Twitter’s speed and briefness makes it the perfect platform to deliver breaking news as it happens. In sport, specifically football, there is never a shortage in new developments. Whether that be transfers, suspensions, injuries, team line-ups or match action, Twitter is the ideal place to deliver news quickly to a direct, active audience. For many sports fans, following their club or favourite player is a way of life and Spezia (2011) argues that Twitter allows them to track the latest news, scores and gossip in real time, making it one of the easiest ways to develop a niche audience.
As a platform, newspapers and broadcast journalism cannot compete with the speed in which Twitter operates. Because of this, many news outlets have now moved online and see Twitter as an easy tool to break news and attract an audience to their stories. Publications no longer need to have every detail of the story before breaking it, Twitter allows them to tweet the bare minimum plus a link to the full story, which can then be updated as and when details are released. Not only does this speed up the news cycle, but it removes the barrier between a news publication and the audience, with social media living up to its name by giving users the opportunity to share their stories and opinions with a worldwide audience.
This brings us onto gatekeeping- the process in which the media decides which information should and shouldn’t be delivered to the public. Has Twitter abolished this process? Although many journalists will still class themselves as the elite group who deliver the news to the public, if an athlete sends a tweet carrying important information about themselves or a game, they are directly addressing the public without the need for a journalist to do it for them. Even more so for print journalists, as the gate is continually open, they have often found that their money-maker story is already old news by the time it is printed, they can now be completely bypassed by Twitter with their story trending for hours before being printed. But it is not all doom and gloom for sports journalists, although stars and clubs may bypass them when breaking their news, many do not have the writing skills to fully deliver a report on what has really happened, nor can they live tweet their games from the pitch.
Before the so called ‘Twitter explosion’ many football journalists admit to failing to see the point in the platform, calling it ‘self-indulgent’ and ‘egotistical’, as well as wondering why someone with such a broad writing skill would want to sum up their work in 140 characters. Yet when they joined the network, they all realised that this was the way forward for news reporting. They found that Twitter was a great tool when it came to news-gathering, self-promotion, building an audience and pushing traffic towards their work online as it was quick, easy to use and unrestricted in geographical terms unlike print journalism.
So when it comes to reporting on football in particular, the relationship between a journalist and Twitter has developed rapidly over the last couple of years. So lets discuss some of the benefits of Twitter for sports journalists. To begin with, fans are always eager to find out new information about their favourite team or players, especially the obscure facts that probably wouldn’t make the space restricted newspapers and it is these snippets of information that are perfect for Twitter and help journalists find a wide audience. By detailing parts of a match that audiences may not have seen, such as chants by the fans or the body language of the manager, a journalist can attract a wide reach who look for information. This excess information also drives the Twitter traffic to reading their online story too, as fans may find the finer details more interesting.
It is this interest that can also help journalists find the angle of their story. When starting to write a difficult story, many journalists will post a contentious tweet to provoke the reaction of fans, helping them to see the most popular angle to a story which will lead to the biggest audience readership. Because users can openly respond to, criticise and post their opinions in reply to journalists, it is easy for them to get a feel for the ‘nation’s voice’. This can be both positive and negative however, as it can lead to both an increase in trust and respect between an audience and a reporter, but also lead to monotonous abusive comments from users who don’t agree with their opinion.
Twitter allows journalists, whether they use the platform or not, to gather and monitor the breaking news that may not be seen anywhere else. Having an online presence in modern day sports journalism is seen as one of the most important traits of a journalist. Not only can it help them attract information, but it can also put journalists in a stronger position for attracting freelance work. If a company or news outlet can see that a journalist has gathered a strong following, they are automatically seen as an asset for attracting online traffic, as not only are you gaining the work of a strong writer, but also the attention of 100,000 strong following. It has also allowed journalists to become increasingly mobile, reporting from wherever they are in the world without fear of losing the scoop.
Unlike any other platform, Twitter has caused football journalism to erupt online. Because there are hundreds of journalists reporting on the same story, each one will take a unique angle, meaning that the variety of information out there in comparison to print journalism is tenfold. Again, developing a specialist angle in each story, whether that be tactical, psychological or analytical, it is easy to develop a niche audience very quickly. This faster news cycle that Twitter has created, has inspired many users desire to learn more information about the backgrounds of the main stories they read, this opens up avenues for journalists to write extended comment and feature pieces on topics that they are passionate about, instead of only writing for news.
Finally, Twitter allows sports journalists to break their news quickly, to a specific audience. Unlike other media platforms, the rapid dissemination of information on Twitter is a key way for a journalist to get their work out there. This mass circulation, teamed with the increase in media availability has now pushed tweeting as one of the most popular ways to keep up with sports. When reporting on a football match, many journalists will live tweet a rapid commentary of the key events within a game, as well as including all types of media within. A goal is a great opportunity to include a short vine clip of the action, allowing an audience to experience the game in real time, a bad reaction can be an opportunity to include photographs of players and managers to achieve the same feel, or a specific chant may inspire a journalist to add in a sound clip to attract the audience. It is these extra add-ons that other platforms simply can’t deliver, that attract the following on thousands of people when it comes to Twitter sport.
But there are downsides to using Twitter for journalists as each platform runs their own risks. If a journalist includes too much information in their tweets, they are not going to push traffic through to their online posts, essentially ‘scooping themselves’. There is always the risk that information found on Twitter can be untrue, it takes seconds for something to trend on Twitter, whether it true or not, and without the credible validation of sources, it is difficult to separate the truth from the false. Also, the rapid distribution of news can be one of the most useful ways to spread information, but everyone on Twitter is working that way too, meaning that information and tweets are easily missed and pushed down the timeline by other users.
Although there are many other reasons as to why Twitter is important for sports journalism, it is easy to say that the impact that it has had on the industry is huge. Just think about the next time you see a headline and think- “I’ve already seen that on Twitter.”