I covered the New York Mets organization for five years, so I'm well versed in their special kind of organizational clusterfudge. Last night brought another example with the botched Carlos Gomez deal (who I, incidentally, covered in his first year at Double-A in Binghamton). Barry Petchesky at Deadspin has a good recap:
To be clear, this was not “speculation.” The Mets had agreed to ship out Flores and Wheeler, until they carefully examined Gomez’s health and changed their minds—which they had every right to do. But the blame lies not with the reporters who had been told about the agreement, and it certainly doesn’t lie with “social media [getting] ahead of the facts.” If Sandy Alderson truly believed there was no deal being done, or if he had wanted to close the barn door before all the horses had run off, he could have done it in minutes, with a few phone calls to beat writers, and hey, maybe one down to the dugout so someone could have reassured Flores.
The Mets blamed the media and social media for the debacle. Ken Rosenthal on Fox Sports threw himself and the profession on the sword, blaming "Twitter" for the degradation of sports journalism.
I like certain things about Twitter – the immediacy, the ability to interact with readers, the checks and balance that those interactions provide. But I don’t like what Twitter has done to sports journalism, how it has effectively lowered our standards. When I started in newspapers, back in the mid-1980s, I lived in fear of making a mistake, fear that botching facts would get me fired. I haven’t lost that fear, and still beat myself up if I get even the smallest piece of information wrong. But honestly, I’m not sure most people care. The ethos of Twitter -- and of aggregate sites such as MLBTradeRumors.com. -- is, “Give me the next one.” That’s not on us; it’s on everyone out there who demands the next sliver of information, no matter how germane. Our job is to avoid falling into that trap.
Here's the larger point: Twitter journalism does not exist in a vacuum. Twitter journalism exists because of how journalists use Twitter.
This is a core difference between the way journalists see the world and the way snobby ivory tower media sociologists like myself see the world. Journalists see news as something that's out there in the world waiting to be discovered. Media sociologists see news as a social construct. News doesn't exist in nature. News is defined by a set of widely accepted values - timeliness, proximity, interest, etc. Those values define news.
Similarly, the "lower standards" that Rosenthal laments do not just exist in the world of social media. They're not an inherent part of Twitter's existence. They're there because of how journalists are using the platform. They're there because in many ways, timeliness (aka what is happening right now) has become the most important news value. They're there because the nature of social media journalism does promote speed above everything else. They're there because mistakes can be fixed instantly - that's actually one of the great trade offs of social media journalism, that while incorrect information can reach the marketplace easier, it can also be corrected quicker.
If Rosenthal and other journalists don't like what Twitter has done to their profession, they only have themselves to blame. Twitter's not the problem. How journalists use it is.
If you don't like the emphasis on speed, then don't worry about being first with every transaction. If you don't like the lower standards, visibly raise yours and to hell with the lost hits, the lost traffic, the fewer RTs. If you think fans are valuing the wrong thing, then give them something that you think is of higher value. It's true that fans value instant transactional scoops - but that's because we as an industry have set that as the standard.
Twitter is not some nebulous Cancerverse. Twitter is a platform created by the people who use it. To blame the platform for some degradation of journalism standards ignores the responsibility journalists have. They've made the rules by how they play the game.
But as Petchesky noted, this was not a mistake. This was an evolving story happening in real time. That's what social media journalism looks like. It's messy sometimes, but that's because we're used to the nice neat package in the paper every morning.
If journalists like Rosenthal don't like it, it's on them to change it. One story, one reporter at a time.