Tag Archives: sports media

Sports world needs to get realistic grip on Twitter

When I was blogging from an NFL team’s preseason training camp several years ago, another reporter stopped me as we walked to the practice fields:

“Gotta turn your cell phone off. It’s not allowed to be on out here.”

And placing it on silent or vibrate mode wasn’t good enough. My device had to be turned off completely. So I complied, sheepishly. I wasn’t there to write about formations, nickel packages or who was in the training room. The kinds of details that Pattonesque NFL coaches are convinced will ruin their entire seasons if divulged.

I wasn’t spying for Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Honest. I was there to write “scene” blog posts, talk to fans and spot the unusual (like a noted local sports personality watching the festivities in lime green Crocs).

I thought about that a lot yesterday when I read a Tweet from an NFL team’s Web site staffer who said he wasn’t allowed to post anything from an open practice session. Nothing at all. But that was just the start of what turned out to be a bizarre day for sports and Twitter.

A while later, word came down that San Diego Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie was fined $2,500 for a Tweet in which he complained about the food at training camp. Yes, loose Tweets sink ships. Their season is toast, and they haven’t played an exhibition game. Let’s bring in the Marines.

Here’s the explanation from Gen. Norv Turner, the Chargers coach:

“We’re trying to be open and give the fans a look at what we’re doing, but certainly we’re not going to go out of our way to give our opponents a competitive advantage or give them something that we feel should stay in our building. So that’s been our approach with any forms of media that we’re involved with.”

The Chargers aren’t alone in clamping down on Tweets from players and team officials, especially if they’re uncomplimentary about their employers. At least a dozen teams have banned Tweeting altogether during training camp. Even by journalists.

No wonder Steve Spurrier dubbed the professional ranks — where he spent two miserable seasons — the “No Fun League.” The league is working on a game-day Twitter policy to be lumped into an existing banishment of all forms of digital communications during games. Is the “No Twitter League” upon us?

Later in the day, the Bristol Behemoth, aka ESPN, issued a social media policy to employees with a tone that read like it was written in Pyongyang, especially the provision that Tweets from staff accounts be only about the company.

Naturally, some immediate reactions in the Web world were mockingingly incredulous and typically arid from the mainstream media.”Modules?” Those are space ships, not ways of linking social media postings. Why parrot this corporate-speak gobbledygook?

ESPN’s response to the criticism wasn’t as defensive as the initial memo, and I’m all for establishing standards for using social media and other forms of digital media. The sports cable giant’s clarification and rationale sounds reasonable enough. So why start out so bossy?

But was this really a bad day for Twitter? I don’t think so. Instead, this Twitter Tuesday revealed an insulated, “image-obsessed” sports culture led by paranoid coaches and executives who are accustomed to exerting ironclad control over their enterprises.

The sports world isn’t alone in trying to figure out how to best project itself in this social media environment. The corporate realm is struggling with this everywhere. But the initial reactions from the NFL and ESPN about Twitter illustrate entities that have been caught a little flat-footed, at the very least, by a technology that’s eluded their grasp.

Update: On Wednesday, Sports Business Daily conducted this Q and A with ESPN.com editor-in-chief Rob King:

“It’s an important opportunity to reiterate to folks that this technology is the equivalent of a live microphone. In that respect, it should be treated with some measure of awareness about how it represents those individuals who are forward-facing talent and how it represents how ESPN wants to connect with the audience. There’s a lot of education that goes along with it. Anyone who’s ever had a tweet re-tweeted to an audience knows that it can be presented in ways that you might never have understood or intended when you originally articulated those 140 characters.”

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Before taking a brief respite . . .

I’ve been busy with an array of freelancing and contract work this week and will be for the next week as well, so I won’t be posting here again until the week April 13. I’m freelancing the Women’s Final Four for a number of print and online outlets and have thrown together an impromptu blog that is the first big step toward creating the ultimate sports-oriented site I have been planning for a number of months.

That sport is the one that I covered thoroughly in my newspaper days and have for nearly 20 years, and its growth and emergence has been amazing. In this second career I’m attempting to blend that experience with the dynamics of the Web, which allow me to drive down deep into a niche in ways I could never have done for a daily print publication.

As I’ve preparing to take on this challenge I’ve kept in mind a recent Wall Street Journal piece by Mark Penn about the staggering career prospects for lawyers and other professionals (including journalists) in an economy that’s probably going to be sawed off even more drastically than first imagined. Penn might not have been a very good political strategist for Hillary Clinton but he’s one of the few people to make this point that really struck a nerve with me:

“We are totally unprepared for this new phenomenon. We have safety nets for the chronically unemployed, for the fast-food workers let go (oddly they may be the only ones keeping their jobs in this recession), and for the manufacturing plants that have been shuttered. The stimulus will create construction jobs galore. But we have nothing for the tens of thousands of displaced advertising creatives and newspaper writers and editors that are among the newly unemployed. They can’t build roads — all they learned how to do was to write ads and draft editorials.”

It doesn’t sound very encouraging, does it? Some might think it sounds whiny — how tough can a bunch of overpaid, overeducated knowledge workers really have it? But it also can serve as a reminder of how persistent and resourceful we’ve got to become to weather the economy as we try to do the work we love doing the best.

A friend who recently broke one of the biggest stories in the sports world — allegations of recruiting violations with the University of Connecticut men’s basketball program — has been demonstrating this ethic during his career.

I’ve known Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports since he was an editor at Basketball Times, a small monthly publication where I’ve freelanced for 18 years. He has never worked at a daily newspaper, and after he left BT 10 years ago he jumped into the nascent online media world. After one gig after another dried up, and even after he had published a book detailing the influence of the sports shoe companies (i.e., Nike) in basketball, he still needed some steady work for a while. He got it at — wait for this — a casino.

He explains that and more in a good Q and A about his career with Real Clear Sports, offering his thoughts on the journalism profession as well. He thinks communities will be the poorer with the demise of newspapers (he lives near Detroit). But he’s a vigorous advocate for the online nature of his work, especially after UConn coach Jim Calhoun tried to dismiss Wetzel’s reporting by referring to him and his co-author, Adrian Wojnarowski, as a couple of “bloggers:”

“Sure, we’ve been fighting it from day one. I started on the Internet in the late 90’s, and you couldn’t get press passes. When I started here, I was the first sports writer, and it was a battle to get credibility, and that battle doesn’t end.  It takes time. But I don’t take it as an insult. You can call me a blogger. I’m good with that.

“You didn’t hear him refuting the story, did you?  Call me anything you want.”

Dan’s the real deal, and so is the work he’s done and the way he’s done it. Even after his “Glory Road” fame (he helped coach Don Haskins write his autobiography and also penned the movie screenplay) he hasn’t changed. He’s a hard-nosed, tenacious journalist, who passionate about what he does and is unflinching in how he goes about it.

I think he’s a great example of how journalism careers do and will continue thrive on the Web. So much of that success depends on the individuals committed to doing it.

Kvetch of the Week: A sportswriter does it best

As a member (honorary, now?) of the jocko-journo tribe, I can attest that my people have been terribly disappointing at kvetching since this modest blog launched its weekly honor for outstanding performance in said category.

Then the kvetchiest sportswriter of them all launched a fulminating tirade against his former colleagues, and when that perfect storm arises there is no choice but to stop weighing other candidates and give the man his due hands-down.

Kvetching becomes him / Chicago Sun-Times
Kvetching becomes him / Chicago Sun-Times

So it is for new AOL Fanhouse columnist Jay Mariotti, who when not making rather perceptive comments about the fate of newspapers and online journalism (“If a writer thinks his paper is in trouble, it probably is. And by all means, get your butt out of Dodge . . . “) issues a most robust broadside against Chicago Sun-Times columnists who barely waited for him to get his butt out of their Dodge before having at him. Including a very famous film critic.

So it must have been with great satisfaction for an unrepentant Mariotti to reel off this little sequence aimed at his former employer — in a Q and A with Real Clear Sports — that is a runaway winner for this week’s Kvetch of the Week:

“Have some pride. Don’t seem so hideously desperate that you’re hung up on a sports columnist leaving and handing back about a million bucks. Don’t trot out writers to disparage me when, frankly, they should have been directing that fire toward a newspaper war that was lost years ago.

“It’s my life, not theirs. I wrote 5,000 columns for them in 17 years. I wrote on holidays, spent massive amounts of time away from home. Roger Ebert, whom I’ve met once, can kiss my ass. No one gave more blood to that place than I did, and if I decide it’s going to die an imminent death, it’s my call. And based on events of the last four months, I couldn’t have been more accurate. The place is dead.”

Not exactly a thumbs-up from Jay, eh? / Deadspin
Not exactly a thumbs-up from Jay, eh? / Deadspin

There’s so much more classic ranting that you’d expect from a sports print hack-turned-multimedia-pundit. Mariotti really, really rubs it in:

“RCS: You’re now at AOL. Why does it have the future that the Chicago Sun-Times – and perhaps the newspaper industry more generally – does not?

“Mariotti: Oh, 54 million unique visitors to its content sites in November alone — and no costs for a printing press, newsprint, ink, truck drivers, overtime, delivery, etc.

“If Hunter Thompson envisioned a newspaper during his worst drug trip, it would be the Sun-Times. It’s a nuthouse. By comparison, the environments at AOL and ESPN are a joy — and much more conducive to having fun and doing good work.”

I won’t spoil the rest, but if you’re a kvetching aficionado this one’s worth the whole, self-indulgent read.

And so are the responses from an anti-Mariotti lobby that only figures to increase now that he’s bloviating all over the Web. The tribal boards feel the same way.

No, Mariotti’s not my cup of tea, not close to it. In a word, he’s obnoxious, and knows that’s what works for him. But if you can cut through the noise his thoughts on where journalism is headed — and sports journalism in particular — are pretty sharp. Sometimes too sharp.

Some new ventures in sports media

With sports writing and blogging pursuits filling my days (among other things), I found a few links worth sharing and explaining here as I try to practice what I’m preaching about finding new ways to do the news. Or in this case, sports.

Today the Boston Globe launched a weekly print sports tabloid it calls “OT” for “Our Town, Our Teams.” The focus is on local pro sports teams, and that’s certainly one of the best sports towns in America with the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins.

With sports fans increasingly getting their daily fix from TV, radio and the Web, the focus here is to offer one all-encompassing print read as the weekend approaches. It features the work of Charles Pierce, for my money one of the best and most entertaining writers of sports and other subjects (Disclaimer: He’s also an acquaintance, as we previously wrote for the same basketball magazine).

Sportsline.com founder Mike Levy has started a new fan-oriented venture called OpenSports.com, in which fans can create their own web pages. The heavy thrust here is toward fantasy sports, which Levy is pegging as a potential major source of revenue. He figures he will invest between $40 million to $50 million with a target of turning a profit in three years.

If you think the fantasy realm has been tapped dry, think again. Levy’s goal: to have the best sports site on the web.

While the National Hockey League continues to struggle for exposure in most of the U.S., it’s making big strides toward becoming more fan-friendly on the web. A fantasy partnership with Yahoo is one of key features. Here’s a sneak preview of the revamped league homepage.

And a sports media reporter who recently left his newspaper has begun a blog devoted in part to that topic.

A former colleague explains what’s ahead for him, and how he’s warmed up to blogging.