Monday, June 01, 2009

Is Tweeting Reporting?

When is a reporter's reporting not to be taken as as an actual report? You know — with facts and all? According to Rick Stroud of the St. Petersburg Times, it's when you're on Twitter.

Stroud covers the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the Times. His articles appear in the printed and online versions of the paper. You can also follow him on Twitter @NFLSTROUD.

Friday afternoon he tweeted: "Hearing reports that Bucs might be interested in Marvin Harrison. Makes sense if they're looking at Plaxico...Need depth at WR..."

A website called saw it and repeated the information, including a link to Stroud's Twitter page, where the story, if 140 characters can constitute a "story," originally appeared.

Only problem? Twitter's 140 character limit apparently precluded Stroud from adding, "but don't quote me on that," before quoted him on that.

So word spread that The St. Petersburg Times was reporting that the Bucs had interest in Marvin Harrison. This is when the excrement hit the ventilating system. Perhaps Stroud's editor at the Times wondered why this scoop had not appeared in the paper that pays him to break such stories.

Perhaps it wasn't a scoop at all because it didn't come from a reliable source or one that could not be independently verified. You know — that pesky journalism crap like fact-checking to which newspapers (sometimes) still stubbornly cling.

Either way, Stroud tweeted a different tune the following morning: "People, if I tweet something bout Marvin Harrison it's agent-driven speculation. If there's news, I'll post it on K? Sheesh."

Putting aside the agent-driven speculation that Rick Stroud sounds like a royal a-hole, lemme see if I understand this. The stuff you report on Twitter doesn't count? Even though your Twitter page lists your name and your bio reads, "Busy covering Bucs/NFL for St. Petersburg Times and appearing on ESPN's First Take." It should be taken with a grain of salt? (Apparently as well two aspirin and several shots of tequila after trying to sort out what's real and what's not.)

Is tweeting reporting? Do the standards required for something to be printed in the paper or reported online apply to a news outlet's reporters when they're using Twitter? If not, what's the point? I wonder how many news organizations have considered the question and created policies to deal with it.

I doubt that a disclaimer dripping with condescension posted after the fact will suffice.


isabella mori said...

wha ... ? as a journalist you'd think he'd be familiar with social media 101 (naw, that's not even 101, that's pre-school) that EVERYTHING you say on the web must be taken to be quotable, printable, newsworthy. it's not pillow talk or whatever he thinks it was. K? sheesh.

(and if you're reading this, rick: sorry, rick. this is probably pretty stressful for you right now. we all make mistakes. hope you make a more intelligent one next time.)

Matt said...

I don't think he was in the wrong. He *didn't* report that the Bucs had interest in Marvin Harrison. He wrote that he was "*Hearing* reports that Bucs *might* be interested" (emphasis mine).

To me, that means that a journalist is doing exactly what it's his job to do. He hears lots of reports and rumors throughout the day, and he's following up on them. When those murmurs are found to be true, they're reported as fact. When they're found to be false, they're disqualified.

When I read his tweet here, I took it to mean: "here's a rumor that makes, I'm following up on it to see if it's accurate."

On another point, journalists need to be allowed some sort of personal space to speak outside of the "official" medium of their business. Though I make it no secret where I work, I don't think it's fair for something I say on my personal blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, to be attributed as " says that..." My personal voice is not that of my employer, and places like that clearly represent my personal voice. To paraphrase Stroud: if there's news, I'll post it on

John said...

Matt, I disagree. When your Twitter page is open to the public, your bio lists your professional credentials and even your username identifies you with your job, what you write there isn't personal.

When Stroud writes that he's "hearing reports that..." that's not the same as "checking rumors that..." or "hearing agent chatter that..."

The word "reports" does not mean "rumors on some schmoe's Twitter page."

If your blog, Facebook page or Twitter account identify you with your profession or your employer, like it or not, you lose some freedom to express your personal voice, especially if you're writing about the things you cover on your beat.

Finally, if the "reports" really are just agent-driven speculation, what's the point in posting it anywhere? If it turns out to have merit, do you write in your "official" article "as I first reported on my Twitter page..."?

Clearly, not. That would tell people that your tweets are not just regurgitated speculation or personal opinion.

Denis A. Baldwin said...

I think he was in the wrong, if only because he's an authority and any public statement you make while being an authority is fair game.

This is the reason why I have two twitter accounts, one for my personal business (locked) and one for my public/commerical life (free and open to anyone).