"All the world’s a stage." – William Shakespeare. Monolog from “As You Like It”
If you’re a media watcher (or better yet, a member of the media), then you’re in the midst of one of the biggest fundamental shifts in how reporting is conducted, maybe ever. While a good case can be made that with the advent of presenting the news via the internet was a fundamental change in how information is provided, the introduction of social media, specifically Twitter, has in many ways upped the stakes.
Social media has created a new dynamic. Where before, writers would write about a subject—likely on an evening deadline, and more often than not, solid editorial oversight,--the chances of having glaring errors in a story were minimized.
When newspapers began to get on the internet bandwagon that cycle changed. Competition increased as other online outlets cropped-up and stories were often run whenever they were submitted rather than in the morning on printed paper.
But, when Twitter arrived, it created an environment by which competition (ergo, the speed by which you get your story out), became paramount to many. Waiting for multiple sources, or fact-finding, took a back seat to “being first.” We have entered the era of sloppiness.
And, along the way, “social” aspects raised new questions about how reporters report. Replying to others (it is, after all, “social” media), has created new wrinkles. With just 140 characters to work with, the message conveyed can get lost. What may be an attempt at wit and comedy could be misconstrued as “mean-spirited.”
With no editorial oversight, outlets are now trying to grasp policy, and independent writers, commentary and reporting can mix, often with bad effects.
As I quoted Shakespeare above, I’d be remiss in not also quoting that other master thespian named Bill from the equally eloquent production, Ghostbusters:
Dr. Egon Spengler: There's something very important I forgot to tell you.
Dr. Peter Venkman: What?
Dr. Egon Spengler: Don't cross the streams.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Why?
Dr. Egon Spengler: It would be bad.
Dr. Peter Venkman: I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, "bad"?
“Crossing the streams”… it may be here that the fine line of reporting and social media needs a closer look. In that I mean, there is a considerable difference between “reporting” and being a “columnist.” Reporters report news. Columnists are to provide opinion. When you “cross the streams,” it’s possible to invite trouble.
While there’s no die by which Twitter policy can be cast, in terms of being a “professional,” reporters walk a fine line in terms of their conduct with social media. Being a bland vehicle to do no more than post links to your stories, arguably, isn’t what Twitter or Facebook is for. The key is to “engage” readers to your stories. Be "social."
In the framework of sports, this can get tricky. Witty banter is fun. It’s not always seen as such by athletes, clubs, and the leagues that us reporters depend on.
Into this mix are the PR reps that are charged with not only controlling the message but protecting the brand. Whereas there used to be a time where reporters would reach out as part of that slower news cycle, now PR runs around non-stop trying to control the nipping blare of tweets via micro-blogging and reporting. Misinformation can be rampant. A joke can be seen as offensive. Fires are being put out constantly.
The bottom line is, social media has created risks. Reporters have this great opportunity to grow their audience, but they also have an opportunity to cross the line into what can be seen as “unprofessional.”
And finally there’s this…
This column isn’t about any one person, although recent news may make you think otherwise. The timing was coincidental. The need for the column was borne not of that story, but of personal reflection and a need for the topic to be discussed. Hopefully that doesn’t offend anyone.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).
Follow Maury Brown on Twitter
Follow The Biz of Baseball on Twitter
Follow the Business of Sports Network on Facebook