ESPN goes back in time, bans breaking news on Twitter

ESPN’s reporters have a reputation of breaking sports news on Twitter – but expect that to change.

The company’s new social media policy, released this week, rolls back a hallmark of ESPN’s social media coverage with a ban on reporters breaking news on social media.

Do not break news on Twitter. We want to serve fans in the social sphere, but the first priority is to ESPN news and information efforts. Public news (i.e. announced in news conferences) can be distributed without vetting. However, sourced or proprietary news must be vetted by the TV or Digital news desks. Once reported on an ESPN platform, that news can (and should) be distributed on Twitter and other social sites.

It’s a shockingly backward stance for a company that always seems ahead of the curve on sports news in the social space.

NFL writer Adam Schefter is a prime example of what ESPN used to represent on social media. He has repeatedly broken news first on Twitter, frequently beating his own network on player signings, deal extensions, injury reports and big news such as the firing of Broncos coach Josh McDaniels near the end of the 201o season. Of course, he’s also tweeted news that ended up being inaccurate, too. That said, Schefter is followed by tweeting sports fans because he’s fast and often first.

And this is what sports junkies, bloggers and fans want. Charles Drengberg on Off the Record Sports breaks it down really well, noting that ESPN is often behind the likes of Schefter and other Twitter-friendly reporters when it comes to breaking news.

…As a dedicated NFL fan and sports blogger, I’d rather get my breaking news when it’s still breaking via Twitter than sit around waiting for ESPN or Yahoo to write up some puffy article referencing Ochocinco’s career numbers playing in cold weather when he gets signed to the Patriots.

I can only see two reasons why ESPN would take on such an old-fashioned policy that seems directly at odds with its place in the media world:

1.) The company brass is worried about their role in consistently passing along rumor and speculation. But come on, let’s be serious, they know that’s why we sports fans even visit ESPN.

2.) ESPN must be so certain of its stranglehold on sources within the sports world that it has no fear of losing an exclusive to a social media source.

Whatever the reason, it’ll be interesting to see how (or if) this shifts the playing field in regards to reporting on sports. As ESPN reporters have to wait to share scoops first on their company’s multimedia properties, could their competition at the networks, local news and online-only sports sites (like Deadspin, etc.) beat them to the punch on the viral waves of Twitter?  Could this self-imposed delay on the social channels give a leg up to the likes of SB Nation or Bleacher Report? We’ll have to wait and see.

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