Before you read this little homily, please visit Nick Harris’ incredible summary of what we (publicly at least) know of the person who convinced the Times newspaper that Qatar was planning a Dream Football League.
Alright, still here?
Now having read that, I would urge you to resist the pat conclusion that Rob Beal is clearly and simply a warning that on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. Deception existed long before the Internet made things slightly more complicated and perhaps untraceable.
What I would strenuously argue is that an investigation of this scope would have happened without the web in its current form.
Well, by its nature, the story is not one that most newspaper editors would feel comfortable running in the daily paper. “Hey everyone, here’s a source that’s duped some of our colleagues including us on major stories, some of which we can’t tell you about!”
The tiered nature of the Internet however, with a substratum of specialty blogs and the like, provided a platform for this sordid tale that arguably wouldn’t have existed much earlier than a decade ago. Many of the people who worked on this were able to do so freely, from a more distant vantage point.
Moreover, the web allowed for truly international collaboration in tracking Beal’s history. From my home office in Toronto, I was assisted in finding Beal’s Tweet, the one in which he claimed he was a source on the Times story, by friends on Twitter. I was then helped by a few brave Sheffield contacts who directed me to the possibility Beal was not who he said he was. Soon after I was able to follow up with sources in the UK and Qatar, and then I shared what I knew with at least two French football websites including Cahiers du Football who were conducting their own international investigation. Throughout, they and a host of others including myself assisted, where we could, an established investigative sports journalist in the UK who brilliantly ran with the story you read today.
And as much as Beal used the web to present himself as a well-connected source, it may be a series of telling screen shots and other assorted web evidence including ISP tracking that eradicate Beal’s media influence. None of this would arguably have come to light either had Beal not himself Tweeted that he was the source on the DFL story.
Finally, the fact that all the international writers involved minded their journalistic ps and qs, working closely with sources to verify information through the most reliable channels possible, prevents Beal from simply cease-and-desisting this story out of the public realm. It forced those involved (particularly yours truly—thanks Nick!) to take a balanced approach in discerning exactly what happened back on Tuesday March 12th.
I’ve already spoken about the lessons for journalists after this, so I will only add that not all possible avenues for good journalism in an open-source media world are closed. This isn’t quite over yet, but Sporting Intelligence, Cahiers du Football, and Rue89 are owed a major debt of gratitude for getting us this far.
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