photo credit: The Star
Good morning sports media watchers. Jonah and I are both away at sports media blogger camp so I'm throwing this one up on the fly. Please go ahead and treat this as an open thread to discuss whatever is on your mind.
Eric Koreen (73K tweets, 25k followers) prompted a good discussion on Twitter the other day when he said this:
Got told, sans irony, to "stick to sports" last night. My work is done here.
— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) July 22, 2016
Here's the question I'd like to discuss this morning: what is the appropriate use of Twitter if you're in sports media?
Almost everyone in the media is on Twitter. There are a few who are not (Stephen Brunt), or who almost never tweet (Cathal Kelly: 16K tweets [0 in last 200+ days], 20K followers).
Then there's those who basically use Twitter to link to their work but not much else. Dave Feschuk (2650 tweets/10k followers) is a good example of that.
Finally there are those who spend a lot of time on Twitter. This includes the local heavy weight columnists like Damien Cox (44K tweets, 73k followers), Bruce Arthur (213K tweets, 123K followers), and Steve Simmons (16K tweets, 59K followers). The leader by a country mile is Bob McKenzie of TSN (33k tweets, 1.3 MILLION followers). Some people tend to be pretty popular without tweeting very much, see e.g. Kate Beirness (7600 tweets, 121K followers), Dean Blundell (199 tweets [he deleted all past tweets some time in January I think], 81K followers) and Nick Kypreos (2700 tweets, 288K followers).
The best follow in all of sports media is, of course, Jeff Blair (27K tweets, 42K followers).
Goddamn it's fun to be a fan.
— Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair) May 24, 2016
All of the above people have verified accounts, which certifies that the tweets are indeed coming from the person in question. Here's Twitter's official explanation of who can apply for a verified account (note: they just opened it up to anyone willing to pay/apply):
"An account may be verified if it is determined to be of public interest. Typically this includes accounts maintained by public figures and organizations in music, TV, film, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas."
The rumoured cost for verification is anywhere from free, to $5,000/month in ad buys, to a $15,000 one-time fee. I have no idea what the facts are in each case but it seems plausible that major media outlets would have worked out a deal with Twitter to have their public-facing employees all be verified. You'll notice that SN fill-in radio host Ben Ennis (33.5K tweets, 6300 followers) and "digital host" Donnovan Bennett (20K tweets, 9300 followers) are both verified, but producers Ryan Walsh (4255 tweets, 1300 followers) and Matt Marchese (5450 tweets, 859 followers) are not. Joey Vendetta (4200 tweets, 10k followers), who also appears on air for The FAN, is not verified.
In my discussions with various sports media people over the last week three main views have emerged:
1) Tweet whatever you want. People can unfollow if they don't like it.
2) Stick to sports. That's why people follow you. Start another account for your non-sports takes.
3) There's a line between use and abuse of your verified Twitter account
I'm reluctantly in camp 3. I say reluctantly because "stick to sports" has historically been used to silence athletes who use their celebrity to draw attention to social issues. It's a very good thing when people use their fame to speak out about injustices and discrimination against marginalized groups. So whether it's I can't Breathe or Black Lives Matter or LGTB hockey tape or black armbands, I fully support the efforts by athletes to speak to their fans about problems in society. Of course for every LeBron James there's going to be a John Rocker or Curt Schilling. In order to be consistent you have to take the good with the bad. That's a price I'm willing to pay. The audience can decide whether they think the cause is worthwhile.
This leads to the next question: why not take the same attitude towards sports media? If athletes and musicians and reality TV stars shouldn't have to "stick to sports" why would there be a different standard for sports media?
It's a hard question to answer in a fully satisfactory manner, but I do think there is a difference. First things first. Even though athletes have employers and are represented by unions, they are very much working for themselves. LeBron is his own brand and he sells it to the highest bidder for a period of time. The risks he takes will mostly affect his brand, and only secondarily his employer and sponsors. The same isn't really true of sports media. Yes, Bruce Arthur became a free agent and went to the Star, but as a Star employee he is representing the paper as well as himself. The risks he takes on Twitter are also significantly borne by his employer. Yes, some people might call the Cavs and complain about LeBron, but few will cancel their season's tickets. The same is not the case with a print sports media member. The verified account is an extension of the paper. Their non-sports takes could lead people to cancel their subscriptions with the paper. That's bad for business.
This is why it would be reasonable for a media company like TSN or SN or the Star to have rules of conduct for how their employees use Twitter. ESPN, for example, adopted guidelines regarding political tweets after some high profile controversies. To be clear, I am not saying Bruce of Damien or anyone in the media shouldn't tweet their opposition to Trump or their views about abortion or marriage equality or police brutality or carding.
What I am saying is that it would be reasonable for a media company to ban such tweets by their employees on company-verified accounts. There is some authority held by employers to say "stick to sports … on this particular account." This would in no way prevent people from starting a blog or Tumblr or another Twitter account for their political views. However, I think we can all agree that the audience for these would be much smaller. So there is something to the idea that the people in question are taking advantage of their employer-provided status for extraneous personal purposes.
Last thought. Remember this?
In case you need to catch up, you can read about the story here. We can debate the issue if you want, but it seems clear to me that Damian Goddard (3800 tweets, 974 followers) was fired in part because of the content of the tweet. Had he tweeted the opposite viewpoint, I doubt he would have been fired.
Now, as it happens, I disagree with him and am glad to see that opinion repudiated as we move towards a more politically equal society. The point to which I want to draw attention is that there is a risk associated with tackling controversial political topics and the risk is mostly borne by those with marginal views. It's easy for sports people to bash Trump without fear of reprisal from their employers. Suppose a famous Toronto sports media member tweeted out strong anti-Trudeau or pro-bill C51 opinions on a regular basis. Would that be tolerated the same way employers seem to be tolerating anti-Trump tweets? My guess is not, but perhaps that's not true.
All of this to say I can see some merits to the ESPN approach, which is in essence "stick to sports … and non-controversial topics." Under that rule, Bob McKenzie and Matt Cauz's wine tweets would be safe … unless they start trying to debunk terroir.
Over to you: who ruins Twitter for you because of their non-sports takes? How do you draw the line between good and bad non-sports tweets?
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)