Sports website SB Nation published its disastrous and "wrongheaded" February story about Daniel Holtzclaw -- the college football player turned cop who was convicted in December of serial rape -- due to a series of organizational and editorial breakdowns and an "overall lack of diversity," the Vox Media-owned site said.
In a letter published Thursday that outlined the findings of an internal editorial investigation, SB Nation's Editorial Director Spencer Hall said the site's lack of diversity "exposed blind spots."
"If there is one key, unmistakable takeaway from the Holtzclaw story, it is that an organization cannot afford to wait to be diverse, particularly if that organization is one that wants to tell stories," Hall wrote.
The full report released by SB Nation details the pitch from freelance journalist Jeff Arnold who -- problematically, critics noted -- had covered Holtzclaw’s “entire Eastern Michigan football career”; the concerns raised internally during the editing process; the lack of cohesive communication among editors; and the frantic, at times ugly, last-ditch effort to head off the story.
(Read Vox Media's full internal report below.)
The 11,000-word feature "Who Is Daniel Holtzclaw?" explored his prep and college football past and the reaction of family and former teammates after he was sentenced to 263 years in prison for raping and sexually assaulting 13 women while an officer with the Oklahoma City Police Department.
[A]n organization cannot afford to wait to be diverse, particularly if that organization is one that wants to tell stories" Spencer Hall, SB Nation Editorial Director
The story attracted an almost immediate firestorm of criticism in the five hours it remained on SB Nation's website. It was ultimately taken offline and replaced with a note from Hall, who apologized and called the article "tone deaf" and "a complete failure."
The article was skewered for its sympathetic portrayal of Holtzclaw and the lengths it went to to humanize him; the story cast Holtzclaw's victims -- mostly black, poor women -- as "troubled."
Ex-SB Nation editor Glenn Stout approved and vouched for the story, which was produced under the site's longform unit that Stout oversaw almost unilaterally.
Stout, who was hired for his longtime editing experience on the prestige publication "The Best American Sports Writing," was later fired. The site also cut ties with Arnold.
SB Nation suspended its longform program after the incident and said Thursday it would not return in its previous iteration.
Hall, who had been immediately harsh in his assessment of the story, continued to own up to the failure that, by all accounts, deeply embarrassed and angered those within Vox Media and its readers.
Hall said the report is the first step SB Nation and its affiliate sites are taking to right its ship.
"None of that erases the problems and failures that led to the publication of the Holtzclaw story," Hall said. "While neither SBNation.com, nor the full SB Nation network of brands, have been or will be defined by this story, we are determined to learn from it."