Online sports journalism at its worst

By Addison Walton

Imagine it's a normal day in your newsroom. You've got some ideas for a column, and you've got some thoughts down on paper, but nothing has clicked yet. Finally, it comes to you: Throw something against the wall to see if it sticks.

Stony Brook Wolftank blog
Meet John Steigerwald of the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa. Stiegerwald is the Pittsburgh-area columnist most famous for writing that a San Francisco Giants fan who was beaten into a coma brought the attack onto himself. He also libeled NHL player Alexander Ovechkin both in print and on the radio.

In his Observer-Reporter column published early Dec. 4, Steigerwald made blind accusations with no factual evidence.

Steigerwald starts off on the right foot by giving his readers facts and statistics regarding how Ovechkin's production as a player has gone down. But he soon starts stumbling.

Stiegerwald says: "
Is any of this proof that Ovechkin's performance was enhanced before, and now it's not? No. But, you combine it with the fact that his doctor was charged with bringing PEDs over the border from Canada, and it gives you the right to be suspicious. Add to that the fact a Washington D.C. chiropractor was investigated after he bragged about supplying steroids to members of the Capitals and Washington Nationals."

And here's the thing: This isn't a blog lacking credibility. Rather, it's a trusted newspaper allowing one of its writers to post despite having no facts.

Fast forward to Dec. 5. Yahoo Sports blog Puck Daddy published an article written by Ryan Lambert refuting the claims of Steigerwald and putting this "made up" story to rest. Lambert's column refutes (albeit with lots of snark) every point Steigerwald makes and should have put this whole non-issue to rest. But in the age of online news, things keep escalating.

Indeed, Internet content spreads more quickly than the flu in an elementary school. On Tuesday, Steigerwald and Lambert had a nice 28 minute "discussion" on Trib Live Radio.  (If you have 30 minutes, give this a listen. Specifically listen between 16:30 and 19:00. It's a fantastic example of what a radio interview shouldn't be. #SidneyCrosbyisaVampire.)

This whole saga played out over the Internet, and spectators from many different walks of life witnessed online journalism at its worst. Reporters, journalists and online authors will often write about the benefits of such a free and open online society, but this incident highlights how one reporter can be moronic enough to write about something while possessing little to no facts. It's one thing to have an opinion, but it's another to libel a perfectly good athlete who's having a rough year.

As Uncle Ben of Spiderman fame says, "With great power (the stroke of a keyboard) comes great responsibility (journalistic integrity)." Let's hope the online journalism community continues to understand and enact this credo.

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