My minor in college was journalism, and I loved it. I’d taken every “newspaper writing” course I could lay my hands on, so I’d heard all about the problems involved with freedom of the press and the confidentiality of sources. But covering Pro Tour: New Orleans showed me another side of journalism, one that hadn’t been brought up in class, and it was only then that I realized why the news we see so uniformly bad.
But first, some background for those of you who aren’t in the know: Pro Tour New Orleans 2003 was the first time that Pete, the President and Owner of StarCityGames.com, decided to try our hand at covering big Magic events. He sent three of us down to New Orleans to get the dirt on the big Extended Pro Tour.
The problem was, of course, that Wizards was already covering it. Why would anyone read our coverage when they had the official reporting?
The answer, of course, was that we were raw news.
At the time, Wizards had just had a (very) minor scandal earlier in the year, because a high-profile player had gotten himself kicked out of the tournament for cheating (and was later banned for two years), yet none of that had shown up in the official coverage. It was news by any yardstick, of course…. But the fact that Wizards hadn’t mentioned it meant not everything that was happening was being reported.
So why couldn’t we come in and tell another side?
We weren’t trying to embarrass Wizards, of course — everyone who covers tournaments knows everyone else, and we weren’t going to make fools of our friends — but still, we figured that if Wizards didn’t consider that piece of data to be newsworthy, there were probably other tidbits to be unearthed that could get us new readers (and, of course, there were advantages to being there first-hand when all of the new decks hit). So off we went.
Unfortunately, we found a scandal right away… Well, sort of.
The issue was this: at the tournament, there was a deck archetype that had suddenly exploded into popularity the day before the tournament started. Word on the street was that one of the big Magic teams had purposely leaked news of the deck’s existence because their real deck beat the tar out of it.
In other words, Big Magic Team had “accidentally” told people about the deck in the hopes that unprepared players would bring it to the tournament, at which point they’d crush anyone who had been foolish enough to play it. That was news, and it didn’t seem like Wizards planned to report it.
But would we?
In fiction, we’d have a convenient Murder, She Wrote moment where we’d get the evidence from one witness and the culprit would confess. “Yes, yes!” they’d cry. “We leaked the deck! You have transfixed us with your amateur sleuthery, you mad bastards!”
But this was real life, and depending on who you talked to, Big Magic Team had definitely done it, or it was a legitimate mistake that had been turned into a rumor to make Big Magic Team look bad, or Big Magic Team had never heard of said deck.
Taken as a whole, the evidence seemed to point slightly towards Deck As Propaganda. But when we questioned members of Big Magic Team, they were (not surprisingly) upset about being maligned so. When we questioned members of Other Magic Teams, some of them assured us that the villainy of Big Magic Team knew no bounds, and the more they personally disliked Big Magic Team the worse their crimes were.*
But was anyone willing to go on the record to say this? Nah.
Eventually, we had a smoking gun in the form of a recent member of said team…. Or maybe he was still a member. It was hard to say, given that the team in question had an awful lot of people circulating in and out of it at the time, which probably didn’t help any leakage issues much. In any case, said person was held in high regard by the Magic community as a whole, and he was willing to state that he believed that Big Magic Team had leaked the deck in a fiendish play. And then came the next big wave:
Did we want to report this story?
Oh, it’s nice to talk about exposing the truth behind Big Magic Team… But realistically, Big Magic Team was made up of several Big Magic Pros, each of whom were people we wanted to write for us. StarCityGames.com bread and butter are qualified authors, and in reporting this we could tell the truth but alienate several people who we might desperately need in the future.
Was this scoop worth burning bridges? We could do this once, but after this they’d never talk to us again. Was it time to pull the plug?
Worse, was this actually a story? I mean, so they’d leaked it purposefully. (Maybe.) How big a crime was that? Certainly there’s nothing in the rules against it — some would consider it to be unethical, but others (including myself) would consider it to be a masterful psychological ploy.
Okay, we’d be pissing off Big Magic Team to report something that really wasn’t that big a deal.
Furthermore, even though we had the member of said team willing to go on record, how much did we trust him? Oh, we thought we knew the guy… But what if it turns out that he had some secret axe to grind that we were unaware of? And leaving aside any questions of buried motivations, we knew that said person was normally rock-solid reliable – but what if he had somehow misheard what had happened, and we’d be going through all of this based on a grievous misunderstanding that he had of the situation? In other words, did we trust this guy enough to possibly kiss several big-name writers goodbye?
In the end, we let it go. I think we did a brief article that did the eternal reporting wuss-out — hey, we got quotes from both sides, it’s fair and balanced! We drew no real conclusions ourselves, of course.
Which is why your news sucks. Every day, reporters have to decide whether it’s worth scorching some normally-reliable news source to the ground in order to report something that may or may not be true and may or may not be newsworthy, all to report something that if it is true the members will deny to their last breath.
And that complexity is just from one stupid Magic tournament in New Orleans. Imagine how it is in Baghdad.
The Here Edits This Here Site Guy
* – In an ideal world, people would get that I’m being sarcastic, but I suspect that there are several people who will think I’m serious. We didn’t uncover any real hatreds – knife fights rarely break out at tournaments – but there was a distinct correlation between a player’s dislike of Big Team and how likely said player thought that Big Team had done it on purpose.
I should also note at this point that in another Daily a few years after this, Ben Goodman confessed to accidentally leaking the deck, meaning that either Ben goofed big time in blabbing about Food Chain Goblins in a fit of newbish excess, or he is willing to lie to a gullible public to protect his nefarious secrets. In any case, it makes me even gladder that we didn’t take a stance.