SBD/July 9, 2012/Media

ESPN's Poynter Review Project Examines The Net's Relationship With Twitter

Twitter is "changing how ESPN's reporters and personalities break news and talk to fans, the relationship they have with their employer, and how ESPN manages its brand," according to Jason Fry in the latest entry for ESPN as part of the Poynter Review Project. Those changes "are happening right now, and are threatening to outrun both ESPN's policies and its assumptions about itself." As a result, "the news cycle has been jammed on permanent fast-forward." When news organizations "went digital, the news cycle sped up, moving the goalposts to the time required to publish a story to a Web site." Twitter "moved them again, to how quickly a tweet can be composed and posted." But that speed "is straining the traditional safeguards for how professional reporters gather, assess and publish information." Eventually, "new standards and expectations will emerge for how we report and read developing stories at Twitter speed, but we're not there yet." That brings up "unsettled questions for ESPN: Who owns a reporter's Twitter account? Must reporters surrender their accounts if they change employers?" ESPN's Brian Windhorst abandoned his Cleveland Plain Dealer account "when he came to ESPN, as did Adam Rubin" when he left the N.Y. Daily News for ESPN N.Y. On the other hand, Michelle Beadle "changed her screen name but kept her account" when leaving ESPN for NBC. Fry: "It seems to us that ESPN has long been a reluctant sports-media starmaker, wary of big personalities taking attention away from the institutional brand. ... What benefit does the network derive from a reporter's rapport with his or her followers?" ESPN's Jemele Hill said, "There's a perception that ESPN is a cold, ruthless factory and they've told their minions to never show any personality and always follow the corporate line. I think when readers get these glimpses of our personalities, they have a different perception of what happens at ESPN." Fry noted, "A lot of determining Twitter's value is guesswork." One potentially "valuable avenue for ESPN is fans' use of Twitter as a 'second screen' during games and other live events" (ESPN.com, 7/6).
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