Sarah Phillips Scandal Raises New Concerns for Online Journalism
Sarah Phillips is a mystery, wrapped in an enigma that no person at ESPN appears to have ever met—but that hardly stopped them from hiring her.
Deadspin has an extensive report on Sarah Phillips, a person we are no closer to knowing—even after reading their insightful and well-researched opus.
The report details the dramatic rise of an Internet star, a person who wrote for Covers, a website that specializes in sports-betting analysis, and was then splashed on the virtual pages of ESPN—all without shaking the hands of her employers.
The question of her true identity is left unanswered, leaving a myriad of other questions.
Welcome to the new age of Facebook, Twitter and online journalism, where an avatar and some witty zingers typed out in 140 characters or less can make you famous.
The Deadspin report introduces us to Phillips and covers the swath of her story, from her start at Covers to the report that ESPN had cut ties with her.
Let's start at the beginning. Here is a link to Phillips' initial post with Covers. Of the photos contained within the post, there is no telling which—if any—is Phillips.
One is clearly labeled "Sarah," but Deadspin notes her looks change in subsequent columns, ditching the blond hair for a brunette look.
Later in the report, we meet her supposed business partner/accountant Nilesh Prasad. The duo allegedly sought to take money from a fellow gambler, according to a source named Matt.
They also allegedly took control of a meme-generated Facebook page by a student named Ben. Their report uncovers some unsavory alleged actions by this Phillips woman, who is more character than flesh and blood at this point.
Phillips' big break came when ESPN hired her to do a weekly column with Page 2, which has since become Playbook.
As Deadspin notes, a question in one of her mailbag segments revealed the heart of the issue:
Rumor has it "Sarah Phillips" isn't a real person and this column is being produced by a ghost writer. Is this true?
Who the hell knows?
Virtual Office Space
Call it telecommuting or working in your pajamas—many of us do it—but it's the future, whether you like it or not.
At least, I hope it is.
You see, I too work from home and log into a computer and spew my opinions into this Internet machine and create controversy with the friendly neighborhood trolls.
The problem for my employers—and those that hired Phillips—is there is no way of knowing whether the person signing off and hitting publish is the person you would actually come face to face with at an old-school meeting.
Things have become too fast-paced for the "old way" of doing it.
So how is an employer to know what kind of person they are dealing with?
Sarah Phillips rose to stardom in a blink of an eye, leaving no room for the crucial step of becoming a viable journalist or personality that fans can say they know, and know well.
There is so little transparency on the Internet that it is now, more than ever, that we need to practice temperance and patience.
It's possible ESPN saw a pretty girl and said, "Yes, we must have that," as the sound of young men clicking to read one of Sarah Phillips' articles rang through their collective heads.
It is, however, important to note that we have no way of knowing who Phillips is, or in what manner she was vetted by ESPN.
We do have, at least, some form of statement from ESPN, which has apparently ended their odd relationship with Phillips, via Deadspin:
Update: "We've ended our freelance relationship" with Sarah Phillips, ESPN spokesman says. deadspin.com/5906658— Deadspin (@Deadspin) May 1, 2012
There was no trail of experience to paint the picture of who she was. Did she put in months—or even years—of hard-earned toil and virtual sweat?
This is a new day, when one hilarious quip can turn into a meme, and then you are off and running. We are always looking for the next best thing, never stopping to question what that thing is.
There are many people I have never met, but read daily, and I am comfortable in saying I trust their work ethic. It's based on a long trail of articles, pieces and video that leads to one conclusion:
Sarah Phillips' trail was much too brief to trust who she was as a person or as a writer.
It's a glorious day where anybody can be a journalist, writer, comedian or anything, really. That just mandates that we be far more cynical in our assessments.
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