What went wrong for Nick Taylor & the Tide Times

The Tide Times blog rocked the world with an exclusive story claiming that Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo would be hired by the Alabama Crimson Tide. The story by Nick Taylor was discussed on Paul Finebaum’s radio show, Internet message boards, blogs and at the water cooler.

Taylor fueled talk and drove traffic to his blog by calling into Finebaum’s radio program promoting his story and relationship with persons close to the University’s athletic department.

Now that Izzo won’t be coaching the Crimson Tide, it is a good chance to evaluate what went wrong with the blog, and how the fiasco injured the new media—Internet blogs—a segment of the media gaining in prominence, but lacking in respectability.

Taylor fell victim to two very real problems in his report, 1. the reliance on only one source, and 2. not understanding the limitations of his source’s knowledge. Both of those problems could have been overcome with vigorous editorial supervision. Newspapers have a reputation for getting things correct because newspapers have a bureaucracy designed to challenge the reporter.

Good editors ask hard questions and challenge a writer to verify information. A good editor would’ve asked Taylor how his source knew Izzo would take the Alabama job. From Taylor’s appearances on Finebaum and in Taylor’s own blog posts, it was clear the source was someone connected with Nick Saban’s family. Kudos to Taylor for identifying his source much better than most newspapers or websites. While this source likely would know Izzo’s name was being talked about, how could this source know definitively Izzo would take the job?

This is where a good editor would’ve asked for corroboration. Other sources with more direct knowledge of Izzo and any contacts with the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Everyone makes mistakes, but the trick is to make as few as possible. This process doesn’t guarantee you won’t make a mistake, but it does help reduce gigantic errors that ruin your reputation. The next time Taylor reports something, who is going to believe it?

So, what do blogs need to do? Here are some random thoughts on the subject:

Try editorial standards
While you can put anything you want in a newspaper, if you own the paper then you probably are going to exercise care over what appears in it. Why? Because you have a vested economic interest in it. You pay to buy the newsprint. You pay to buy the ink. You pay to run the press. You pay the writers. You pay for distribution.

Simply put, you refrain from doing things that would undermine your financial investment. That is why newspapers have editorial standards. Don’t be fooled and believe papers have standards because of some grand concern for reporting the truth—it is an economic interest with visible economic consequences. You can’t forget newspapers are a business.

The Internet has a much lower cost structure than print. You can start a blog like the Tide Times for free, and with only the cost of sweat equity to create the content. For some there isn’t an incentive to be careful. For some there is an incentive to be reckless because outrageous items get noticed—attracting Internet traffic.

However, you can’t build a reliable business model on smoke and mirrors. The Internet provides a venue to examine gossip, but gossip or rumor must be clearly defined as such. If Taylor had blogged the Izzo story as speculation based on his conversations with people close to Saban, he wouldn’t look so bad today. Why? Because he would’ve been honest about the extent of his knowledge. People like honesty.

And honesty is a good place to focus when you are building a business.