This morning, Nieman Lab posted a Q&A with Henry Abbott, basketball analytics savant and the new NBA deputy editor at ESPN.com.
The story drew me in because I’ve been spending all of my free time trying to ride the wave of advanced analytics and sabermetrics. I think there’s an untapped market thirsting for an attractive, well-designed marriage of the bland, black-and-white world of stats to powerful storytelling. Grantland is leading the charge here, obviously, but others are creeping up.
But the line that rang the truest didn’t just apply to the sports. Here’s Abbott’s answer when he’s asked what the speed of digital has done to his industry:
The rosy answer to that is that it’s harder to lie. There’s so many different people chiming in to call you on it if you do.
I wrote for magazines — including the NBA’s official magazine — and I don’t know that we ever heard from anybody about anything. You just wrote what you wrote, did your best. Nowadays everything is reacted to and cross-checked and triple-checked within seconds. You have to think really hard about exactly how you’re gonna break that.
Those are two extremely valid points that, I think, get lost among everything else people are saying.
With the crush of digital journalism came the cynical notion that it was the end of veracity in journalism as we knew it. Really, it’s separating the wheat from the chaff. It’s impossible to undamage reputations online. Prudent, thoughtful journalists (not the kind that botch Supreme Court decisions or life-or-death situations) are more careful than ever to get the story right the first time because, as Abbott says, the opposition has just as loud and powerful a mouthpiece as you do.
You want your work to speak for itself. If you do it right, you’re able to say, ‘Well, you may not agree with what I do, but you can’t argue with how I did it.’
And that’s when real conversation happens.