I had the pleasure to teach a graduate level sports journalism class at DePaul University during the winter quarter. I know, the students should ask for a refund.
The course focused on all the different platforms for sports media and how stories get covered. It was a very lively class. If an outlet is looking to hire some good young journalists, please get in touch.
For the final, I had the students write on this topic: What do you see as the biggest change in sports media and how do you think it will impact the industry in the future?
One of my students contacted Deadspin editor Tommy Craggs for her report. Even though Craggs isn’t exactly a big fan of Sherman Report, I appreciate him talking to her.
They came up with some interesting observations and quotes. I thought I would share. Here are some excerpt from the students in alphabetical order. (Sorry, Courtney):
Back in the day, people got their news from the paper.
You’d pour a hot cup of coffee in your favorite mug, sit back and read the newspaper. The feeling of having a physical paper in your hands was heavenly. Flipping through each page and digesting each story gave you instant gratification. It was a habit. You’d zip straight to the sports section for stories and stats. And if you had kids, the comic section performed miracles. You just couldn’t wait to digest your day-old news.
The news cycle stopped after 24 hours back then. The papers were put to bed by midnight. Sports reporters had a deadline. They filed their stories before that deadline, everything was sent to the factory, it was printed, and then poof – it’s your newspaper. Hot off the press and ready for delivery.
Those days are done. They’re over. Finished. Cherish the memories. They’re never coming back.
“You now break stories on social media,” said “The Shadow League” Sports Columnist and on-air talent, Rob Parker. “In the old days, you wanted to say it for your newspaper. It was a way to get people to buy your product. Those days are over. You can’t wait. You have to put news out immediately or risk getting scooped on social media.”
For some, Twitter became a vital tool in the journalist’s toolbox. Bill Hoppe, the Buffalo Sabres beat writer for the Olean Times Herald, used Twitter to help grow a readership.
“It helped me a lot because my paper didn’t have a big web presence back then,” says Hoppe, who joined Twitter in 2009. Making things more difficult was that his newspaper’s website eventually went behind a pay wall.
“So Twitter helped me make a name for myself,” he explains. “I was able to establish myself because I was able to connect with people in a way that I otherwise wouldn’t have; give them updates and become — I hope — a decently-known beat writer because of it.”
Many sports media professionals were loathe to join Twitter initially.
“I hated it at first,” says Jeff Nuich, Senior Director of Communications at Comcast SportsNet. “I didn’t want any part of it, but one of my colleagues said ‘you got to do it.’ The reach of social media is incredible.”
Nuich explained how Twitter is now a key part of sports teams’ communication strategy. When the Bears decided to not re-sign Julius Peppers, this tweet was sent out by @ChicagoBears at the same time as their press release:
#Bears have informed DE Julius Peppers they are terminating his contract.
That tweet, in turn was referenced by several websites, including NFL.com, when reporting the story. In a sense, Twitter has become the “newspaper of record” for online media.
Believe it or not, high school broadcast rights are even a tug-of-war battle, and I’m not just talking about your “game of the week” broadcasts either. The struggle between the two competing forces in high school broadcasting in Chicago land are a microcosm of emerging trends in the industry as a whole. The National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) Network is run by the high school sports governing body of the same name, and assisted by PlayOn! Sports, while their competitor, High School Cube, is backed by the Chicago Sun-Times.
“They’re our biggest competitor,” says Mike Piff, a play-by-play and producer at High School Cube. “We broadcast all the games for free, whereas they’re different. You can pay a subscription fee, or it’s free with a certain cable package thru Comcast. They have more games in more states and sometimes beat us out for rights, but I like our free model.”
Emerging technology has made possible broadcasting an entire state’s Friday night football schedule over the Internet a reality. Breakthroughs in video and live-streaming technology have turned a great number of people into broadcasters. Oh the power of the Internet.
Social media sites like Twitter, are one of the major forms of media where sports news is broadcasted and obtained by fans. Laurence W. Holmes, a 1997 DePaul University Graduate and current on air personality for WSCR, agrees that Twitter has changed the sports media world.
“Twitter has kind of revolutionized what we can do as far as being a well-rounded media member,” says Holmes. “I see my biggest jump in followers on Twitter during Bears games. And that’s because at the games that I’m at, I’m tweeting stuff that people can’t see, stuff that you’re not necessarily seeing on TV. I love the reaction during games. It’s like watching a game at a bar, but the bar is Twitter or Facebook.”
Twitter and Facebook are sites that everyone can involve themselves in at any point in time during any game.
“Everyone’s involved in it, but you can still lead a discussion like a radio show, but on social media,” says Holmes. It revolutionized the way information gets to fans. It is a huge valuable tool if you understand how to connect with your followers.”
Social media has become a great outlet for teams and leagues, but a huge problem for journalists. What happens when a team owner no longer wants his players to get distracted by journalists? What happens when a team owner wants their organizations to do the publicizing and not news outlets?
In 2011, Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals, Wizard and Mystics, spoke about the impact of social media and how well versed his organization has become on the web.
“I’m an extrovert, and I get my energy and my input from fans,” Leonsis said. “I think this new media is like oxygen. Get used to it. I think that there is no more steering wheel in the hand of The Washington Post. I used to live in mortal fear about what they would write. Now, I don’t.”
Leonsis is looking to internalize social media and wants his teams to be their own media company. The Washington team owner gets 40 to 90,000 people coming to his blog a day and he likes how unfiltered social media is and how it’s an outlet to reach his target audience.
“When someone goes to find out something about me or a team or a player, and they go to Google and they type that in, I want to learn how to get the highest on the list, and I’ve done that. I don’t want The Washington Post to get the most clicks. I want the most clicks,” Leonsis said.
Due to particular characteristics of the site, some credited journalists believe it is diminishing the quality of news. Criticisms stem from the sarcastic tone, negativity, and some even say, a lack of basic journalism skills.
Craggs vehemently disagreed with these arguments stating, what people “don’t realize is how much crap was in the sports section of newspapers. There was stuff that was just there to promote the interest of the leagues being covered.” When looking particularly at Deadspin, Craggs said, “Despite what some idiots think, this isn’t some radical shift. We are a tabloid as they always were.”
Credited sites such as Sports Illustrated, New York Post, and CBS, have been targeted for “bringing it down” by Deadspin. But their favorite is ESPN.
“ESPN is our death star,” stated Craggs. “ESPN dominates conversation. The closest equivalent would be if New York Times and CNN band together and somehow bought exclusive rights to the State of the Union Address. It’s ridiculous.”
Ed Sherman, a free lance reporter for many well-established sports organizations, author, and creator of The Sherman Report, disagrees with certain aspects of Deadspin. One particular story that Sherman criticized was their coverage of the Manti Te’o scandal. He “praised the reporting, especially how they used social media to uncover the sordid tale,” but was one of many to knock the use of an “80-percent sure” quote from a source giving the possibility that Manti Te’o knew about the hoax. However, this is just one example. Made possible by Internet and social media, it is no secret that Sherman and Deadspin employees hold much different ideas of good journalism.
Craggs said, “People like Ed Sherman, don’t understand why we are doing this. He thinks we are doing it to be punks, but there is a reason why someone needs to be doing this. It’s bigger than that.”
While online sports blogs are very prevalent, and some do a great job, others have a big issue with credibility. Adam Rittenberg, a blogger for ESPN, said:
“There’s a lot out there, and you need to sift through what is legitimate and what is not. It’s wrong to paint all blogs as not credible because many do credible work, whether it’s through reporting, advance statistics, event coverage and more. So it really depends on the blog and the people contributing to the blogs. Obviously, blogs with the backing of major news organizations (ESPN, New York Times, and Sports Illustrated) will have an easier time gaining credibility, but there are plenty of independent blogs that produce legitimate work.”
The negatives of online blogging are many. The blogs that do not have to think about the image of a multi-million dollar company. Blogs can be uncensored and stew hatred towards a player or a team. Just as ESPN can influence the audience into an opinion towards a player, blogs can do the same.
The difference comes in the presentation, ESPN will not use foul or abusive language to address an athlete, but blogs will say whatever they want. Blogs report on news and gossip, truth and rumors. As long as the story interest the public.
Students know that the job of a journalist will continue to evolve. It is not just writing and reporting now, but gathering information, shooting, editing, writing, social media updating and a number of other duties. Seasoned journalists may feel threatened by the new generation of journalists who may be more technologically literate. Experienced journalist Beth Mechum of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland does not feel threatened by the changes.
“I haven’t really seen any instances that I can think of where technology has hindered seasoned reporters because the basics of good reporting stay the same across mediums,” said Mechum. “The only thing I can think of where this would happen is if the only way you could reach a subject is through Twitter or Facebook and the reporter doesn’t know who to use Twitter. Part of being a good reporter is being intelligent, a keen observer and adaptable – these are all qualities that would make a reporter “tech savvy” enough to do his or her job well.”
Many online news outlets are not famous for breaking major news stories. Derek Poore, visiting professor at the University Of Missouri School for Journalism, told me how he would go about breaking major stories if he were CEO of a major online news organization.
“Don’t take first-hand social media postings as gospel, for one,” said Poore. “Verify, verify, verify. Emerging tools and startups are breaking new ground on how to verify the authenticity of early reports that emerge on social media during a breaking news event. All journalists should take advantage of those tools and develop new skepticism about what they read online. But it’s not too different from a reporter being skeptical of a first-hand news source and using other sources to verify.”
With the decrease in newsroom sizes and the ability for anyone to be a journalist, one person now does the job of what would have consisted of several people previously.
“I was a one-man band throughout my whole career,” said Comcast Sports Net reporter Aiyana Cristal. “This day in age you’re going to have to be able to do it all. You just learn other jobs and that makes you more versatile.”
The rise of social media and the ability of journalists to take on multiple media platforms haschanged the way fans view journalists in terms of this idea of branding.
“The key development is clearly the opportunity for writers to self-brand, not beholden to whomever publishes them,” wrote Huffington Post sportswriter Alex Stewart. “This is impossible these days without social [media], as a blogger points out: ‘It was very obvious that to build a reader base I would need Twitter.’”
Established sports journalists can now leave the news organization in which they were employed and potentially further their career because of branding.
“I said, you know, if I didn’t work here I could probably quadruple my freelance income,” said Tim Cronin, who is now a freelance writer. “And as it turns out, I did a little better than that the first year from the paper, so I was right.”