Issues With Journalism Today

You know what really grinds my gears!?

Earlier today, at about 1pm on August 14th, a radio host for ESPN Radio Wisconsin sent out a tweet:

“@ESPNChrisLarsen Rumor re: possible #Oregon sanctions. 4 years probation, 2 year bowl ban, 30 scholarships over 3 years.”

He continued:

“@ESPNChrisLarsen No off campus recruiting for Campbell or Pellum in 2013.”

One of Chris Larsen’s 331 followers saw the post, and retweeted it. Which warranted another retweet. And what started out as a pebble rolling down a small mound slowly quickly became an avalanche down the side of the Three Sisters (that’s an Oregon reference for those who don’t get it). Avid Pac-12 fans jumped on the news. Oregon fans were worried and shocked, as there has been no Notice of Allegations from the NCAA. UW and OSU fans rejoiced, as it looked as if their biggest rival was about to get the hammer.

Then Larsen sent out one more tweet a few hours later…

“@ESPNChrisLarsen There is no concrete information out there regarding possible #Oregon sanctions. Just twitter and message board fodder rumors I saw/heard.”

Adding to the madness, Larsen deleted the original posts stating the possible sanctions against Oregon.

I don’t know whether to laugh, be furious, be shocked, or be completely and utterly disgusted. Let’s go with all of the above.

This, in my opinion, is a perfect example of what is wrong with journalism today. I am one of the biggest proponents of Twitter. I love the site. I think it’s service is invaluable. However, it’s biggest flaw is that you’re allowed to say anything. I can go online right now and say that I heard from “sources” that University of Notre Dame is becoming a Jewish institution. No one’s stopping me. And if one person believes it, let the avalanche begin.

This man went onto a rival schools message board, saw a post that had no source or credibility, and posted from his Twitter account which features four extremely important letters in the world of sports.

E. S. P. N.

By simply having the letters ESPN in front of his name, he is instantly given credibility by anyone who is quickly looking through their Twitter feed. “Wow. Look what this guy from ESPN said!”

In my opinion, Larsen was trying to get the attention of “The Mothership.” If he’s right, then he ends up on SportsCenter talking about his findings and giving analysis. But unfortunately for Mr. Larsen, he broke a few major rules of reporting.

He initially reported a major story without citing a source. Not just a credible source, but ANY source.

Once the source was cited, it ended up being “message board fodder.” That’s like using Wikipedia on your grad school thesis paper.

And finally, the biggest error of them all. He deleted the original post. If it can’t be seen, then it never happened, right? Wrong. Once something is out on the internet, it is truly never gone. You can click delete all you want, but it’s still out there floating in cyberspace, waiting for someone to find it. Not to mention the screenshots that everyone took of your original post. One of the first things you learn in J school is that if you make a mistake, you need to own up to it. You can’t just click delete and hope no one saw. Larsen was retweeted over 5,000 times. Other news sources picked it up, saying “Chris Larsen from ESPN Radio is reporting…” If none of this information ends up to be true, his name and reputation will be soiled forever. And in reality, for using the “sources” he did and then deleting the initial report, his name and reputation already are soiled.

Companies like ESPN need to crack down on who is using their names. For Chris Larsen, he probably chose to go with @ESPNChrisLarsen because it made him seem more credible than any other handle stating that he worked for ESPN Radio in Wisconsin. Four simple letters change everything. And Larsen knew this.

What’s wrong with journalism in the age of Social Media? The same thing that makes social media great. Instant results. You post something and it can be picked up and spit back out to a few thousand people in a matter of seconds. How did you find out about Osama Bin Laden’s death? I found out from Twitter. News travels faster than it ever did before. And if the news is wrong, it’s still out there. Larsen’s information had no credibility, no legitimate sources, and all the momentum in the world. It just takes one click to create an avalanche.

It is possible that services like Twitter may be dumbing down journalists. But that is where the debate of journalist vs reporter comes into play. Some believe that Twitter is allowing for everyday people to become journalists. However, that’s really not true.

If you see a car accident on the road and you tweet about it, congratulations. You are a reporter. You reported the news. But you are not a journalist. A journalist goes the extra step to find out more information, gather credible sources, give updates, and stay with the story until it is over.

What Larsen did today was report something that he heard. He failed to take the extra steps necessary to become a journalist. Having a Twitter account with four highly respected letters in front of your name does not make you a journalist. Creating content which is thoroughly researched (and cited) and keeping good ethics will allow you to earn those four letters and then become a journalist.

UPDATE: Larsen changed his Twitter handle, removing “ESPN.” He also made his account protected (private). I think that is just as low as deleting the tweets. At least he stepped up and removed the “ESPN” from his name (or was forced to). It will be interesting to see if ESPN Wisconsin has any statement on the matter in the morning.

2 Responses to Issues With Journalism Today

  1. mitchlars says:

    Good stuff and I agree with it 99%. The one thing I have trouble with is ESPN cracking down on people using their name. They can’t do a thing, any Joe Schmo can put ESPN in front of their handle. And to make it worse, he isn’t an ESPN employee. ESPN radio affiliates aren’t ESPN employees, but rather employees of a company that gets to use the ESPN name. Even if they wanted to, the mothership couldn’t stop this directly.

    • Alex Horwitch says:

      I did not know that. I still think ESPN could actively search out for accounts which are incorrectly/falsely using the ESPN name and order a cease and desist. ESPN has seen its fair share of Twitter issues recently (this, Sarah Phillips). It’s something they should take the time to look at.

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