Sunday, January 22, 2012

Twitter for journalism: Is there a line?

This week I was working on a story about a high school athlete at one of the schools I cover. It was an athlete I had talked with and written about before and we followed each other on Twitter. We'd communicated various times on there.

So when I needed to get the student on the phone quickly at the end of the week before my story was due, I used Twitter. I said I'd like to talk if the student had a chance. The student sent me a cell phone number. We talked for maybe 10 minutes for the story.

An official at the school found out what I had done and called me on Friday. This is a school that likes you to go through administration or coaches before you talk to students, which I normally do. But when I was looking to get in touch with the athlete quickly, I used the best way I knew how.

The official wasn't mad at me, per se. It was more curiosity: Are other journalists talking to students this way? Is this something the school should be watching out for? Does the newspaper have a policy about contacting student athletes?

I understand the concern. The school doesn't want a journalist talking to a young kid who says something he/she shouldn't. But as a journalist, I'm going to use the best and quickest way to get in touch with a source that I can and social media makes that very easy sometimes. And the student agreed to talk to me.

I talked to one of my editors and he agreed with me. Even before social media, we would get students cell phone numbers to call them with questions about stories. If they agreed, we had no problem using them.

So here's the question: When it comes to high school students, should there be rules in how you should be able to contact them?

If a student-athlete I cover has an unprotected Twitter account, is there anything wrong with me following it?

Should schools (high schools or colleges) have policies that force journalists to go through certain channels to talk with students? If the student agrees to talk outside of those channels, should the journalist be punished?

Take this case study from last year at the University of Kentucky, when a journalist with the student paper approached two walk-on basketball players directly for an interview. The publication was banned from an upcoming press conference.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What if Andre Agassi had a Twitter?

Remember when Agassi's hair looked like this?
Agassi circa 1989. Courtesy of Carine06 on Flickr.
Well apparently he does now, but that's not what I'm talking about.

What if he had one back in the 90s? Back in his "bad boy" days?

I'm in the middle of Agassi's autobiography, Open, which is a well-written and incredibly detailed, look at the tennis pro's life, especially the early part. It's often not pretty, from rebellion to mental breakdowns to drug use.

Something Agassi discusses at length in his book is the way he is - often unfairly, in his mind -characterized by the sports media. It starts with his hair and bad boy attitude, then continues with his "Image is everything" persona and then goes to writers saying that he is dropping matches on purpose. It's not pretty and, at least by his account, it's largely not true.

When these events are taking place, in the early and mid-90s, the sports media controls the conversation. Agassi doesn't really have a voice of his own other than the few quotes reporters throw into their stories. Writers characterize him by the way he looks and by his actions on the court, whether it's fair or not. Agassi's thoughts and ideas were filtered through a camera lens or a reporter's notepad.

But what if he had the technology of now? What if he had Twitter? What if he could control the conversation, say what's really on his mind, explain to his fans and followers why he does things? How would that have changed the perception of him?

Obviously, part of the answer lies in how he would have used the medium. Would he have been open and up front, or would he hide behind an image and not put much substance out there? There's no way of telling. But I imagine, reading his book now and seeing how open he is, that the public would have gotten a view of him they wouldn't have imagined.

I imagine sometimes it would show a young kid who is doing everything he can to get used to this international tennis stage, trying hard to succeed but failing more often than not. Possibly followers would see that the hair and the outfits were just show. At the same time, I imagine there would be dark moments after tough losses, where he would rant about how he hated the sport, how he felt about opponents and officials and reporters.

That's the risk athletes take when they join social media. Yes, the fans can get a clearer, less filtered look at the people they see on TV. But some things need to stay hidden, at least for a while. It's just so easy for someone to punch a few keys on a phone and press send.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Why I'm sick of Tim Tebow (and it has nothing to do with his religion)

Tim Tebow is, at the absolute best, a very mediocre quarterback. If you don't agree with that statement, stop reading now because we live on different planets.

Everyone else still with me? OK.

If you watched ESPN at all this week, you would think Tebow was Joe Montana, Dan Marino and Steve Young all wrapped into one. You would have thought he was the second coming (pun intended). I wanted to tear my eyes out.

In an earlier draft of this post, I listed out all of Tebow's stats in his games this year, but that's not really the point. Suffice it to say that in the regular season he completed less than 50 percent of his passes, was sacked 33 times and threw 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. He rushed for 660 yards and six touchdowns.

He did win six straight games. It was crazy. It was newsworthy. Tebowing became cool. I got it. It was fun to watch.

Now for the last three games of the season, games that were crucial in Denver's bid for a playoff spot. The Broncos lost all three. But let's look even closer at the final game of the season against Kansas City.

If Denver wins this game, they win the AFC East. In that 7-3 loss, Tebow was 6-22 for 60 yards. He ran the ball six times for 16 yards. He had a fumble and an interception. If it wasn't for the Oakland Raiders losing to the Chargers, the Broncos wouldn't even be in the playoffs.

It seems we've all forgotten that now, that Tebow had some really awful games this season against not great teams.

The Broncos win in overtime, again, in the first round of the playoffs, beating a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that is normally very good. Tebow is King. He threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime. He still only completed 10 of his 21 passes.

Now I know you're going to say, "But Corey, he's a winner!" Sure, sure. He is. He has some intangibles. It was an incredible game.

Others will assume that I am tired of Tebow because of his religious beliefs. Completely untrue, though I was really scared of the people that made so much out of the 316 passing yards (John 3:16. Get it?!?).

Here's my gripe: The love fest that ESPN and many other sports journalists had with him over this past week has been absurd. I barely heard anything this week about the three other games that happened last weekend or the three other games that will be played this weekend.

You've got Drew Brees, who broke Dan Marino's passing yards in a season record this year, and Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, two of the best quarterbacks in the game, playing this weekend, yet they barely warranted a mention.

I didn't hear anything about the Denver defense, which has been so good this season and has been a huge part of the team's success. Did anyone even mention the receiver that had four catches for 204 yards, including the game winning catch (and stiff arm) in the playoff game? Quick,name him.

If anything, credit should go to the Broncos' offensive coaches, who confused the Pittsburgh D with option runs and passes that Troy Polamalu looked like a pinball running around in the secondary. It was a well drawn up gameplan.

But ESPN has deified Tim Tebow. The few times I watched SportsCenter this week, I kept track of how much he was mentioned.

And this.

The "Worldwide Leader in Sports" even did a "You Don't Know Tebow" faux game show. It was hard for me to not throw a remote at the TV at work.

My problem isn't so much with Tebow as it is with the way he's been covered this week, the way all other games have been pushed aside for him this week. Did you know there were NBA, NHL and college basketball games this week?

So I'm sick of Tebow. He's a good kid, so far he's a winner, but if I hear his name one more time when it's not warranted, I might just lose it.

Tebow photo credit to Jeffrey Beallon Flickr.