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Vol. 50, No. 1 • November 2012 • .pdf version
Today's challenge: Rush to tweet vs. meaningful discourse
By BRENDAN F. QUINN
This blog entry by Brendan F. Quinn appeared on the Knoxville News Sentinels govolsxtra.com on Aug. 29.
A little over an hour after a press release announced Da'Rick Rogers' dismissal from the Tennessee football program last week, Derek Dooley stood before local media following practice.
The news of Rogers' washout was already buzzing on Twitter.
Dooley addressed the press release saying, "It's probably the No. 1 professional hazard – the behavior of 18-to-22 year olds."
He continued on ...
"There's not one member in the whole organization that we're not prepared to go play without."
Dooley finished his opening statement saying that Rogers' absence wouldn't distract the Vols. All attention, he assured, was focused on the season-opener against N.C. State.
Then a long, awkward pause hung in the air of UT's Football Training Center.
"Unbelievable," Dooley quipped with a hint of mockery.
Attention was focused elsewhere.
In front of the coach, an assemblage of media stood with their eyes trained downward. Thumbs raced – pecking out quotes on smart phones to be fired into the Twittersphere.
I was shooting a piece of video at the time and realized that the crowd was preoccupied. I spit out an obvious follow-up. "How'd you present Rogers' absence to the team?" Dooley rolled along and the press conference ultimately gained momentum.
Why bring this up a week later? If you missed it Tuesday, Ohio State put its head in a media guillotine. OSU spokesman Jerry Emig announced moment's before coach Urban Meyer's weekly press conference that Tweeting by media members in attendance had been banned, effective immediately.
Word of the decision seeped out of Columbus.
The backlash began.
Media members throughout the country pelted Ohio State with criticism. Hell hath no fury like a journalist scorned and Ohio State's decision directly hindered those responsible for covering the program. A media relations department can't (or shouldn't) forbid reporters from reporting an event that is being live-streaming on its own website and broadcast on live radio. Furthermore, devising a rule that essentially muzzles the media without any prior discussion appeared small-minded and spiteful.
The situation was a whole is irrational, detrimental and insulting. As a result, it was rectified before the 24-hour news cycle ever came full circle. Ohio State lifted the ban later in the day and everyone has apparently moved on.
However, (and now I'm about to welcome the media firestorm that scorched OSU upon myself), I see where Emig and Ohio State were coming from.
The minute I heard of the decision, I immediately thought back to the above Dooley press conference. I remembered looking around and realizing everyone was too engrossed in Tweeting to respond to Dooley's opening statement.
This is, by no means, a jab to the midsection of the Knoxville media. Hell, if I weren't taking video, I probably would have been spurting out Tweets myself. This happens everywhere, all the time, but because my head wasn't buried, I was able to see what Dooley saw. And more specifically, understand the absurdity of it all.
The following night I had a lengthy conversation with a fellow reporter about some of my concerns.
What's the point of being at a press conference if we're just racing to Tweet out quotes? How much is missed by the distraction (i.e. hinderance) of sending live Tweets? We're essentially concentrating on writing one or two sentences (140 characters!), while the interview subject has already moved onto the next point. Is it worthwhile to bend your attention off target just to keep 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000 "followers" instantly up to date?
(Let's all remember here, Twitter doesn't pay anyone anything – neither the reporters nor the news outlet. Yet it sure dictates how we do our jobs.)
If there's a sports writer out there who hasn't transcribed a full press conference and found an instance where the thought, "Damn, I should have asked xyz follow-up question," crossed their mind, I haven't met him or her.
Toss in Tweeting and the chances of overlooking an opening becomes far too likely. If I could discover a latent talent allowing me to partake in a press conference, train all my attention on what's occurring and present a live, blow-by-blow account to the public, none of this would be an issue.
I don't really foresee that happening, though. And I have no problem admitting that. Those who disagree, good on 'em.
According to the Associated Press, Emig had made the announcement, he said, as a courtesy to both other reporters and Meyer so that reporters weren't fumbling with smartphones and not listening to the questions and answers during the media availability. Emig said he didn't know until after Meyer's news conference that a Columbus radio station broadcast it live, making it even more pointless to restrain reporters from using social media then.
Whether that was actually OSU's target goal is irrelevant. The point made is valid.
In a tiny book entitled "Everyman's McLuhan," a plain-sense explanation of the teachings of renowned media critic Marshal McLuhan and how they translate to the 21st century, author/historian W. Terrence Gordon writes, "Widespread inattention to communication as involvement in a shared situation leads to ignoring the form of communication."
Press conferences are meant to be as much a dialogue as they are a question-and-answer. By ignoring that, we ignore (or are distracted from) the point of the communication.
Tweeting isn't untenable, not by any means. The desire for instant information isn't going anywhere, but issues arising from Ohio State's decision shouldn't be overlooked. They are, if anything, worth discussing. It's easy to assail Ohio State, which brought a media storm (literally) upon itself with what was a laughably shortsighted decision, but the door of conversation among media members that it opened, might be worth walking into.
This here is just a one-way blog post. I'd prefer conversation. The irony, of course, is that any conversation will stem only by me sending this into the Twittersphere.
You win again, Twitter.
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