The Watchlist: Anonymity, the Champions Story & Reader Reactions

Before we ever published a sentence here at MMW, we wrestled with one subject: anonymity.

There’s a weird conflict here. We are asking journalists to be accountable for their actions, and yet we are publishing without a byline. How can we hide our identity while seeking accountability? 

We knew full well more than one journalist would reject our work by pointing this out. We’ve had conversations with several media members, both before our launch and after, about the subject. Several have rightly pointed out we can’t expect to be taken seriously if we’re hiding our identity. They have a point.

But ultimately, we settled on publishing with no byline, and we will continue doing so. For now, anyway. 

What we are doing here isn’t fun. It’s going to make people angry from time to time. But staying anonymous isn’t about protecting us from anyone who might seek retribution. We don’t travel in MMA circles, much less media circles.

But with a name attached to this kind of reporting, it gives those we’ve angered a way to reject the work without the actual work being considered. A name either brings along a history or it brings a lack of history. Our subjects can dismiss our reporting by pointing out we’ve never published for a big outlet, or by pointing out dumb things we’ve said or dismissing us out of hand simply because they don’t like us or have never heard of us.

By publishing without a byline, we’re hoping you’ll be forced to judge what we are doing solely by what we report. We’re doing the work and then letting it stand on its own merits, and that means the work we do must exceed the standards we expect of everyone else.

If our reporting is flawed, it’s because the reporting is flawed and not due to a lack of prior exposure. If we produce bad work with no sourcing and no legwork, then we expect to be judged accordingly. If we start dealing in rumors and allegations with nothing to back it up, then you shouldn’t take us seriously, and you should call us out and tell your friends what an awful job we’ve done. 

You should critique us and poke holes in our work. 

Speaking of holes in our work…

If we start publishing more “hot take” pieces—such as the one on Champions we published earlier this week—you should rightly call us out for behaving as trolls.

A good many of you did, and you were correct.

We believe in the need for pointing out when journalists and outlets publish outright terrible stuff—which Champions did by saying Belfort has only lost to legends—but we believe in doing so in a professional manner.

In writing the Champions story in the manner we did, we failed miserably. We elected to go with snark over substance, with headline pizazz over content, and that is a failure to meet our own standard. 

We recognize it. We’ll do better. 

Reader Feedback

A reader emailed us to say he felt our story on Jim Edwards was a hit piece designed to garner attention and create ad revenue.

For starters, you’ll see we are running no advertisements here. You will never see advertising of any sort on this publication. This is a niche publication targeting a niche sport. While we are grateful with the positive reaction our work has received, you must understand there is no money in this, and we are not attempting to turn it into a new revenue stream. If MMW ends up bringing the same 50-100 people to the site on a regular basis, we’ll do our work just as diligently as if 50,000 visited every day.

We did not set out to write a hit piece on Mr. Edwards. We were first alerted to it via email by a reader using our tips email address. When we start any story, our hope is that we’ll be able—at the conclusion of our reporting—to dispel dark unfounded rumors that float untethered, forever bubbling around the edges of MMA’s fervent fanbase.

This story had a different ending, but that is not to say that Mr. Edwards is a bad human being who should be forever scorned. We spoke to quite a few members of the media for this story, and by all accounts Mr. Edwards is said to be a very nice man who is liked by many of his peers.

When we reached out to Mr. Edwards two hours before publication of our story—to inform him of the publication and to ask for comment—it was our genuine hope he would respond and give us a good explanation for what happened. He did not, but we can’t blame him for going mute; we’d probably do the same thing if confronted out of the blue with the same charges. 

To his great credit, Mr. Edwards took responsibility for the plagiarism in a post on Reddit.

We’re hopeful he has learned from the incident and that it improves his career in the future, and that it also serves as a moment of learning for anyone looking to turn this into their profession down the road. 

Plenty of great journalists were refined by the same kind of scathing fire.