Brett Favre’s penis was certainly a big deal, so to speak. But Manti Te'o’s imaginary/made up dead girlfriend has thrust Gawker Media's Deadspin into the spotlight like never before. As of noon Friday, the bombshell about the Notre Dame star’s lover who never was has accounted for 3.7 million visits, over 2 million uniques and a spectacular number of media impressions, as Deadspin has been referenced and praised across the globe.
Web journalism has been vibrant for many years, so it’s dangerous to assign too much significance to the Gawker scoop. But the impressive, digital-savvy investigative reporting by the Deadspin staff has forced many an old-school journalist to grudgingly give some credit. And it’s also exposed Deadspin to a massive new audience that it has a shot to keep. Bottom line, the piece is yet another milestone in online journalism.
Other big scoops have put publications on the map while pushing the medium forward. Here are some of the best:
Gawker's One Night Stand
Back in 2010, when confirmed non-witch Christine O’Donnell was running for the Senate in Delaware, Gawker ran with a memorable, much-trafficked and much criticized story, "I Had a One-Night Stand With Christine O’Donnell," complete with photos of the Tea Partier in a ladybug costume. It’s hard to imagine a magazine like The Economist running with this one.
HuffPo Catches Candid Obama
During the heat of the historic 2008 presidential election, candidate Barack Obama was riding high in the polls but was dogged by questions about his commitment to capitalism, his faith and his potential for elitism. Then, during a fundraising speech in San Francisco that was generally off-limits to reporters, the then-3-year-old Huffington Post caught Obama speaking frankly about how Pennsylvanians "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." A few months later, HuffPo reporters were getting called on during President Obama's press conferences.
Before Te'o, there was Brett Favre’s manhood. Deadspin went where few publications would go—publishing photos allegedly of the disgraced quarterback’s penis. The story was huge for Deadspin, but it didn’t nearly provide the blog the reporting respect that the Notre Dame scandal has.
The Verge: Scamworld
The Verge had a major breakout in 2012—and it was stories like "Scamworld," which documented online charlatans, that demonstrated the tech site’s serious chops. Great visuals, cool infographics and solid long-form feature writing exemplified where The Verge was looking to take the Web.
The story of the summer of 2009 was that the pop icon and accused pedophile was dead at age 50 under somewhat strange circumstances. And the scrappy, rule-breaking TMZ reported the news first, and simply owned the story thereafter.
Just after BuzzFeed hired Ben Smith to run its editorial, with the goal to go way beyond cutesy videos and LOL lists, the site broke the news just before the New Hampshire Republican primary that Sen. John McCain was going to endorse Gov. Mitt Romney. Suddenly the political establishment had to take BuzzFeed seriously.
Gizmodo and the Missing iPhone
Somebody from Apple really screwed up and left the iPhone 4 in a bar way before Apple was ready to talk about it. Steve Jobs wasn't pleased. But Gizmodo enjoyed nearly 14 million pageviews.
Forbes Cuts Down Glass
Famously chronicled in the 2003 movie Shattered Glass, Forbes.com (in 1988 called Forbes Digital) nailed The New Republic and its young reporter Stephen Glass for fabricating tails of imaginary hackers—shades of Te'o and Jayson Blair. The story showed that hard-nosed investigative reporting wasn’t limited to print.
Drudge Exposes Bubba
In 1998, Newsweek knew about President Bill Clinton’s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. It passed. Drudge didn’t. Oops. It doesn't get much bigger for the Internet.
TechCrunch had already established itself as a must-read among Silicon Valley types, and founder Michael Arrington had become a new kind of journalism magnate. But the infamous ScamVille piece in 2009 exposed how Zynga’s FarmVille was forcing people to sign up for offers from companies like Netflix in exchange for gaming currency, leading to loads of illegitimate, bogus subscriptions. The story helped TechCrunch build major journalistic cred.