An Act of Daily Journalism

By Chris

I’m sure NinjaDude is a nice guy. I’ve never been to his site and I’m not going to link it, but when he writes something that he says he can confirm with “99 percent certainty,” why shouldn’t we believe him?

He’s apparently credible enough for both WIVB and the Buffalo News to cite him as a primary source in reports on how the infamous Erin Andrews video may or may not have been filmed at the Buffalo Athletic Club. So what information do they actually have to back it up?

Channel 4 actually talked to “NinjaDude” (more work than the News seemed to do) but never really received a straight answer:

The editor tells News 4 he concludes that because the person who sent various peep show videos, like this, was traced by a service called Daily Motion to 69 Delaware Avenue, which also houses law offices, but happens to have a health club.

“The descriptions on some of those videos were showering women after a workout,” said Ryan Yono, editor of www.ninjadude.com.

Both reports are going off of some third party trace that concluded that the videos NinjaDude received could have been sent from the BAC or from another location a block away. The videos appear to have been filmed in a hotel — does the BAC have hotel rooms, too? When was it filmed? Why was Erin Andrews even in Buffalo? No one seems to know.

The city’s only daily newspaper quoted Scott R. Patronik, chief of special services for the Erie County Sheriff’s office:

“At this point, all we have is a blog item from a Web site saying there were voyeuristic videos posted from a Buffalo location,” the investigator said. “There’s no solid information of any kind that we’re aware of.”

So it sure sounds like, at this point in time, making a Buffalo connection is a bit of a stretch. But it’s apparently enough in journalism these days for the lede of a story.

As the News wrote:

A blurry nude video of ESPN sports reporter Erin Andrews created a storm of controversy last week after someone shot it illegally and posted it on the Internet.

Is there any chance that the video was shot in Buffalo?

Local law enforcement officials say they are unaware of any proof that it is, despite a report on an entertainment gossip Web site that was picked up by a Buffalo television station.

And as Channel 4 so coyly asked:

Did a peeping tom camera tape an ESPN sportscaster at the Buffalo Athletic Club?

So to answer both questions, there is a chance, but you’re grasping at straws for a story. And you have no reliable sources backing a claim about a video no one has much background information on.

The video is a story — it’s the sports world’s version of the Paris Hilton sex tape. And it’s drawing a lot of attention, especially from the legal team at ESPN. But for the local news outlets to use some random Web site to verify a potential Buffalo connection as its hook is simply irresponsible.

For any rumor, one reliable source isn’t usually enough to verify it. As a journalist, you want a few sources you can trust to give you corroborative information. Since when does “NinjaDude,” with no history of credibility, suddenly become the driving force of these two reports?

I could say that I was in the bathroom of that hotel room while Andrews was being filmed. And I could say it with “99 percent certainty,” but who would believe it? Who should believe it? Everyone should question a report like that — the problem is, it doesn’t sound like Channel 4 or the News did enough questioning of Mr. Dude.

The News felt it was important enough to write about, but simply spliced other reports together (while not keeping Channel 4 accountable for the initial report) and didn’t assign a byline to the story (just to clarify, the e-mail at the bottom of the story says it came from the city desk and not sports). At least George Richert of WIVB put his name on the story and got the BAC’s side of it.

We live in a world today that demands instant information and access. If every expert source interviewed has no idea where the video was filmed (including Andrews’ attorney), then why do Channel 4 and the News feel compelled to peddle that as the driving source for their story?

And what deceiving headlines.
“Andrews video linked to Buffalo” (Buffalo News)
“ESPN Sportscaster video linked to BAC” (WIVB)

From what’s reported in those stories, there’s “no solid information of any kind” other than a “trace” that Daily Motion performed. So no, there is no link. Or at least no link worth even reporting about. And then everyone wonders why people say journalism is dying.

An update: Apparently NinjaDude was actually a bit more than 1 percent uncertain. Who would have guessed?