How Twitter makes it tricky to be a reporter

When I asked Pete Rose last year whether the game of baseball has changed since he retired, he told me the only thing that has changed about the game is the press. Whether the rest of the game has changed could be up for debate, I think we can all agree with the Hit King about the press.

“You can find out everything that happened in a game that same night, and now I don’t want to read about it tomorrow morning,” he told me.

But to be more specific, I’d like to talk about one of the ways in which Twitter has affected the everyday job of a sports writer.

As information continues to become more instantaneous, the question of how and when to release it becomes extremely tricky. What complicates it even further is that not everybody in an organization will always agree on a consensus. If a reporter wants to tweet an important quote he or she just recorded in an interview with an athlete, their employer might disagree with that decision to release it so soon because they’d rather the reporter use it in a story. If a quote is tweeted and then later inserted into a story, it becomes redundant. Readers are lazy and they don’t want to read about something twice if they can get the gist of the story from a tweet.

I learned this through experience, as I have had to tip toe my way through this issue myself. As a beat writer covering a baseball team, part of my job was to tweet throughout the games in order to give fans an idea of how their team’s players were doing. But I also had to be careful about how much information I released, because I wanted to save some for articles I would be writing that week. It is much easier said than done.

As I take a look at the Twitter pages for sports writers (beat writers in particular) across sports and then compare them with the articles they are writing, I can’t help but notice how much information is being repeated. These writers tweet from the second they wake up until they go to bed, and plenty of that already-public information ends up in an article later that day or the next day. This makes me wonder what their editors think, especially when it matters much more to them what appears on their publication than what is found on a Twitter account. I know from conversations with at least one editor that they are having issues with this and that organizations are hiring people to monitor the Twitter accounts.

Editors are aware that Twitter accounts are necessary for reporters, and that these accounts can attract readers in the form of followers. But how much the editors want their reporters to tweet is another story.

This brings me to my final question, which is simple but valid. How do editors properly teach reporters how to balance their Twitter accounts with their articles? It takes experience with this issue to really understand how complex it can be. It should be interesting to see how it plays out as time goes on.

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