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I was on the road for a wrestling show and an avid online wrestling fan struck up a conversation with me at a bar. He was a Wrestlezone reader/viewer. It shocked me that this guy didn't really want to talk about current wrestling topics like most fans but was more interested in asking what its like to cover pro wrestling.
Wrestling websites are commonly know as the “dirt sheets. ” To wrestling fans there are constant questions or assumptions on the day to day life of wrestling dirt sheets. It's not something commonly written about, so here we go.
Dirt Sheets vs WWE
To me, the dynamic relationship between dirt sheets and wrestling organizations is like the police and the mob. I say this because of the way information is gathered and each side monitors the other. Dirt sheets would play the role of the police and a company like WWE would be the mob. They use inside informants and putting information bait out to see if anyone bites is all there.
I always associate it to the film “The Departed. ” There is the Boston police department who has a mole in the mob and the mob has a mole in the police department. Wrestling organizations and dirt sheets have a similar relationship. There isn't the drug transportation, killing or stealing at stake....well....not on a typical day anyways……but the analogy still works.
The most valuable piece of merchandise is information. Information in the form of spoilers, phone numbers and behind the scenes stories. Sometimes one side dangles out a piece of information, sometimes false, just to see if it comes out on the other end.
It's all part of the cycle. One WWE source once said to me "Justin, if they don't want something to get out then it won't get out.” They have security guards outside of a big important meeting, they have confidentiality clauses to be signed. This doesn't mean info doesn't get leaked ever from these secret meetings but less people are in the know which decreases the chances.
Remember when a lot of sites were reporting that Bob Barker was going to be the special guest host for WrestleMania 27? Great example of WWE baiting the dirt sheets.
The Rules Of Reporting
Normal rules don't apply with dirt sheet reporting. Like it or don't, agree or disagree, I've felt all of the above at one time or another depending on the situation. Regardless of my feelings or yours, it is how it is. You don't HAVE to have 3 sources or rules that typically apply to journalistic integrity. This presents a dangerous situation of what gets “reported” but also can create an amazing opportunity. It can bring about an opportunity to report something that does break a huge story that in the typical world of journalism wouldn't make it to print.
For many stories, if writing it for a newspaper, that particular story wouldn't get published because of how “in the dark” the methods of gathering the info were. How "in the dark" sources identities are kept. It's an interesting dynamic.
There are times when one of the "sources" is the wrestler who is the subject of the report who needs to be protected but wants to help get themselves over or create a buzz. Sometimes they (the wrestler or person who is subject of the gossip) wants to set the record straight. Is the wrestler just looking to correct an inaccurate report? Did the original reporter that put the report out there just to get his attention, contact and potential relationship out of him?! Did the wrestler give the reporter bad information that will later be proven wrong just so he could stick it to the reporter/dirt sheet he doesn't like?! Who is working who?
Who Owns A Dirtsheet & The People Involved In Them
A lot of dirt sheets are independently owned by someone or small group who owns the domain. Wrestlezone is an odd case because its more corporate than the rest. Wrestlezone is owned by Crave which owns Sherdog, used to own Heyman Hustle and has a variety of other sites which you can check out at craveonline.com.
Editor's Note: "To clarify, CraveOnline was never the owner of HeymanHustle.com. CraveOnline had an advertising relationship with Paul Heyman and his site. Crave hosted it for him but that’s where it ends. All content found on The Heyman Hustle website was and still is owned by The Heyman Hustle." -Nick Paglino
I never thought I would have conference calls relating to news reporting for a wrestling site. We might be getting instructions that come all the way from the bosses in LA about how to write, title, or display something a certain way at a certain time. Very interesting but overall positive. My time at Wrestlezone has been enjoyable and never dull.
Editor's Note: "In my WZ experience thus far, I have never been mandated when or how to post content. Nor have I ever been told to tell any WZ contributor when or what to post. I, as well as the contributing staff, have been given creative and editorial freedom, with guidance coming from the CraveOnline team in an effort to help make the site better." - Nick Paglino
Dirt sheets are often viewed with many negative notions. Nerds who are looking for a juicy quote to take out of context. Marks who are looking to bash anyone they can as long as they get traffic.
Is any of this true? Sure! Like anything there are good and bad people involved in an industry. Same rules apply in the world of pro wrestling in terms of promoters and wrestlers. Same rules apply to those in banking, construction, teaching and any other profession. There is good and bad.
There are some sites that have guys who have been covering wrestling for a lot of years, have a great contact list and analysis to what is going on. You spend enough time in this business and you realize who has what strengths.
For instance, after working a lot of Indy shows over the past year with talent who regularly perform in ROH, Dragon Gate, Chikara and other top indy promotions, I have learned from talking with those wrestlers which online dirt sheet guys have a good line of communication on the indy scene. I'll never forget reading a story online about one particular indy star, his health and other things. A week later I am backstage talking with this particular wrestler who not only is obviously in a completely different condition than what the report said but also claims to have never even spoken to that specific reporter.
Same thing for the bigger companies of WWE and TNA. There are guys who have a good “in” and you can count on. There are others who claim to have insider information that you can read if pay money to read the gospel they have for you this week. You know, the premium, insider, elite, gold, platinum, silver or any other special informative sounding name they can come up with that contains information they are making up while sitting on the toilet.
Are all of the “pay for info” sections of sites false? No. Like I said earlier, there are good and bad. The ones who are bad and openly misinformed are just extra hilarious. I feel bad and wonder how many poor schmucks are paying per month to read these booking ideas that are billed as special insider information.
So if a story comes from a certain site and it relates to TNA, you can usually figure out quickly the validity of it depending on who it came from because you know whether or not that person has good contacts in TNA. Same applies to WWE and individual wrestlers. You learn quickly based on if what they are talking about happens or can be backed up by several of your own sources who has an “in” with what departments of what organizations and which specific wrestlers.