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When the lines between media blur, who’s left hanging?

After a week of hearing the Rams were nearing a deal with DL Aaron Donald, nothing materialized. That leaves us with two central questions at the nexus of NFL teams, the forces behind them, the media and fans.

A week ago today, a flurry of reports surrounding the Los Angeles Rams nearing a contract extension with DL Aaron Donald popped up in increasing impendence that had fans more excited than ever that a deal was finally nearing.

First it was Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio suggesting “the evidence of a looming beginning to pile up,” and that, “per a league source, chatter is increasing regarding the possibility of the Rams and Donald getting a deal done soon.”

Then CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora followed up saying he “would expect the Rams and Aaron Donald to agree to a new contract prior to their next preseason game. Big press conference back in LA.”

And then most specifically of all, our friends over at Downtown Rams tweeted out contract deals from a source that the two sides were nearing a deal “on a massive deal that would pay Donald $24M per year with gurantees in the $65M - $70M range later this week.”

Clearly as it’s now Monday and we’re well beyond that second preseason game, there was no deal last week. There was no contract prior to the game with a big press conference. And despite the evidence, there was no deal.

Well, for Aaron Donald. There was a deal for WR Brandin Cooks. And a deal for RB Todd Gurley. And now a deal for RT Rob Havenstein. And we didn’t hear a peep on any of those while enduring constant chatter from a variety of sources on Donald none of which have come to fruition as far back as last spring.

Which begs the question.

What constitutes actual reporting anymore?

We can be blunt. DTR’s source led them to tweet that information out incorrectly. They’re taking stick for it, and rightfully so.

But it’s worth putting it into perspective.

They had information from a source and ran with it. Much like they did when they broke the news ahead of the uniform changes announced back in late July.

So while some are disparaging DTR’s status as a non-credentialed online site, is their miss on the Donald front any different from JLC’s?

La Canfora has, at best, a very spotty history on breaking news from his sources. He’s employed by CBS Sports. If anything, shouldn’t we be more demanding of an outlet like CBS Sports being more accurate in their reporting than an online site that, again, is not aided at all by the team they’re covering?

And if we’re condemning the misinformation last week from any source, at what point should we condemn the lack of any information whatsoever on the other deals?

There’s something not balanced here. And it has to do with everyone’s favorite topic: journalistic responsibility.

This was Vinny Bonsignore, now of the Athletic LA and then of Southern California Daily News Group, on the possibility of the Rams pursuing Miami Dolphins DL Ndamukong Suh when he was released:

Now we can acknowledge three things. One, Vin was wrong. Two, the situation changed. And three, Vinny’s quite well-connected to sources throughout the organization.

So what we’re looking at is a professional media member reflecting on information at the time that changed based on his access to people who both knew the reality as it changed and communicated as much in honesty to Bonsignore.

Is there any difference between this and DTR’s information on Donald? If so, it’s only to the degree that we discriminate between the third point: the two’s differing levels of access to the team.

And this is where perhaps I care less about the instances where media misses a report and where there’s no reporting at all.

Is there a reason we haven’t heard anything on Donald from the LA Times’ Gary Klein or ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry or other media members? We heard from Bonsignore and ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez last week responding to the developments, but this is about more than just the Donald extension.

Is there a reason we haven’t heard anything from Klein period? The last story he broke independent of other sources was that the Rams were “expected to consider” using the franchise tag on WR Sammy Watkins. Whether or not they considered it, they used the tag on S Lamarcus Joyner instead a reality that was never reported on prior to its development.

Ultimately, Downtown Rams tweeted what they were told without being able to ultimately verify it to the point of complete, unquestionable accuracy. And now that the deadline has passed, it has been proven to be untrue.

How different is that than the overwhelming majority of what we read as fans? How much of it is unverified spin that’s coming directly from a team source passing through the media without acting as a filter to verify it? How often does that filter shut down the passage of information for other motivations?

Don’t mistake this for me suggesting I can answer those questions. I can’t.

But it’s troubling that in an era of fake news and the decline of the newspaper, we’re forced to make a decision if we’re going to make one at all between new media outlets like DTR that aren’t offered official access to the team but may have cultivated more useful, open sources or traditional outlets that are more useful to readers of the business section than they are to fans of the teams they cover.

Here’s a perfect example of the problem at hand to bring things full circle: asking Rams Head Coach Sean McVay about the negotiations with Aaron Donald.

If the media sincerely wanted to get an update, they’d walk over to Rams General Manager Les Snead or, more usefully, Rams VP/COO Kevin Demoff or Special Assistant Tony Pastoors. As McVay unnecessarily iterated himself this week, he will never have an update on that front unless he speaks to those three himself. So why wouldn’t the media get an update directly from them? And to the extent they do that on a regular basis, why wouldn’t they report on it?

We know they regularly do behind the public eye as part of their professional responsibilities. But if that background serves only to support their understanding of developments and never gets translated to the public with any emphasis (to say nothing of the emphasis that something as blunt as DTR’s or JLC’s tweets do), that seems out of whack. Why are the scales balanced with a public non-answer from McVay and a non-public answer from the principals?

And why would we ever be more critical from media that reports on information from sources than media that reports on non-information from sources that aren’t even involved in what they’re reporting on?

We’re seeing things change, albeit gradually. New reporters in various sports are cropping up in non-traditional ways. Landscapes are changing. Bonsignore has left the newspaper game for the digital publisher game. Blogs are getting credentialed. Team employees are joining media. Media members are becoming team employees.

I don’t know how this is all going to work. I don’t know where it’s going. I don’t know who will be the next person or entity to report something that raises our eyebrows and whether it will be wrong or right and whether their pedigree will matter. Or if it even should.

But I know we’ll be able to read Sean McVay’s answer in tomorrow’s newspaper when he’s asked about Donald’s contract and that it won’t include anything of any use and won’t include the background of much, much, much greater relevance. And that for some reason, we’re supposed to be more satisfied with that and more upset at someone pushing inaccurate, if well-intentioned, information from a trusted source in the first place.

And maybe that’s the problem itself.