Why is Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban debating journalistic ethics on his blog? Well, he agreed to an interview with GQ Magazine and was upset that reporter Will Leitch
blogged about him later. Leitch, who also edits the sports blog Deadspin, defends his post-interview post.
BOB GARFIELD: “Why No Rich Techie Should Ever Buy a Sports Team.” That’s the title of a blog posting that has sparked an interesting debate about journalistic ethics. The rich techie in question is Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. The guy who wrote those words is Will Leitch, editor of the popular sports blog Deadspin.
Leitch interviewed Cuban for GQ Magazine and later wrote about the experience for a blog called Valleywag, which, like Deadspin, is owned by Gawker Media. Cuban is not a fan of Gawker media or of Deadspin - or of giving interviews. He did, however, agree to grant an interview to GQ Magazine. So, without naming names, Cuban questioned Leitch’s journalistic ethics in blogging about that discussion.
And, you know, I can see Cuban’s point. He had, after all, granted an interview not to someone named Will Leitch but to GQ Magazine. But does that arrangement limit Leitch’s ability to discuss the interview? We've asked him on to answer that very question. Will, welcome to On the Media. WILL LEITCH: Thank you for having me, sir. BOB GARFIELD: If you had called Mark Cuban and said, hi, this is Will Leitch. Deadspin would like to give you an interview, what would he have said? WILL LEITCH: Oh, I suspect he probably would have said no. The first thing I did say in the interview was, just to make this clear, I reminded him that, like, I also, in addition to working for GQ, I actually also write for Deadspin.com. BOB GARFIELD: And what did he say? WILL LEITCH: [LAUGHS] I believe his quote was that he found Deadspin the Inside Edition of sports, which was kind of cool, because I thought maybe that would, you know, make me Pat O’Brien or something. BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Well, on the subject of Pat O’Brien, who got into a jam regarding some sexual indiscretions, the particular item that appeared on Deadspin that apparently is what has Mark Cuban seething was a photograph of him in the midst of a lap dance, and he wasn't the one doing the dancing. WILL LEITCH: That was, I think, a year and a half ago. He had responded after that and said, hey, here’s who that was. Here’s my response to that. And that was posted immediately with an update. BOB GARFIELD: Okay. So anyway, you’re in the room with him and you say, hi, I'm Will, and oh, by the way, I'm also the editor of Deadspin. And he uses his Inside Edition line but proceeds with the interview. Did he express any reservations about proceeding or did he just dig right in? WILL LEITCH: He did ask if the interview was for GQ and not Deadspin and I said that was correct. BOB GARFIELD: You may have not had an explicit contract with him to limit your reporting to GQ, but he could be forgiven for understanding that he had such a contract. WILL LEITCH: First up, the story I wrote that he was upset about was not actually for Deadspin. It was for a site called Valleywag, which apparently he also doesn't like, information that I did not know.
And I would understand his point a little more if in the Valleywag piece I said, you know, I promised Mark Cuban that I would only write about certain things in GQ, but now I'm going to tell you all the stuff I couldn't tell you in GQ. Really, that’s not what happened at all. All I did was actually just quote one exact quote from him from the GQ piece. It seems strange that he would object to material that he said in one medium and then somehow have a problem with it in another medium. BOB GARFIELD: When you went to see him, you understood that this was a pretty rare event, a person-to-person interview with Mark Cuban, who previously had done almost all of his media interviewing via email. Right? You knew this was a pretty good get. WILL LEITCH: Oh, certainly. I was very flattered to have the assignment. Yes. BOB GARFIELD: Don't you think you owed it to him to at least give him a heads-up in advance of the blog item that, you know, not withstanding his fully disclosed displeasure [LAUGHS] with your organization, that you were going to go ahead and post an item about the interview experience? Wouldn't that have been the decorous thing to do? WILL LEITCH: Well, certainly I think if I would have known that he did have the issues with Valleywag that he had, yes, I would have been happy to drop him a line. Be, like, hey, I'm going to be writing about our interview. I'm not sure that’s entirely necessary, but, yeah, it would have been polite in that circumstance.
But certainly, again, as I mentioned in my email to him that I believe was posted on his site, any disagreement that he had with Valleywag is news to me. I think it’s a misconception that everyone at Gawker Media all sits in a room and plans out their day. [BOB LAUGHS]
I've literally never met a single person that works at Valleywag. I think it’s asking a lot of a freelancer to understand the historical animosities between every single one of your subjects and the publications that you may potentially write for. BOB GARFIELD: Freelancers have always been guns for hire. They've historically had many masters. But in the digital world, in the world of the blogosphere, obviously there is much more opportunity to find different audiences immediately for approximately the same material. And I wonder if the blogosphere has changed the calculus of the reporter’s responsibilities in any way? WILL LEITCH: GQ paid for me to have access to that interview, which is why I was particularly very careful to make sure not to use anything in that posting that was not directly in the interview. But certainly it’s an issue. You know, it’s something that everyone has to be kind of aware of because it is a little bit of a different situation now.
And I think, to me, it wasn't a matter of repurposing information as much as it was taking something that was in the public sphere, and the story had been out for a month, and using it to go into a different point altogether. BOB GARFIELD: All right, Will. I really appreciate it. WILL LEITCH: Of course. Thanks for having me, sir. BOB GARFIELD: Will Leitch is the editor of the sports blog Deadspin and author of the new book – and bear with me, this is going to take a minute – God Save the Fan: How Preening Sportscasters, Athletes Who Speak in the Third Person, and the Occasional Convicted Quarterback Have Taken the Fun out of Sports (And How We can Get it Back).