The efficiencies of social media have all but replaced the need for beat reporting as digital mediums continue to change the way information is disseminated and received. Pint-sized computers and handheld smart phones have made it easy to bypass conventional media outlets to break news and professional athletes, teams and sports organizations have all followed suit, posting their own messages on Twitter to mixed reviews. But are countless hours spent online contributing to the demise of traditional reporting? Is the lack of connectedness leading to journalistic failure when the need is less about accountability and more about being the first to break a story? Has the modern sports journalist simply been replaced by 140 characters? These are all valid questions when considering the impact that Twitter has had on sports journalism. Fans of old-fashioned journalism are certain to suggest that Twitter cannot replace the comprehensive coverage that a journalist can provide. Moreover, people tweeting on Twitter generally lack the objectivity that sports journalists would have about an issue, introducing an untold amount of bias into reporting.
On the other hand, Twitter's appeal is not that it is a neutral source of information. On the contrary, fans of Twitter not only know that the information they are getting is biased, but actually seem to enjoy getting individual perspectives about sports-related issues. Followers may choose to piece together their own interpretations of various tweets to come up with an individual perspective about a story, rather than rely upon any single individual's perspective. Moreover, while the 140 character format necessarily limits the amount of information that can be conveyed in a single tweet, individuals may use multiple tweets to convey information, and followers can choose multiple sources for the story. To assume that information would be less comprehensive than that provided by a traditional sports journalist is to assume that the follower uses a single tweet to gain information about an event or an incident, which is simply not a realistic assumption. Given the realities of Twitter, it is possible, if not probable, that Twitter, along with other similar forms of social media, could entirely replace traditional sports journalism.
Beginnings of Twitter
For a social phenomenon that has helped change the face of modern media, Twitter is really very young. In early 2006, a podcasting company called Odeo, Inc., located in South Park, San Francisco, was facing tremendous competition from industry heavyweights, and decided to reinvent themselves (Sagolla). One of the people in the company came up with the idea of using SMS to give messages to small groups (Sagolla). The initial idea was that the service could be used to inform people about local events (Sagolla). The group went through several different demos. "Obvious Corp was born as an incubator with Twttr as its sole project" (Sagolla). The group acquired Twitter.com and re-branded, incorporating the 140 character limit so that messages would not be split into multiple texts (Sagolla). The new company used Austin music festival South by Southwest as a launching point for the service. Twitter won in the blog category and rapidly expanded into social media (Sagolla). Soon, it was a real presence in all areas of popular culture, including sports. Anyone who questions the value of Twitter need only understand the role it has played in the world. "In five years, Twitter has become an increasingly valuable tool for communication, powerful enough to help spur uprisings in the Middle East that have toppled governments" (Holmes). Clearly, as a form of social media, Twitter is extremely influential.
Furthermore, "sports journalism, in particular, seems to be a realm where Twitter has assumed much influence as a journalistic tool, perhaps for such reasons as a highly routinized news cycle and dedicated fan following" (Sears 1). Furthermore, sports journalism had been highly formulaic. "A reporter attends a post-practice media scrum and either writes or broadcasts the new he has gathered to the thousands of waiting fans" (Goodman). However, with athletes being able to engage in real-time conversations with one another and with fans, sports journalism changed. No longer were questions limited to those asked by athletes. Instead, fans could interact directly with athletes.
Twitter's use by Athletes and Teams
Perhaps the best known use of Twitter is by athletes discussing their game or perhaps discussing their rivals. For example, Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis engaged in a very well-publicized war of words prior to their game. "Whereas ESPN or [a] local newspaper might have simply reported on what both players were saying to each other in the week leading up to the Sunday, Jan. 3 NFL game, it was actually the website Twitter that was the source for each and every verbal blow"(Goodman). Fans did not have to go to a third-party new source to learn about the "war" between the two players. By directly following either of the players, they were privy to the first-hand exchanges between the two players. The outcome of such exchanges for the world of sports is unknown. It seems like owners and managers would almost certainly like to retain a greater amount of control over what players say. However, the outcome for sports journalism is pretty clear. "Newspapers that depend heavily on sports coverage had better take note: a heated Twitter exchange between two opposing players is a lot more entertaining than reading dry copy about how Player A said such and such after practice and then having to wait until the next day to read the opposing city's paper to see if Player B. responds" (Goodman).
One of the interesting things about Twitter is that it has been used to reveal dissension between owners, management, and teams in a way that more measured approaches to reporting have not been used. The 140 character format is quick and easy, which means that, in some cases, the editing and filtering one would expect in a traditional sports reporting scenario are not done in the Twitter environment. One example of this phenomenon is the tweets that have erupted over the current NBA lockout. When NBA owners declared a lockout in the labor impasses with the Players Association, Commissioner David Stern declared a total gag order on all involved on his side (Bradley). However, when a tweeter sent a message to Miami Heat owner Micky Arison, which expressed anger about the lockout, Arison seemed unable not to respond. He responded to the tweeter, "Honestly, u r barking at the wrong owner" (Bradley). These first two tweets led to the eruption of a conversation between Arison and fans. Some tweeters supported Arison, others still sought to hold him accountable for the lockout, but the fact was that the gag order's effectiveness. "Fans spoke directly to an NBA owner" (Bradley). That scenario was simply improbably in the days before Twitter. Even more interesting is that the tweets revealed Arison's position in the strike, which "intimated a rift between the ownership group that no one knew existed before. To that point, Stern and his top aide, Adam Silver, had delivered every utterance to the media on the owner's behalf…With a few tweets, Arison had created a new angle on the lockout story" (Bradley). Of course, Arison was fined for violating the gag order, but the point is that the tweets changed the nature of the reporting on the lockout.
Of course, the most titillating use of Twitter by athletes, and others involved in sports, may be controversial tweets. Rashard Mendenhall and Reggie Bush are two athletes who have found themselves embroiled in controversy because of their tweets (Holmes). Todd Reynolds, a sports agent who commented about same-sex marriage, also started a Twitter controversy (Holmes). What those types of behaviors have proven is that "when it's used recklessly, Twitter, which instantly transmits unfiltered 'tweets,' can cripple one's reputation" (Holmes). In order to discourage reckless tweeting, teams have fined and suspended offending players, worried that a few reckless tweets could destroy a brand whose reputation has taken a significant amount of time, effort, and money to build.
Of course, player comments about personal issues seem to stir up as much controversy as comments on their sport or on other players. When Chris Henry died of a fall from the back of a truck, which occurred during an alleged domestic dispute, Jay Feely tweeted, "Chris Henry seemed to have turned his life around. But you can't live on the brink of destruction without inevitably falling off the ledge" (Skolnick). Many people in the blogosphere reacted very negatively to his post, which they characterized as insensitive. However, Feely had not intended the post to be disrespectful. On the contrary, he had lost a cousin to domestic violence, and was actually very concerned about the issue. Unfortunately, the brevity of the media made it impossible for him to convey the total meaning of his message (Skolnick).
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