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Vol. 52, No. 1 November 2014 .pdf version
Being all a-Twitter has its perks and problems
By DANA O'NEIL / ESPN.com
Let me preface this by saying I like Twitter.
I like how I can find links to stories that I might otherwise miss.
I like how I can follow breaking news easily.
And, selfishly, in this clickable world we now are beholden to, I like that there is a fast and easy way to get stories to the masses.
What I don't like is what Twitter is doing to our profession. It is killing us, 140 characters at a time.
At games, I have grown accustomed to a press row of reporters looking down at their laptops instead of up at the action. And in news conferences, I'm numb to folks feverishly sharing quotes instead of thinking up a good follow-up question.
That part of it can be a necessary evil, I suppose, depending on the devil of an employer you serve. And for those of us around since the days of Radio Shack Tandy or longer, it's manageable. We've got a few decades of multitasking and press conferencing under our belts.
But what of college students or young journalists? What are they learning to be reporters or stenographers? There is a value to paying attention to something and more, to listening.
I write this knowing two things. For starters, I am as guilty of all of this as anybody and you each now have permission to yank me by the hair when I spend a game looking down more than up.
I also know this entire column will make me sound incredibly old. Which I am.
My kids' teachers tell me that kids today just don't learn like we did. Textbooks don't work. They need video and even animation, short snippets and more tactile learning.
And more, they're used to doing 40 things at once. For example, my teenager occasionally talks to me and texts at the same time. I want to yank the phone away, but apparently, she isn't being rude. She is being generationally normal.
So I get that journalism isn't the same anymore, either.
I'm just not sure that our business like our kids' manners is getting better.
Along with our attention, Twitter is robbing journalism of something even more critical reporting. Twitter is the land of the reactionary, a virtual crowd with pitchforks, as one colleague described it to me. If you want to be angry, log on. Someone once chastised me for choosing Snoopy as my avatar. Who can be angry about a cartooned beagle?
There is a time and place for reaction in our business. Insightful, and thought-provoking columns from people with experiences to understand nuances are a critical part of our business.
But an immediate choice of black or white is not.
At its best, journalism is about the gray the unknown and journalists at their best work to clear up the gray. They ask questions and find sources. They gather opinions of experts far more well-versed in subjects than themselves.
They read. They report.
And then, and only then, they write.
We need to get back to that. Heaven knows it's hard, especially in an age where immediacy is rewarded. The old adage of better to be last and right than first and wrong reads like some sort of nostalgic nicety rather than a creed to live by.
Equally difficult, with so much noise out there from legitimate websites to fan sites to the proverbial dude in his parents' basement it's harder than ever to distinguish yourself from the crowd.
But it would seem the solution to that is to not join the noise in the first place. The way we get news has changed. The way we read and learn is different.
Credibility, though, still matters, even when it's limited to 140 characters or less.
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