Seen & Heard – Media Roundtable

photo credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports


by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail


Good morning sports media watchers and sports fans. It’s hard to believe how exhilarating the last two years have been after so many years of suffering in Toronto. Jays, Raptors, and even the Leafs are providing landmark moments for a city that has had so little to celebrate for the btter part of a generation. Let’s enjoy this.


This week we are taking a break from our usual format to host another media roundtable. We have done a couple in the past: one on anonymity and one on the relationship between fandom and journalism.


If have not read those ones, go check them out. Seriously, some of the comments on HNIC/Strombo are really interesting in retrospect. Also, Down Goes Brown’s comments on bloggers who go mainstream are timelessly great. Thanks to everyone who participated in the past. I am hoping to make these a regular thing going forward.


Roundtable: Journalism & Twitter


In a previous column we broached the topic Twitter etiquette when bad things happen to good people. Many had strong feelings about this subject, both on the site and in private correspondence. We also recently debated whether it is appropriate for sports media to use their work-verified accounts to talk about non-sports topics.


In order to continue the discussion I reached out to a few people in the media to find out how constant and instant audience interaction has affected how they do their jobs. Today we welcome the following esteemed group to TSM, representing a range of employers, media platforms, and backgrounds:


Richard Deitsch (SI)

Arash Madani (Sportsnet)

Bruce Arthur (The Star)

Michael Grange (Sportsnet)

Andi Petrillo (TSN)


Here is our conversation:


Q: In an ideal world, how would Twitter enhance or complement your work as a reporter/journalist?


Richard Deitsch: The best of Twitter is a two-fold proposition: First, I find it to be the single best aggregation source I’ve ever used. The ability to customize my news consumption, to have the best journalists and news outlets in the world come directly into my inbox in real-time, has made me a much better news consumer. As a distribution engine, it has allowed me to get my work to an infinitely bigger audience than merely through the channels provided by my employer. I don’t think you need to put the caveat of ideal here. Twitter has greatly enhanced my work as a journalist.


Bruce Arthur: Connect me to really good work that other people do; allow me to better understand how fans think; give me an idea how people respond to my work, make me laugh, make me think, distract me when I can’t figure out what in the hell the next sentence is. It does many of these things.


Michael Grange: Well, in many ways it already does. It has some drawbacks but mostly it is simply an incredible tool: a constant, real-time feed of news, opinion, video and longform journalism from all over the world that was simply not accessible even 10 years ago. We take it for granted but if you take one step back it is kind of a miracle. The best Twitter users are amazing fact-checkers and editors and very funny. It is also a great source of instant feedback — often positive — which can be very gratifying. Being called a moron once in a while is a relatively small price to pay.


Andi Petrillo: I use Twitter to reach out to the public to promote my work. Promoting my work can be done in different ways: informing my followers of a show I’m on, an event I’m at, and tweeting out information about a particular game or athlete.  I also follower other reporters who do the same because they offer knowledge of sports in other markets that I can use. Sometimes offering up a peak into my personal life…eg. Photos of my family, me on vacation, etc. …can help my followers feel more connected to me, like I’m a buddy they can talk sports with.


Arash Madani: In an ideal world, Twitter can be a complement to the work we present on-air. There’s so much decent content that hits the cutting room floor, and social media could be a vehicle to present the rest of the interview/story/clip that didn’t quite make the piece that aired. When working as a sideline reporter, I try to take the story further on Twitter – past the 15-25 seconds at my disposal when doing an in-game hit. But with only 140 characters, it often would require two or three tweets to properly provide the additional details – which few would actually follow. So perhaps a way to get more characters would help in that regard.


Q: Twitter allows members of the media more easily to talk to each other, as well as to the athletes/executives they cover. Has Twitter opened up new professional relationships for you, or would you have forged those relationships regardless?


MG: I’d say yes. I’ve met/networked with other journos and kept up other relationships in between travel assignments. For a Canadian covering a primarily US-based sport it’s helped erase the border, in a sense. Other NBA writers/journos have access to my work and vice-versa and the familiarity has reduced the ‘distance’. I’ve reached out to interview subjects online many times with good success. I guess pre-Twitter/social media/Internet I was able to meet people, interact and interview people so it’s not like these are new developments, but it seems faster/simpler now. Also, Twitter gives subjects a really fast way to vet me … # of followers, where I work. My background pic is a shot of me doing a sit down with Steph Curry … I would guess (but don’t know) that someone I reach out to for the first time might see that and figure I have some credibility, but who knows.


RD: Twitter has opened up more professional relationships than I can count. It’s helped me connect with subjects, sources, readers. Specific to your question, Twitter has helped eliminate what is often an impediment for journalists – the many handlers subjects have. If someone is following me, say a producer at a major cable sports network, I will often contact them directly through Twitter and spell out why I would like to talk to them. This saves an immense amount of time, establishes trust from the jump, and often makes for better and richer stories.


AM: It has opened up new professional relationships, often with folks from other cities. When you end up following like-minded people, who understand the industry, whose work you have a mutual respect for, it has led to conversations being opened up. It’s also a common ground to discuss some of their work you’ve seen lately to discuss. Twitter, remarkably, has also opened up doors to athletes. I’d say there are a couple of dozen athletes who are now in my Rolodex because of it. Truthfully, I’m not sure if these relationships would (or would not have) occurred without social media. But it certainly has helped.


AP: Twitter has connected me with other people.  I’ve had other journalists reach out to me and ask for interviews, and they probably would never have gotten a hold of me if they hadn’t reached out through Twitter. I’ve also had journalism students reach out through twitter, and I’ve been able to offer advice.


BA: It’s definitely opened up new relationships. Twitter allows you to project your voice, and a lot of people I meet in the business feel like they know me already. True story: the first thing I do is apologize for all the nonsense on Twitter.


Q: If Twitter wrote an algorithm that automatically blocked one kind of tweet, which would it be?


MG: Ha! Well, beyond the obvious (racist, sexist, homophobic; cruel and/or crude) which are obvious blocks, I’d say the Twitter habits that can rankle are : 1) Being asked what channel the game is on 2) Having people think I’m their personal journalist working only for them 3) People who are — vaguely — kind of jerks/uncivil. Not really worth blocking but seem to enjoy trying to get a rise out of you. I would say that the vast majority of interactions are positive and well-intended. Bad apples get way too much attention and skew the overall picture.


BA: Oooh, good question. Trump voters? People who yell, ‘who cares?’ Or ‘slow news day?’ Definitely not ‘stick to sports.’ That one makes me laugh every time. There is a lot of muck on Twitter, which I think is one of the service’s big problems. (Blocking third-party apps is also on this list.) So if I had to say, I’d say the worst of the worst: The alt-right, Gamergatin’, MRA trolls. I’ve found manual blocks also work, though.


AM: The level of racist stuff I get is off the charts. I’m all for having all the opinions in the world, but some of the vitriol that comes my way is ridiculous.


AP: The insulting and demeaning ones.


RD: Easy. Twitter has a problem policing hate speech — the truly repulsive racist, sexist, xenophobic stuff that trolls hit people with every day. It can make the place a cesspool at times. The ease which to sign up for Twitter makes this impossible to eradicate in full but Twitter has been so lax at policing stuff for so long that they have likely lost a ton of former users. They have pledged to make the service a better place. We’ll see.


Q: What is something you wish media didn’t do on Twitter?


AP: While I understand Twitter can be a great way for people to showcase their humour, a part of them that can sometimes be stifled in their writing/reporting, I feel some media try too hard to be funny, and do so at the expense of athletes. Twitter is still a public platform and a level of decorum and professionalism should be respected.


MG: Tweet about college football all Saturday? Bring too much attention to clowns (vs. ignoring them more often)? Not copping out but I can’t really think of a blanket-type issue.


RD: I’m not one to set rules for media people or anyone else on Twitter. And I’ve definitely been part of some dumb media-on-media Twitter fights. But I will say that those who constantly re-tweet people praising their work (I’m not talking about the occasional re-tweet but a daily drumbeat) really come off amateur.


BA: Stop retweeting compliments, everybody. People can be really nice, and that is so very appreciated. I appreciate every kind word that is sent my way. I have never retweeted one. That’s, like, two dozen compliments.


AM: Retweet compliments. We’re all grown ass men and women. No need for that.


Q: In the long ago people had to write emails to media to comment on their work. In the long long ago people had to handwrite letters to the editor when they had a problem. All things considered – the good & the bad – would you choose to go back to a system where the audience had to put in more than 140 characters of work in order to interact with you?

BA: I still get e-mails and very occasional letters. Very enjoyable, except for when I wonder if they’re full of poison. But at least the old way, the racists and the sexists had to put some investment into it.


AP: Too often people flippantly tag someone’s employer when they want to make a derogatory comment.  Thankfully, many employers don’t take what they read on Twitter very seriously.  Even when it comes to compliments. The proof is always in the ratings, they don’t need to go through Twitter. If someone was forced to take the time to write something and go through the trouble of mailing it, then you know they truly disagree with something or really like something.  However, much of my radio show is about reading instant reaction to the topics I’m discussing, and that’s something I enjoy.  I guess I don’t mind both, after all, there’s always the ‘mute’ or ‘block’ button I could use on twitter! Lol


RD: No. I like the transparency of Twitter because it provides feedback in real-time. But readers/listeners/viewers can still comment in longer form to media in a number of ways. They can do it on their own platforms and send that link via social media. They can comment on a media person’s website (at least those who work at digital operations that still have a comment section). And they can still write that old-fashioned letter. In 2016 the reader/listener/viewer has much more power to offer feedback because they can create a distribution system with relative ease to offer that feedback.


AM: There are some messages I receive, and wonder, ‘what if his/her boss read that?’ Would that person say these things out loud, to one’s face? The days of handwritten letters are gone. The new age and world we live in is not going anywhere. But the issue with some of the correspondence (that goes offside) is that there’s rarely any accountability. Imagine someone’s employer could be cc’d on those interactions? Listen, not all feedback is bad, and often there are great points and fun (140 character) conversations shared. Some common ground met, some laughs shared. But then, as Brent Musburger once called it, those occupying the bathroom walls of the Internet emerge, and you really wonder how the mouth-breathers pay their bills every month.


MG: Not a chance. I am way better off professionally thanks to Twitter, it’s not even close.


Further Thoughts


Firstly thanks to everyone for participating and for their thoughtful answers. Second, it is nice to hear that despite all the negativity around Twitter professionals still are able to find value in it. This gives me hope that something better than Twitter will eventually replace the current model. If Twitter wants to hang on to its user base then I encourage them to come up with a system whereby users can be flagged as Verified Trolls™ based on their recent body of work. There’s just no reason for anyone to see those tweets.


On to the conversation. I have a few general thoughts prompted by the answers given.


1) Bruce says in an ideal world Twitter “allow[s] me to better understand how fans think.”


In an ideal world he’s right: a good and responsible use of Twitter by media would be to use it to take the pulse of the fanbase.


However, some media are prone to cherry picking: they will focus on the dumbest of the dumb tweets and then use that to set up a talking point. (I wrote about this a while ago). This is the lowest hanging fruit in our non-ideal world, and it’s a massive crutch. You can always find someone saying something idiotic on Twitter. It doesn’t represent the fanbase anymore than the beer thrower represents the other 50,000 people at the dome that night. By framing your point with “some fans on Twitter are saying …” you are forcing the entire audience to engage with the worst and least widely held opinions out there. Why would you do that?


Lesson: As Grange notes, we all need to be better at ignoring dumb tweets. And we need to refrain from generalizing about what “fans” think based on the rantings from the lunatic fringe.


2) Deitsch says: “The best Twitter users are amazing fact-checkers and editors.”


This is one of the things I really like about social media and public reader feedback in general. When someone gets something wrong then there is a quick and easy way to point out the need for a correction. And if the correction is not made quickly then anyone who sees the story or clicks on the tweet will also see dozens of people pointing out the mistake.


The problem with this is that it is not the reader’s job to be an editor or a fact-checker. Those jobs already exist. As we see positions being cut from media there are fewer quality-control resources available for writers/reporters. At the same time those same people are being asked to be their own photographers and video producers. The trend is worrying: work that is an essential aspect of good journalism is being outsourced to the audience.


Upshot: Twitter contributes to “trial and error” journalism, since if you don’t get something right the first time then you can always delete the tweet and post a fresh one with a new link to a corrected story. That’s not a good result for anyone.


3) No one with a mainstream sports audience seems to enjoy racist, sexist, or just generally hateful abuse.


Who would have thought?


I understand that moderation is a hard job to do in a consistent manner. We struggle with that here and we have a small number of active participants. (Aside — Jonah and I can see the number of people who read our posts. Why don’t the rest of you people join the discussion?)


We certainly don’t make everyone happy but we mostly manage to keep discussion on the rails by drawing a line between comments that plausibly contribute to the discussion — even if they are infected with invective — and ones that are just insults. I have no idea why it is so hard for Twitter to draw a similar line.


Predictions: 1) celebrities and other valued accounts will eventually start to shine a spotlight on Twitter’s indifference to abusive speech, 2) countries with hate speech laws (e.g. Canada) will continue to adjust their statutes to make it easier to pursue criminal and civil actions against Twitter and its users. That won’t be good for business.


4) Everyone wants to know how their work is being received.


This is just human nature. However, no one wants to be attacked. That’s also human nature.


This can lead to the sometimes very public result of people in the media wanting to hear good things but not bad things about their work. I suspect that is why some are prone to retweeting compliments and others will block any critical feedback regardless of its merits or substance. When you curate your Twitter feed in this way it reinforces the positive and drowns out the negative.


Practical Advice: 1) If you think someone sucks it’s probably best to say nothing to them about it. If that just isn’t going to happen, consider taking the time to explain why the work — not the person — sucks. 2) All of us benefit from constructive criticism. Blocking people who are not being hateful or abusive makes you look insecure, thin-skinned, and petty.


Those are just a few thoughts based off the roundtable. Once again a huge thanks to Bruce, Michael, Arash, Richard, and Andi for helping us continue the critically important conversation of how to make Twitter better than its current deplorable self.


Over to you: How can we all work together to make Twitter either: a) disappear or b) less of an embarrassing chapter in the history of human industry?



thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

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