Sports Journalism in the Age of Social Media

Felipe Wasserstein

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Journalism in the Digital Age

In the digital age, audiences expect sports news on an as-it-happen basis

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Social Media is changing sports journalism. Credits to: fredcavazza (Flickr)

Before the development of digital technology, fans needed to wait until the next day to know the scores of a sports match. But now, with the help of a vast range of platforms, it is possible to access the score, post-match comments, videos and statistics just after the final whistle is blow.

This reality present new challenges to sports journalists everywhere. They have to ensure there is frequent and accurate information on every platform available to the online consumer. They also have to maintain all the writing and quality standards of journalism.

According to Scottish digital editor Alan Greenwood, the online audience is different from the one that by newspapers. The consumers go for online information searching for specific data. And those searches also vary depending on the platform. For example, with mobile phones people will look for a game result, rather than an investigative piece.

Of all the platforms, available for the consumer to search for updates, the twitter might be the fastest. As written by Simon Ricketts in The Guardian, twitter is considered by many journalists as the “first with news” and the instant source of a story.

But this immediacy might not always be the best source. Ricketts exemplifies this statement with the Boston marathon explosions. At first, the immediacy of the twitter would provide all the intimacy and impact of the first-hand evidences from who was there.

But the work of a journalist, no matter it`s area of expertise, is to be a “funnel” for stories. Which means, it is the journalist responsibility to separate, rumours and false news from facts. And with twitter, and other platforms of the digital era, journalists are not filtering the information properly.

In the case of the Boston marathon, many theories were created to find an answer for who was behind the attack. Some blamed the Muslims. Others blamed the right-wing supremacists. But, as pointed by Ricketts, all those theories haven`t been proved at the time he wrote the article.

In other words, they were theories and not facts. And many journalists considered those theories as hard facts at the time. This might happen because the journalist is expected to give some opinion out of it. Others also do that simply for the sake of becoming more popular in the social networks, as highlighted by Ricketts.

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Sports journalists favourite platform. Credits to: Kent Bye (Flickr)

But social media and its tools can be very useful for the sports media as a whole. An example is the report written by Dan Steinberg from The Washington Post during a press conference with D.C. sports owners in 2011.

At the conference, Ted Leonsis talked about the importance of social media. He said he announced things on his blog and he got between 40 to 90,000 people reading it. This worked as a direct and unfiltered way to reach his audience. As he is part of a media brand, this strategy is crucial for them (the media brand) to get more clicks than The Washington Post.

Robert Tanenbaum from the Nats also commented on the topic of social media at the conference, but with a different focus. For him, the social media can be useful to do a shootout of reality, by showing all the feelings and atmosphere of a baseball game. Things such as interacting with family and other fans. All the fan experience of bringing his/her family to a game.

In relation to the immediacy of the digital era, though it is a constant in online news, it is not very different from the reality of most sports journalists. Those professionals tend to deal with immediacy. Not only they have to work with match reports, but also with blog posts, live game updates and tweeting. They are usually presenting news as it happens, since the demand for sports news tends to be very high.

This style of coverage fits the web. Game updates, for example, are perfect for the web necessity of constant and continuous update coverage.

That doesn`t necessarily represents the end of traditional sports journalism. Most sports fans want more than just one source of news. They want blogs, tweets and updates, but also the longer form documentaries and the crafted narratives.

The Evolution of Social Media in Sports Journalism

The Platforms

Prior to the 1940s, sports news was read in newspapers. This status began to change in 1991 when the first weblogs were created. In 2003 and 2004, MySpace, Linkedin and Facebook joined the online scenario. By 2004, young consumers were using the internet as their primary source of information.

With the arrival of You Tube in 2005 and twitter in 2006, the circulation of newspapers in the USA declined by 21%. By 2013 there were 500 million people registered in twitter, 300 million on Linkedin, 1.11 billion on Facebook and 492 million tweets about sports events.

Media research companies such as Arbitron Inc and Edison Research show that more than half of all American aged 12 years or older use Facebook. They showed that 92% of Americans have some awareness of twitter, and that 20 million American have a twitter account.

The expansion of social media brought many changes and outcomes to sports journalism. Nearly a quarter of all sports journalists use the blogs of other sports journalists. The number of journalists using audio-visual social services such as You Tube has grown to 20%. More than 10% use Linkedin and other professional media type sites. Twitter has currently the most impact on sports journalism, with 54% of them using the platform regularly.

The huge adoption of twitter among sports journalists began because most of the sport stars were using it to promote themselves, and twitter became a source of information from athletes. The leagues eventually recognized the impact of twitter, both as a source and an outlet for content .

The NBA League had one million followers by 2009 and was also the second biggest corporate account, behind Whole Foods. The NBA achieved this by offering a mix of journalistic and promotional content such as scores, news and links.

One of the first examples of the use of twitter as a professional tool for sports journalists was TNT`s coverage of the NBA playoffs in April 2009. By the end of April, tweeting by television sports analysts, announcers, and journalists had become a new trend.

The New Practices and Challenges

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They are becoming an essential part of the news. Credits to: webtreats.

Sports departments are adopting social media guidelines, creating social media positions and promoting their brand online. Because of this, journalists need to have a presence on several social networking sites.

Facebook and twitter are becoming part of the news itself. The accounts of athletes are becoming sources for many sports journalists, because several sports stars are signing up to social networks. Those accounts tend to be accessible to anyone.

The use of social media by reporters and athletes also affect the popularity of many sports. . Basketball is very present in social media. Two-thirds of the NBA players have a twitter account, and the 2014 finals generated 26 million tweets.

The massive adoption of twitter and of other platforms by sports journalism, reflect the challenges of writing though social media. Those challenges include the pressure of obtaining new information quickly, the use of several mediums for content production, growing competition from other professionals and the need to maintain several social media accounts at the same time.

Some of the results of those experiences includes growing interaction with the readers, listeners or viewers, creating a more personal connection. The interaction with the audience trough social media can help journalists in their search for the most followed sports news. It can also help sports journalists to promote their own work.

Liking it or not, social media has changed the way people consume sports news. Now interaction with the audience is clear a necessity for the work of sports journalists in such a competitive environment.

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Felipe Wasserstein