AWSM 2012: Panel on using Twitter in sports journalism

Screen shot 2012-08-21 at 10.06.05 AM

In a generation where consumers are attached to phones and the Internet at the hip, journalists are increasingly integrating social media into their coverage. But with the emerging technology comes risk.

A premature and inaccurate report on Twitter last fall that Penn State football coach Joe Paterno had died was a reminder for reporters and editors alike to re-examine how social media websites like Twitter and Facebook fit into their reporting. Though many company policies clearly outline their ethical standpoints, few lay out how exactly to navigate the blurry lines of social media.

APSE and AWSM teamed up to form a panel of social media experts in order to help sports journalists better answer the questions about the undefined rules of tweets and status updates. The panel including moderator Stefanie Loh, the incoming AWSM President, along with Sports Illustrated writer Richard Deitsch, Chicago Tribune reporter Teddy Greenstein and WyoSports editor Robert Gagliardi.

The panelists agreed that, contrary to popular belief, social media is not much different than traditional journalism. “Use the same ethics you would if you were writing a story,” said Deitsch, who has been on Twitter since 2009 and has almost 50,000 followers.

“Just because it’s Twitter doesn’t mean it’s not journalism,” Gagliardi said. “If you’re not going to print it, don’t tweet it.”

Deitsch, Gagliardi, and Greenstein stressed the responsibility journalists have to check sources before every tweet. Tweets from sources like coaches and athletes need to be confirmed before a journalist even clicks the “Retweet” button. Pressing it stamps your name to the information.

Thanks to the scandals and the risks sites like Twitter bring, some journalists may be reluctant to integrate the technology in their newsrooms. But the panelists urged journalists to get involved. “Once I started, I realized it’s the greatest thing to self promote and connect with readers,” said Greenstein.

“It’s a good writing lesson to write tight,” added Deitsch of Twitter’s 140-character limit on tweets.

Not only does social media provide great publicity and practice, it provides great sources. Following athletes on a beat gives reporters quick access, and sometimes Tweets can even become stories. When a reporter sees an interesting tweet from a source, ask the source to expand on it.

But at what point do journalists need draw the line with expanding on Twitter?

While tweeting athletes can build their trust and is useful when used with good judgment, Deitsch advised avoiding long extended Twitter conversations. “Be polite, but remain short with politeness,” he said. Tweeting an athlete about his vacation is most times a no-no. Asking them questions about tweets in person can also be used as an alternative to tweeting back.

As for Facebook, not all social media networks are created equal. Greenstein said adding sources as Facebook friends is often crossing the line. But Deitsch said as a journalist, it’s hard to justify leaving a Facebook presence out of the picture considering Facebook’s massive reach. He suggested reporters make a personal Facebook page private for friends and family only, and set up a public “fan page” for work-related updates.

When used properly, social media can be an advantageous tool for journalists. Deitsch suggested adding photos to tweets. Adding a picture of the press box, the view from the field, or snapshots of local restaurants when traveling for games can make your Twitter timeline exponentially more intriguing to consumers.
“It’s amazing how people get excited about things that seem mundane to us,” he said.

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This article was written on a workshop conducted at the annual convention for the Association for Women in Sports Media. Tori attended the AWSM convention in June 2012 as part of her scholarship to represent AWSM in a summer internship at ESPN. The article was published on AWSM’s website.

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