As Iâ€™m finding out all too quickly on Twitter, masking ones identity can lead to all kinds of interesting story angles, whether they might be true, or not. It seems obvious now that Theo Epstein on Twitter is not THE Theo Epstein.
But, when it comes to commentary online, anonymity can mask individuals in high place... or not.
Take Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter Kristi Swartz and Atlanta Hawks and Thrashers minority owner, Bruce Levenson. Levenson, a journalist by profession, mind you, was tracked down my Swartz to deal with a matter that was said to be so sensitive that a meeting in person needed to take place. Iâ€™ll let Levenson take it from here via this weekâ€™s edition on the SportsBusiness Journal online:
Her earth-shattering topic: She wanted to know if I was â€śWhammer.â€ť She produced a stack of printouts from â€śWhammer.â€ť
It seems â€śWhammerâ€ť has been e-mailing the AJC frequently in recent years in response to sports columnist Jeff Schultzâ€™s articles critical of my teams, our management and our ownership. Whammerâ€™s rambling rants attack Schultz, while defending the Hawks and Thrashers organization. In one of his many posts, Whammer echoes the oft-stated but ridiculous notion that Atlanta fans are bad fans who do not support their teams. This notion first surfaced, as best I know, when the Braves failed to sell out some playoff games in the 1990s.
I explained to Swartz that I was not Whammer. I have responded to AJC articles and others, but always in my own name. Itâ€™s one of the values Iâ€™ve stressed to the journalists at my own company: You lose credibility with anonymity.
The op/ed then goes on to say that Shwatz did not believe him and that the AJC had traced Whammerâ€™s e-mail address to Levensonâ€™s company internal network.
It gets better. Levenson has said that he considered legal action in the matter, and then, online commentary has come into play.
In the comments section of the SBJ op/ed, Shawn McIntosh, the AJC public editor chimes in:
AJC reporters were curious about the identity of the commenter, believing it would be newsworthy if someone in a leadership position in the Spirit organization was criticizing Atlanta fans. They did what journalists do â€“ reported the story by asking questions, including asking Mr. Levenson whether he was the person anonymously posting as Whammer, or whether someone was doing it at the ownership group's behest.
Once Mr. Levenson denied that he or other owners were behind the Whammer postings that criticized fans, there was no story. AJC reporters frequently pursue newsworthy angles that don't prove true. They don't write every story they report.
McIntosh then goes on to explain that the one error that the AJC made was looking up the IP address of â€śWhammerâ€ť to see if they could track it down to an individual.
The exchange outlines how traditional media and the world of social networking are intersecting. Itâ€™s a delicate dance that is being done, but one thing is certain: either Whammer is sweating bullets today, thinking that they may get fired at Sprint, or is doing virtual high-fives with others on some forum at the moment, while baiting others.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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