By Addison Walton
Social media and ESPN have had a very testy relationship during Twitter’s ascension as a convenient source of information and verifiable journalism. Over the past two to three years, ESPN has had its share of problems related to tweeting.
One of the first well-documented cases of the ESPN/Twitter problems involved popular ESPN.com (now Grantland.com) writer Bill Simmons. In October 2009, Simmons, who grew up and went to college in the Boston area, tweeted, “WEEI’s ‘The Big Show’ was apparently ripping me today. Good to get feedback from 2 washed-up athletes and a 60 yr-old fat guy with no neck.” WEEI, an all-sports Boston radio station, signed an agreement with ESPN radio only three weeks before Simmons bashed the station. ESPN.com Editor-in-Chief Rob King suspended Simmons for two weeks because of the tweets, with the only exception being the promotion of his book tour via Twitter. But Simmons would continue poking the fire about one year later.
In October 2010, Simmons sent out of the most famous sports tweets ever — and it was only two words. “Moss Vikings” read the verbose tweet heard round the world. In Simmons’s defense, he isn’t the most tech-savvy individual, but this tweet sparked massive reaction. First, Twitter users had to figure out what the tweet meant. Seeing as no one had reported anything about a potential trade of Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings, this came as a shock. The tweet was deleted, but Simmons then sent out a tweet saying, “Sorry that last tweet was supposed to be a DM. Rumors swirling about a Pats-Minny trade for Moss.” Herein lies the two-fold problem for Simmons and ESPN. First, he deleted his very short tweet. With one million plus followers, Simmons’s “Moss Vikings” tweet was bound to be screen grabbed and held onto for the rest of eternity. Then he informed his followers of the original tweet by making a somewhat lazy excuse and clarifying what he meant.
Fast forward to August 2011. ESPN releases its updated regulations for social media, which include one of the most inane and ridiculous rules I have ever seen regarding Twitter. “Do not break news on Twitter. Sourced or proprietary news must be vetted by the TV or Digital news desks. Once reported on an ESPN platform, that news can (and should) be distributed on Twitter and other social sites.” There is not a doubt in my mind that “Moss Vikings” influenced these new rules, but I think we can all agree ESPN is going way too far.
Another problem for the Worldwide Leader is that it has some of the most well-informed sports reporters in the business today, but this new rule severely hurts these employees. For every Adam Schefter (ESPN NFL Reporter) and Buster Olney (ESPN MLB Reporter), there is Jay Glazer or Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports who always quickly tweet breaking news. Putting writers in a corner is poor judgment and will not benefit ESPN news operations.
In a piece for the blog 10,000 Words about the new ESPN rules, Meranda Watling writes, “Something tells me the vast majority of the 1.7 million followers of @ESPN follow the network’s activity because it’s a go-to source on top sporting news not because it’s the go-to aggregator of already reported news.” I would argue that this statement is blatantly incorrect. @ESPN is exactly what Watling says it’s not. They push along stories that have already been published while gauging fan reactions to certain issues. @ESPN is the morning sports radio show where the host throws out a hot-button topic and has fans call in. But what makes ESPN such a strong force on Twitter is not it’s umbrella account, but the core reporters who make up ESPN. Olney, Schefter, NHL reporter Scott Burnside and NBA reporter Ric Bucher are all examples of tweeting reporters who do a much better job of reporting the news than the @ESPN account does. Now, with the rule to not break news on Twitter first in place, ESPN is severely hampering its reporters and, most importantly, its credibility.
Top photo courtesy of boboroshi