Bad form at the Olympics in Daily Beast’s Grindr-baiting story
Sports journalism has received some rough scores a week into the Olympic games in Rio. Coverage has been criticized as being a bit sexist or racially insensitive.
But a story that Grindr-baited athletes might have established a new low.
The story published on the Daily Beast website Thursday detailed a self-identified straight dad’s foray into the sexual world of gay hook-up app Grindr, in the process outing a number of the athletes that reporter Nico Hines encountered.
Hines, it turned out, wasn’t on the app for sex; he was there for a story about the sex.
“I think this borders on journalistic malpractice,” said Vince Gonzales, professor of professional practice at USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.
The Daily Beast story described an “Average Joe” trying to “join the bacchanalia” of the Olympic Village. (It’s no secret that sex happens at the Games. Organizers this year gave out nearly half a million condoms to the athletes.)
“For the record,” Hines wrote, “I didn’t lie to anyone or pretend to be someone I wasn’t — unless you count being on Grindr in the first place — since I’m straight, with a wife and child.”
But he said in his story that he did focus in on that app after disregarding other dating apps mostly used by straight people.
Grindr uses geolocation to connect users in the area, chat, share pics and statistics or arrange to meet up.
Hines wrote that he “confessed to being a journalist as soon as anyone asked who I was,” but he didn’t highlight that he was on assignment in his Grindr profile.
What received the bulk of the criticism was that he offered enough identifying information about his connections that anyone with access to Google could probably figure which athletes he was talking about.
The exercise was met with swift incredulity and outrage across the Internet. The Daily Beast removed personal details about athletes a few hours after publication.
“How this reporter thought it was OK — or that somehow it was in the public’s interest — to write about his deceitful encounters with these men reflects a complete lack of judgment and disregard for basic decency, not to mention the ethics of journalism,” wrote GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in an email to The Times.
All signs of Hines’ story have since been removed from the Daily Beast site. In its place is an editors’ note explaining the decision:
“The Daily Beast does not do this lightly. As shared in our editor’s note earlier today, we initially thought swift removal of any identifying characteristics and better clarification of our intent was the adequate way to address this. Our initial reaction was that the entire removal of the piece was not necessary. We were wrong.”
The Daily Beast was asked to share details about the editorial process that led to the publication of the story, but it declined, directing the Times to the statement.
NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists gave the website credit for pulling the piece, but took it to task for publishing it in the first place.
“The reporting was unethical, extremely careless of individual privacy and potentially dangerous to the athletes,” the statement read.
Ashland Johnson, policy director of policy for nonprofit athlete advocacy group Athlete Ally, said pulling the article was a case of too little, too late.
“The apology, the deleting the story, they are a great step but the damage had been done,” she said. “I’m still trying to understand how that didn’t click for anyone in the newsroom, for the editors.”
The Society for Professional Journalists emphasizes and encourages four principles as the “foundation of ethical journalism”:
- Seek truth and report it. (In other words, be fair and accurate.)
- Minimize harm.
- Act independently. (Avoid conflicts of interest and act in the best interest of the public.)
- Be accountable and transparent.
Gonzales, the journalism professor, sums it up for his students this way: “Be accurate, don’t libel and be human.” And, he reminds the budding journalists, “you are not the judge, jury and public executioner.”
Of course, no newsroom is infallible. And perhaps, with the ever-increasing pressures of competition for readers, newsrooms are moving faster with fewer gatekeepers and less opportunity for those important conversations about how to cover stories, Gonzales said.
Conversations are exactly what GLAAD thinks should come out of this.
“Clearly, The Daily Beast must review its editorial practices and clearly identify how this happened and how to prevent it from happening again,” the group said. “This was a complete breakdown in both judgment and oversight.”
Many critics have said users of the app could feel violated knowing someone used it to identify them publicly.
“We consider ourselves a safe space for the gay world, and while everyone is welcome, it is with the understanding that this is a community, not a novelty for reporters to troll,” a Grindr spokesman wrote in an email statement to The Times.
Some athletes may live in countries that have drastic repercussions for being gay — a fact that Hines even acknowledged in his piece. In many parts of the world, LGBTQ people can face imprisonment and even death if their sexual orientation is revealed. Even in the U.S., many states still have laws on the books that can allow employers to fire gay employees.
And within the sports world, outing can have its own repercussions.
“As a former athlete, one of the worst things you could be on a team is a ‘distraction,’ ” Johnson said.
Chat me up on Twitter: @mmaltaisLA
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