The recent (and very civil) disagreement between Thornley Fallis CEO Joe Thornley and CBC Producer Ira Basen over live Twittering of a talk Basen gave has led me to recall my one and only brush with sports reporting.
I was an intern at the Thousand Oaks News-Chronicle (now defunct, folded into the Ventura County Star), a six-day daily (no paper on Saturday) with a three-person sports staff led by Steve Springer (who, in addition to being the world's master of puns, went on to cover sports for the Los Angeles Times and write several books).
I was sent to a high school football game with a pocketful of dimes; Whenever the score changed or an interesting or controversial play occurred, I called it in so a story could be assembled based on my reports. The end of the game coincided with the paper's deadline, so my report of the final score came just in time to craft a lead and slot the story into its spot in the sports section.
In 1974, this was as close as you could get to real-time reporting unless the sporting event commanded TV or radio coverage (which this Conejo Valley high school contest did not). The technology in play back then was pay phones; we operated in a 24-hour news cycle.
The 24-hour news cycle died years ago with the rise of electronic media and, more recently, the Web, but even that has continued to evolve. We live today in a 140-character news cycle. That is, news has the potential to break as quickly as someone can communicate it over any of the real-time group communication channels. This is mainly Twitterâ€"which certainly has the mindshareâ€"but would also include the likes of Qik and Utterli.
I emphasize "potential" because not every news item tweeted is first reported on Twitter and because not every item first reported on Twitter reaches the tipping point that makes it news. It's easier to predict the next California earthquake than which Twitter meme is going to reach that tipping point, or when. It's worth noting that the Twitter surge around Chris Brogan's sponsored K-Mart post occurred about a week after the post was written and the MotrinMoms surge kicked into gear almost a month after MacNeil launched its advertising campaign.
The point is that people who are interested in what's happening right now no longer have to wait until tomorrow morning, the 6 p.m. national newscast, the top of the hour, or even the time it takes to produce a blog post to stay updated. As soon as someone can tweet it, it stands the chance of becoming a headline regardless of whether it qualifies under anybody's definition of news.
For this reason, like it or not, live Twittering is here to stay. Those who are offended by it, find it rude, believe it unfair or incomplete, or otherwise don't like it simply need to get used to it. Your complaints and argumentsâ€"and their validityâ€"don't matter. The insatiable thirst for personally relevant information, coupled with the desire and ability for anybody at all to provide that information, is the core fact with which we need to come to grips
These tools certainly canâ€"and haveâ€"been used as a news reporting tool by professional journalists. It makes sense as part of a continuum, as during the Spokane Statesman's coverage of the Joseph Edward Dean murder trial. The reporter in the courtroom sent tweets in real time, blogged during breaks to flesh out the tweets, then wrote a thoughtful, analytical report for the newspaper at the end of the day's proceedings.
How is it any different if I live-tweet what a speaker is talking about at a conference? (I personally prefer CoverItLive because there is no 140-character limit, but I also lose almost all of my potential audience by opting to live-blog instead of live-tweet. Life is full of compromises.) I would hope that anything I live-tweet will be followed up with a blog post that offers my assessment of the entire talk or event, but time gets away from me and I probably won't make good on that expectation 100% of the time.
In a world where anybody can cover anything in real time, some people will do it well and some badly. Some will try to be objective and fair, others will strive to be opinionated. (This is true of anything, including professional journalism and the craft of public relations.) Ultimately, though, there is nothing anyoneâ€"not a speaker, not a company, not a governmentâ€"can do to stop it. Instead, the possibility of a Twitter surge about you or your organization reaching that tipping point is something that must be factored into today's communication planning.
There is one objection to real-time coverage that I do want to addressâ€"that by live-tweeting (or blogging or whatever), you're not honoring a speaker by giving him or her your full attention. I can't remember who it was who told me about a study proving that students learn better when they take lecture notes cold, without class notes or handouts, because taking notes without more of the brain. The University of Eastern Illinois offers these reasons for taking notes during a lecture:
- Professors share information not available in textbooks, and they make connections.
- Notes are a storehouse of information for later use, e.g., when you take more advanced courses.
- We remember more when we write things down.
- Taking notes helps you to listen attentively and to think critically.
- Note-taking is a skill required in many jobs.
- Studies show that people may forget 50% of a lecture within 24 hours, 80% in two weeks, and 95% within one month if they do not take notes.
Live-tweeting (and blogging) simply adds a sharing dimension to note-taking. So the fact is, you're listening better if you're live-tweeting (or blogging) a talk.
But I don't want this to distract from my overall point. Go ahead and love or hate real-time reporting, but deal with it. The 140-character news cycle is a fact of life.
a shel of my former self, a blog from organizational communications consultant Shel Holtz, addresses the intersection of technology, business, and communication.