews.com.co, the same fake website that Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski had previously cited on Twitter with a story about Trump protesters "admitting" that they were paid by Trump opponents —- and aggregated it into an earlier Associated Press story about the North Carolina bill. Whew! The story ran under the Associated Press byline and, with the authority of the AP and Cleveland.com behind it, was picked up by various outlets over the weekend.

Cleveland.com Vice President of Content Chris Quinn issued a lengthy apology on Monday — clunkily titled, "We made a big mistake over the weekend, and we should not have." (Thanks for admitting you should not have!) — detailing the false steps that led to the story's publication.

"We did several things wrong involving this fake story, but before I get into that, I want to assure you that we are using this episode to re-educate our staff about some journalism basics," Quinn wrote. "We value the trust you place in us when you visit our site, and we know better than to put that trust into jeopardy."

So there was that. But Quinn's public issuances weren't done.

He also announced in a winding, weird editorial a new policy for commenting on crime stories on the site. Basically, comment sections on all crime stories are now shut off. To participate in a conversation, readers are instead directed toward a single page where all comments on all crime stories are made. Whew! If that makes you think of a forum instead of a comment section, you're not alone. Tuesday's string included plenty of comments sans context, which begat followup comments like, "What story are you talking about?"

An easy solution to the cesspool that is the comment section on any news website probably doesn't exist, but there are some best practices out there, this not being one of them. At least it's only an experiment for now.

"We hope this change will break us away from a splintered conversation about individual crimes so that we can more intelligently talk about crime trends, ways to protect ourselves from becoming crime victims and what causes people to resort to crime," Quinn wrote. "If we can involve more people in the discussion, maybe we can come up with some ideas for diverting would-be criminals into more beneficial activities."

Yes, an internet comment section is going to be the place where finally — finally! — a solution is found for getting a gang member to play cricket and enroll in community college instead of robbing someone. We can't wait for the results.

Then came news Monday that Tribe beat reporters Paul Hoynes and Zack Meisel didn't make the trip to Chicago for the Indians' abbreviated series against the White Sox. Kevin Kleps of Crain's Cleveland Business then pointed out that neither writer had made the trip to Tampa Bay for the series against the Rays. Later, we heard that the reporters will only be attending "select" road trips this season.

We get the need to save a few shekels here and there these days, and that the era of the game story as it was previously written and devoured is long over. That being said, game stories are often very good, capturing the atmosphere of the locker room or arena or stadium. To do that well, however, or to do your job well as a reporter in all the other ways you serve readers besides recapping what happened — to build relationships, to tell stories that go behind the runs and outs, to build context and scenery — it's important for reporters to be, well, where the story they're following is. In this case, it'd be with the team. (We think that's called "journalism basics," to borrow a phrase from our friend.) Sure, they can watch games on TV and call and text with sources, but keeping them bound to Northeast Ohio while the Indians are in, say, New York or Texas, does nothing but put them at a disadvantage with other outlets at a time when the fight for eyeballs is as fierce as ever. In other words, to give readers yet another reason to put a little less trust in Cleveland.com.

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Vince Grzegorek

Vince Grzegorek has been with Scene since 2007 and editor-in-chief since 2012. He previously worked at Discount Drug Mart and Texas Roadhouse.
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