Before last month, that's one of the things Gawker Media's Deadspin was best known for, thanks in part to its 2010 story about then-New York Jets quarterback Brett Favre and his alleged electronic flirtations with a team employee.
But on Jan. 16, the sports site planted a new, phallus-free flag in media land when reporters Jack Dickey and Timothy Burke published an exclusive story revealing that Notre Dame star football player Manti Te'o's dead girlfriend -- a central figure in the athlete's he-shall-overcome personal narrative that many other sports writers had latched onto -- had never existed.
The story attracted 4 million views. A media storm erupted. And Mr. Te'o eventually sat down for an on-air interview with Katie Couric, admitting that he had kept the dead-girlfriend storyline going even after learning it had been a hoax.
Two days after his site broke the story, Deadspin Editor-in-Chief Tommy Craggs sent his staff of nine a reminder of the opportunity that lay in front of them.
"Now would be a really good time to embark on any dream projects you might have -- anything requiring the cooperation of a source or a famous person or whatever," he wrote. "Features, news stories, Kinja chats. Be ambitious."
A month later, a different Deadspin writer broke the story of the alleged improper relationships between a University of Toledo track coach and the student athletes he coached. Though he can't prove it, Mr. Craggs is convinced that the Te'o story had at least some impact on so many sources being open to talking to his reporter for the Toledo article. And even though its web-traffic numbers -- 200,000-plus views -- did not reach Manti Te'o levels, the story was another good scoop and an important declaration to new and old Deadspin readers alike that the site was committed to investigative journalism and that the Te'o story wasn't a fluke.
In the end, the Manti Te'o exclusive doesn't mean that Deadspin is any more mature than it was a few years back, Mr. Craggs contends, but it has shone a light on the more serious side of Deadspin's muckraking. "It got people to see that this is the sort of thing we've always been interested in doing instead of lazily dismissing us as the penis site," Mr. Craggs said. "But I never thought we were just the penis site."
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