CNBC's sports business reporter Darren Rovell has been victimized by a devious prankster, who tricked him into reporting something that wasn't true. But it's his response to getting played that raises even more questions about the meaning journalistic integrity.
The short version of the story, as reported by Deadspin's John Koblin, goes likes this: Back in November, Rovell asked his readers for stories about how the NBA lockout was affecting their business over Twitter. A bored high-school kid wrote to him pretending to be a pimp (sorry, the head of an "escort service") who caters to NBA players and celebrity fans. After several back and forth emails, Rovell took the writer at his word and dropped a note into his story that the escort service had lost about 30 percent of its business. He also used that tidbit as a teaser when tweeting the story out. Obviously, everything the so-called "pimp" he told Rovell was a lie.
Rovell was done in by two classic journalism mistakes. The first, less obvious one, is that crowdsourcing is a lousy way to gather news. As Rovell himself suggests in his CNBC mea culpa prompted by Koblin's report, people will say almost anything if they think it might end up in print, and people you don't know and never meet can't really be trusted. It happens to lots of people, because it's very tempting to rely on these kinds of tips. The information comes so easily, but it needs to be taken with twice the amount of salt. The second is a more traditional maxim: If a story is too good to check, it probably isn't true.
Unfortunately, Rovell's takeaway from being had is that if a story is too good to check ... he won't even bother trying anymore. While he takes full blame for being duped and offers up a sincere-sounding apology, his ultimate response is to punish his readers for the sins of his lying source. Here's how he ends his apology:
As a result I will do fewer stories on the real life impact of big events which I do think the public enjoys.
There will always be people out there who want their 15 minutes of fame and not really care how they get there.