Sports Essay: Twitter Changing the Game for Sports

Brandon Marshall Twitter Photo

Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall has a fully branded Twitter account.

Analysis by Francesca Gattuso
The Red Line Project

Posted: Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012

Just as the last moments of the game wrap up, fans at home either tune in for the post game show or turn off their television sets and await the morning paper for the game story, highlights and interviews. Waiting more than 24-hours for sports updates and news has slowly diminished over the past years, as sports coverage has become increasingly defined by immediacy and breaking news.

In today’s sports world, waiting minutes, let alone hours for an update or story is unheard of. A flip of the newspaper used to grant the everyday sports fan with a detailed review of last night’s game and even touched upon game days from previous weeks. Yet, one click of a computer mouse and now sports fanatics are instantly presented with countless stats, any team or sport and essentially a surplus of endless information.

Social media over the past few years has transformed from a passive tool for sharing personal information into a mandatory outlet of networking and information hot spot. Yet, the question still remains of whether the presence of social networking sites, like Twitter and Facebook, are fortifying and diversifying modern day sports reporting, or perhaps extracting the old school reporting style that some are yearning for.

“Print is still incredibly important, particularly newspapers,” said Adam Rittenberg, an Big Ten blogger. “Newspapers can still thrive, but they have to possess a web component and have a social media presence, print is no longer enough. That is not to say there is no place for newspapers, but that resistance to changes within sports reporting can lead to failure.”

Those long feature pieces that once encompassed the sports section of the Sunday paper have now progressed into 500 word articles on websites and 140 character tweets. The evolution of a traditional sports reporting style has significantly altered throughout the past years, and many of the alterations certainly link back to the advent of social media.

“News organizations can use social media as a means to promote sports content,” said Hai Tran, a DePaul University online journalism professor. “We constantly see instances of breaking news being pushed through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. We also see social media being used as tools for sports reporting. For example, journalists can survey a game environment by monitoring what the public is currently paying attention to."

Tran explained how recent Chicago sports news has been enhanced, and at times embellished through social media. An example of this is Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler ‘s knee injury two years ago during the NFC Championship game loss to the Green Bay Packers.

“Cutler’s injury brought forth endless feedback,” he said. “You had those dedicated Bears fans complaining about the injury and placing blame, while others were defending him. Backlash stemmed from various sports reporters and analysts. There was also conflict caused by the conflicting point of views on Twitter and Facebook. Social media adds a new component to sports reporting, especially when controversy surfaces.”

Not only are sports reporters able to utilize these tools for writing stories, pin pointing and analyzing controversy, but for coming in contact with potential sources. When journalists don’t have immediate access to breaking news events, social media can help provide witness accounts and reactions to game day happenings, fan reaction, individual player stats and coaching. Even personal insight into athletes’ performances along with a glimpse into their everyday lives is now readily available information.

However, problematic issues can potentially stem from social media’s overabundance of content, making it difficult to sort out and verify information. It then becomes increasingly complex and rich due to social media’s ability to contain both truth and falsehoods pertaining to sports.

“Tweeting is a huge part of my job at ESPN,” Rittenberg said. “I use it as a professional account, and rarely post personal information. I try to always think of what I am posting, and not use Twitter as a breaking news outlet. My daily job tasks encourages me to first have a scoop on a story, and once it is verified to only post breaking news, if I have written or obtained an accurate source or story to back it up.”

Distinguishing between factual information and opinionated statements becomes a difficult task to complete when so many social media outlets are spewing out content from varying sources. The desire to deliver information in a short amount of time through social media brings forth the possibility of sloppy sports journalism.

“There is this crazy desire to be the first person to break a story,” said Rittenberg. “Since there is no penalty for being wrong on these sites, as opposed to being published through print, it is easier to report on an abundance of information, and that is why you see so many conflicting points of view and conflict, especially on Twitter.”

Proper usage also plays a large role during sports coverage.

“It depends on how you use social media in sports reporting,” Tran said. “Original reporting remains the top priority in journalism and social media. Online tools cannot replace a thoughtful sports journalist who values shoe-leather reporting, with simple updates and Facebook statuses.

Meanwhile, it is also true that social media helps expand news coverage in ways that were not possible before. Think about the immediacy and breadth of social media data as advantages. However, also consider rumors and inaccuracies as disadvantages.

“Sometimes certain topics get to be too much and things get carried away,” Rittenberg said. “You see many reporters and analysts within this profession get suspended and or fired. It is important to be conscious of what you are making available to the public.”

Now not only do sports journalists have to be conscious of what information they are providing readers and followers with through social media, but so do sports organizations and the athletes themselves.

An increasing number of professional athletes are using social media, particularly Twitter, on a regular basis and not only to share information about their professional careers, but personal lives as well. In some instances, the positive doings of their lives are appreciated and celebrated.

“When an athlete in the lime light tweets a picture of a charity he or she regularly donates to and visits, it is certainly noticed for its sincerity,” said Rittenberg. “While some athletes use social media as a self promotion tool and simply just take it too far. I enjoy reading up and following positive messages that the players post that humanize them, while others just put themselves in such a negative light.”

There seems to be more times than not, instances where athletes tend to be overbearing with their opinions, and causes fans to form conclusions of their favorite players off the court and field.

An example of this occurred in June of 2011, when then-Orlando Magic basketball player Gilbert Arenas tweeted an offensive statement saying, “#youknowyouugly if ur a SINGLE MOTHER.” There were also several other disrespectful tweets regarding women that followed. Arenas later canceled his Twitter account but has since returned while playing for the Memphis Grizzlies.

Gilbert Arenas Twitter Photo

Gilbert Arenas returned to Twitter after a hiatus, but hasn't attracted as many followers as before.

What is even more discouraging is that the professional athletes who do behave unprofessionally are not just upsetting fans, but setting poor examples for all the children who follow their favorite teams through social media and view their players as role models. 

Christy Michaels, creative director of AllStar Magazine, reports on children athletes and feels passionate about the influence social media has on the student athletes she covers

“Kids have always idolized athletes and social media puts the athletes under a news microscope, both in good and bad ways,” she said. “The news also travels fast, and while it doesn’t necessarily change views on the sport itself, it changes how children view these players. They are no longer children looking in, because children can now be active and attentive participants in social media interactions.”

Recent statements regarding children’s overuse of social media, and if children should be allowed to interact on social networking sites at such young ages spur discussion and question social media’s exposure.

“It is hard to make an all encompassing statement about overuse of social media by children,” Michaels said. “Just like everything else, some people overuse a good thing to the point of it taking over their lives. It has a place but should not be everything to a child.”

Young student athletes along with college players are also active on social media sites and are becoming more aware of just how much sports reporting has changed through the medium of social media, but do enjoy aspects of it.

“Social media has definitely changed through game coverage, although it is fun to also be checking social media while watching a big game,” said DePaul Women’s Basketball player, Kelsey Smith. “I like to hear people’s thoughts and opinions about the game while it is taking place.”

Smith has also taken note of the differences in social media reporting upon transferring from Michigan State.

“My old school had a much heavier social media stream, which I believe is mostly due to the fact that MSU has a football team and DePaul does not,” Smith said. “Also, there are obviously many more students actually attending MSU athletic events, as opposed to DePaul, which gives more students a chance to utilize social media.”

The younger generations of sports reporters, fans and athletes are fully embracing the fairly new and ever progressing world of social media. Perhaps, this is the best route to follow if reporters wish to report through all mediums and if fans desire to stay up to date on their favorite teams and players.

“Embrace social media, but use these tools wisely,” Tran said. “You run the machine, not the other way around. Bottom line is verification. Online journalism and social media within sports reporting allows journalists to expand their skill sets. Social media should be viewed by sports reporters as a beneficial opportunity, not a burdensome challenge.”

Now that journalists are no longer constrained by the platform in which they work with, sports coverage has been given a chance to grow. Online sports reporting in conjunction with social media brings forth versatility, creativity and multidimensionality. It provides tools to report in a timely, accurate and in-depth manner.

Rittenberg shares similar beliefs as Tran, in that it is best for current sports reporters, veterans and new comers to adapt to aspects of social media, in order to fully do their job.

“Sports reporters just have to be tweeting on game days,” he said. “Many of the older reporters hate that social media exists, and that it has become a huge part of sports reporting, and therefore has to be embraced for us to properly do our jobs.”

Technology may change, but journalism standards remain the same: accuracy, fairness, and lack of bias and objectivity. Yet, proper sports reporting now require short blurbs of information, status updates and video clips featuring anything from game coverage to Facebook pages and podcasts.

“It allows people who are not in front of the television or tuning into the radio to receive live updates for pretty much any game taking place,” Smith said. “Such a big change, but a great one.”

Despite the drastic changes, avid sports fans are still receiving sports news and now are even able to actively participate and become part of the action. The constantly changing status of social media has changed the world of sports journalism, and has the potential to continue to do so in the future.

“Social media has clearly affected the way people do news,” Tran said. “But communication technology always evolves and so does journalism. It’s difficult to predict how long social media will continue to influence journalism, and specifically sports reporting. But everything that goes up should go down. At some pint, newer tools will arrive and replace the older ones.”

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