Check Your Sources
It’s a whole different world being a fan of baseball these days. Technology makes it possible for fans to watch their team from anywhere, to discuss their team from anywhere and for information to spread like wildfire. News breaks faster than ever.
That’s not always a good thing, however.
There’s a ton of misinformation out there – either things that aren’t based on anything, things that are at best half-true, or items that are simply made up. A lot of baseball fans (on Twitter, Facebook or otherwise) are diligent about checking on things, but it’s so easy to hit the “retweet” button and keep the chain moving along, sending bad info along the way. As Mark Twain said “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.”
If you’re on Twitter (and you should be, it’s a ton of fun), you might have seen a couple of accounts stating that they are “insiders” and have “multiple front office sources”. Then they piece together headlines and speculation to “break” a big story and claim the credit. Most of the time, they go off of who knows what and their “reports” turn into nothing but air.
This is my tale of a little social experiment.
First, a disclaimer: I don’t work in the Royals front office in any capacity. I don’t have any league sources. I enjoy writing about my favorite team in my free time. That’s it. I doubt I’ll ever be in a spot to break a story, and I’m not sure I’d want to be. I’d be so paranoid I’d double check, triple check and keep checking until someone else broke it.
With that in mind, I felt like testing something out.
It started by my requesting to be followed by one of these accounts so I could share a tip with them. My theory was that if I sold a bogus trade rumor the right way, they’d do no additional digging and report it, on the idea that being “first” would be more important to them than being “right”. They’ve reported things like Joakim Soria going to the Angels and Yu Darvish returning to Japan. It’s like tossing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. If you get one out of 100 right, push the one and delete the other 99.
I have to admit, this wasn’t a noble task, and I feel a little dirty about it. But I had to know how these guys operated.
Here’s how things went down:
–I sent the insider a direct message (hereafter “DM”): “So I work on KU Campus and some Royals guys have connections there. Got a text ‘Butler to Texas for Martin Perez, extras coming'”
I figured the Prince Fielder rumors would make it reasonable that the Rangers might be looking for a first baseman/DH type and Butler has come up in the Yankees rumors, too, recently. I pegged a big time prospect just to make it “fit” a bit better.
-Next I sent him a follow up DM: “he mentioned the Butler extension last January the Saturday before they announced it on Sunday.”
I wanted to sell the idea that my “source” had been right before about a big announcement and, specifically, a Butler announcement.
–He responds: “sounds trustworthy but is it a done deal” and follows with “I would LOVE to report this first”
In two messages to me, he’s already come close to proving my point. I sent him two messages without talking to him at any point before tonight. He’s going completely off of one mention from one random person. Sure, I have some followers on Twitter, and I keep up on recent news, so maybe he took me at my word at that point, but his statement of wanting to report it first told me just what he was after.
If he did have true sources, this would be where I’d expect him to start calling them to find out more. If he had sources, they’d probably be debunking him at that point. He’d quickly know that I was full of it.
He didn’t check because of the most likely reason – he had no sources.
–I send him another bit of info: “I think they have to put in a prospect here and there on each side to even it out, but they thought w/in 72 hrs”
I wanted to provide a bit more information, even if vague, because typically, trade rumors that are close to consummation have some of that tidying up to do before they get completed. I also wanted to give him an out to sit on it and perhaps check with people, hence the 72 hours mention. I guess it may have compelled him to put this rumor out even sooner because there was a timeframe involved and he knew when he’d be beat on it (if it were true).
–He responds with this DM: “I would imagine but if I report this I dont want to sound like a big goof” and adds “If its not trut [sic] that is”
So he at least understands that he can look silly if this is not true.
–I have to really push the credibility of my own source so: “I’ve known this guy since I started working on campus five years ago. He’s desk guy at KU and does scoreboard stuff at Kauffman.”
I’m hoping he gets the feeling that I’m confident in the source myself, and if I’m confident, he should be too. Remember, I mentioned that this “guy” told me about the Butler deal last winter, too.
–He replies, seeming to be on the hook: “Well if i could just get a little more info id break this”
Oh man. So close to getting him to go for it.
–I add some details: All he’s givin’ me right now. He’s implying agreement in principle. just details on Dwyer or Will Smith from KC w/ BUtler
I considered fixing the errant capital “U” but left it in just because. I added a couple of notable lefty names to make it seem reasonable. Heck, maybe Texas would do that deal. Probably not, though.
He then tosses out this tweet:
If, by the time this post is up, he has taken that down, the tweet reads “Potential big trade between #Royals and #Rangers stay tuned”. At this point, he’s ready to roll with it. He’s trying to get some interest built up before he actually puts the story out.
–I send him this DM: “what should I ask him? I don’t wanna break it myself cause working on some Royals resume stuff to get in their FO”
Through all of this, I wondered why he never looked at my follower count and wondered why I didn’t just break this news myself. I also gave him another out to ask “do you want your name on this?” or to dig further. He didn’t take it. He never asked about the source’s name, how long he’d been around, if I’d heard it elsewhere. None of that.
–He asks: “when you think someone will report this?”
I feed him something about how Dutton usually breaks Royals rumors, but they don’t have leaks often out of One Royal Way (which they don’t).
–My last DM to him: “I bet “agreement in principle” is safe to get your anchor on it, then when details come out, you were first to mention it. ya know?”
Just enough rope.
Moments later, he posted this tweet.
Of course, once something is on the internet, it’s out there forever. He has since deleted the tweet, so it’s not on his timeline, but it was retweeted enough by both Royals and Rangers followers than it’s out there, floating around.
After eight DMs from me within a ten minute span, he reported this as a news story. Obviously, he didn’t check a source, because Greg Schaum from Pinetar Press (who DOES have connections out there) did check with someone he knows in the Rangers organization and, of course, got no information about this rumor being valid, because, of course, it wasn’t. I made it up and sold it to the guy.
All he had to do was wait. Make a call. Check elsewhere. I’m not 100% sure of the motivation but it’s likely attention and followers. Maybe it’s an attempt to make a name out there by throwing everything out possible and when it hits, it’s gold.
I sent him a tweet mentioning that I’d made the whole rumor up and pointed out that:
He put out this one to retract his poor reporting, and (hey I can’t blame him for this) tried to steer it to me, as if I’d reported it.
To be clear to my own followers, I wanted to let them know the entire story. I also offered a warning.
I took a little flack from Royals and Rangers fans alike, some thinking I had reported it as fact, but I’d told a few other folks I follow via DM about my plan and how I was going about it, and explained to those who were upset with me (and hey, I can’t blame them, it was a dirty trick) that I’d mentioned it as a rumor I’d heard and he’d reported it without checking anything. That calmed them down.
So no, Billy Butler isn’t going to be traded to Texas. I don’t know a guy at KU who knows guys at Kauffman Stadium who gets leaks.
For the purpose of writing an article on Kings of Kauffman, I’m never going off of a source I have anywhere. I’m going off of what I’ve seen tweeted by beat writers, national writers and reputable websites. I have a regular day job that occupies 40+ hours of my week and doesn’t afford me the chance to go digging for rumors or juicy scoops. As I said before, I don’t really want those items. If it was verifiable, and I happened upon it, fine. If I had a true source that I trusted, great. But I’m not looking to be first. I want to write about the goings-on of my favorite sports team in the world.
But it’s that easy to find the right person to sell on a ruse like this, and just like that, the lie is halfway around the world.
So consider where the sources are coming from. As a fan, it makes you more informed and prevents you from spreading bad information. Google is the easiest search engine in the world and there are dozens of mainstream sports media sites to check for more information. Follow beat writers and national writers on Twitter – those are the guys in the trenches making connections and digging. Those are the guys who, typically, break the news. They’ve built reputations, connections and trust from front offices and there’s a reason why they’re in the position they’re in.
Some guy with a login and a keen eye for MLBTradeRumors.com headlines can spoof thousands, based on nothing.
What it comes down to is check your sources. Know where the information is coming from. If you’re a potential journalist out there, follow this fantastic quote by A.A. Dornfeld, provided by Kevin Agee at Royals Corner:
(I promise – no more shenanigans from here on out. Regular Royals articles will continue as usual now.)