Tipping Pitches: Blogging Ethics and an Impending PED Suspension


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blogging Ethics and an Impending PED Suspension

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Monday night, @injuryexpert (Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus) tweeted the following:

Ped suspension is coming.

This morning, he clarified in Under the Knife:

I hate covering these but for over a month, I've been getting whispers that there was a PED suspension being appealed. The process can be an extensive one, involving hearings and testimony, as well as some negotiation. There's no room to "plead down" on a positive test, so the attack is usually on Christiane Ayotte and her Montreal lab. Yesterday, I learned that a high-ranking baseball executive spoke off the record about the suspension being announced. He said it was a pitcher, but I couldn't get any solid confirmation of that fact by the time I posted on Twitter. (And yes, I did feel some pressure to get this out, but I also realized that by doing so, I was pretty much guaranteeing that someone else would break the name first.) I feel very confident in my information on this, but still have no idea about the name or the substance (though it's not an amphetamine.) It's pretty amazing that in a world where the new iPhone is pictured on the net, that baseball could sneak through the entire multi-week process with no leaks. That speaks well of the process put in place by the OIC and the MLBPA. While I expect the announcement today, baseball moves at its own pace

Later, Craig Calcaterra of NBCSports Hardballtalk clarified:

UPDATE II: I have learned that the player to be suspended is a National League pitcher.

UPDATE: I have learned that the PED suspension is NOT a New York player.

If you know me at all, you know that I eat this stuff up. It's not that I relish the downfall of athletes. I simply want every PED user brought down. If they did the crime, bust them. The more players who slip through the cracks, the less likely the game will ever be cleaned up. So even when the facts aren't all yet clear, I appreciate getting the heads up that something is coming. Builds the drama, and to be honest it's good journalism if what you want is to drive traffic to your site.

Of course, not all agree with this sentiment. Both Calcaterra and Carroll were widely panned for releasing "rumors" before all the facts were known in an effort to be "first." The argument: Until you know the player and the transgression, keep your trap shut.

Eh, I disagree. I believe both writers were responsible in the way this was handled. Neither began speculating on the name of the player being suspended. Both simply released the information known to be true. If there is indeed a player suspended this week, then we know they were reporting the facts. And if you have a reliable inside source, it's not a "rumor" in the first place.

Whether all of the facts are available yet or not, this is big news. The only big names to get a MLB imposed PED suspension are Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez. All reports are that the player will be a "semi big name" so this isn't small news.

If a plane goes down but you don't know who was on board, you report it. If a local 7-11 is robbed and you don't know the name of the perpetrator, you report it. You're responsible for making sure the information you release is accurate, but you report it. You release the additional facts as they come in, but you report what you know.

In particular, this is the type of reporting we should expect in our new, real-time media. Facts will trickle in. Information will be leaked. And as that information is available, we want to know. Those who claim we don't do not speak for the larger population.

Now, don't get me wrong, this can lead to irresponsible reporting. Once the word leaked of an impending suspension, fake news spread like wildfire about which player was involved. It wasn't the speculation that was the problem, but the false incrimination of players on blogs as if it was confirmed fact.

I won't mention the most popular name spread here because I will attempt to be responsible. I don't want to perpetuate a rumor proved to be false to my two readers (player's name starts with a "D" and ends with a "t").

But it does also raise a question: When, if ever, is speculation acceptable? And on which media? By whom? Falsely (and intentionally) naming a player as a PED user as an official, factual report is clearly wrong. What about talking with a friend? Talking on the phone? Writing an e-mail? This type of speculation is human nature. It's ultimately freedom of speech as well.

But what about speculating with social media? I naturally have my own suspicions. Everyone does. I'd suggest that speculation on Facebook isn't typically a problem since it is essentially a conversation with your friends (if you so choose to limit your audience to your friends only). On Twitter... there may be a gray area.

I admit that I speculated on Twitter (with my TippingPitches and not personal account), though I did so with a question mark to make it clear that this was not a report. Is this crossing the line? I have a public feed, but I also only have 58 followers. Granted, word can spread quickly, but one could argue that responsibility increases with the size of the audience. Or, one could also argue, you should be careful no matter what your audience.

So maybe that was a lame move on my part. But what if you don't have a blog? What if you're just talking sports because you're a fan? Do these people have a responsibility not to publicly speculate?

What do you think?


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