The Need for Speed: How Readers Get News is Affecting the Way Sports Journalism is Reported and Written

Over the last ten years, the way fans get news about their favorite sports’ team has changed considerably. Gone are the days when people had to wait for the morning newspaper so they could read a sports article about what happened to their team. Today, people are getting news from different mediums.

What has replaced the old model of gathering news for printed newspapers is the increased role of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and blogging. People want news as fast as possible. They want to know what’s going on all the time, so reporters and writers have to do everything they can to make that happen, or they’ll lose readers and interest.

In addition, digital media is a tool that’s becoming very commonplace with reporters too. They’re using phones or a personal camera to make video and pictures of their subjects.

The catch to this new form of journalism is that putting together a project with video, audio, pictures and a written story can be done fairly fast depending on the size, and it’s usually done by one person. Unlike writing for a printed publication, a reporter personally edits what he or she has, and uploads it almost immediately onto an online blog or social media platform.

This is the direction that sports journalism is going in. The use of social media, blogs and digital media has affected and changed the way sports journalism is written and reported on. It’s all about getting news out quickly and efficiently before anyone else does.

“[Blogs] also allows for immediacy,” said Paul Flannery, an NBA writer for the sports blog SB Nation and former Boston Celtics writer for sports radio WEEI in Boston. “When I used to cover Celtics’ practices, I would turn around the basic nuts and bolts of the day in a couple of hours, and that wouldn’t be the kind of thing that would show up in your newspaper until 16 hours later, but it would already be up on our site.”

What Flannery means by “nuts and bolts” is that he could post news quickly about what players were hurt, who was going to play in that night’s game, who was mad, and what quotes were being said in the matter of hours. That’s something, which is completely different and couldn’t be done by someone writing for a printed newspaper.

Chris Forsberg, a Celtics writer for ESPN Boston, is one of the top, young and up-and-coming sportswriters in Boston. He writes game analysis, and game reactions for his blog on ESPN Boston. He said social media has changed a lot in the way sports news is reported on.

“[With social media] it helps facilitate how quickly we can distribute the news because of the 24-hour news cycle,” Forsberg said. “Essentially you got news you don’t want to wait to put in the newspaper anymore. There’s no more waking up to the news. You got to get it out there quickly whether it’s through Twitter, blogging or Facebook so that people can react to it.”

In fact, Forsberg said one of the best social media platforms in general for covering the Celtics is Twitter.

“Everything goes through Twitter now regardless of whether it’s a reporter breaking a story or it’s a player saying something,” Forsberg said. “Reporters would’ve called us crazy if you told us 20 years ago that a lot of stories, or a lot of what the athlete is thinking, would come through this 140 character site. It’s always intriguing to watch.”

In addition, he said that the one thing that social media and Twitter has done is foster a great sense of community with readers.

“You now have to have an audience,” Forsberg said. “You put the news up and you not only tell people about it, but now you’re getting them to react to [it] and to get outsider opinion, which sort of [starts] the conversation.”

It’s also interesting to note that Forsberg said players might not always be straight with reporters on camera. Instead, they might post interesting tweets by voicing their opinion about an incident, or something that happened during a game. Tweets like that could lead to another story too.

Jimmy Toscano, a Celtics and New England Patriots’ writer for Comcast Sports Net New England (CSNNE) and a blogger for CelticsBlog.com, went along the same lines as Forsberg, and said Twitter is very important for a reporter.

“If you don’t have a Twitter account, I suggest you get one,” Toscano said. “That’s the first place to get news today. I have a Twitter account and I follow [a] wide range of people that I get news so quickly compared to when it’s up on a website. [Twitter] really is the first place to get news depending on who you follow and what type of news you’re looking for.”

Toscano continued by saying if a story isn’t ready to be published, but there’s important information to get out there then tweeting is important. He said having your name attached to breaking news is important, and it gives you a leg up on the competition.

Since news has to be constantly updated and put on the web regularly, many reporters are approaching interviews differently too.

Toscano said nowadays digital media has made it so that interviews are on tape or video only.

“No longer is it just showing up [to interview someone] with a pen and pad and taking a couple of notes of what a player says,” Toscano explained. “It’s common to see bloggers, and online reporters in the locker rooms after games holding up a video camera, and recorder to a player who’s talking.”

Toscano might be referring to Forsberg as the one who uses only a camera and microphone.

“A lot of veteran reporters make fun of me because I don’t have a notepad or pen when going into the locker room,” Forsberg said. “Nowadays I carry three things. I carry my cell phone, a video recorder, and an audio recorder. Essentially that’s all I need when I’m in there, because those tools allow me to tell stories differently.

Forsberg said that using his digital equipment over using a pen and notebook allows him to tell stories not through just words, but by giving people pictures, sights and sounds of what’s going on in that environment.

Despite how quick stories get put onto the web and how sports journalism is changing; editing and the quality of writing are still very important.

“There’s great responsibility when posting online,” Flannery said. “Your writing has to be clear and without mistakes and sloppiness. I think the best part of sports journalism on the internet is taking the old school values that you learned and applying them into a much quicker medium.”

For more of an inside look at sports journalism, take a look at this video below. Some of the top Celtics’ writers and a student speak about the ever-changing world of sports journalism.

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Digital Technology is Changing the Way News is Viewed

Listening to Michael Maness speak about the rise of online technology and the demise of newspapers during a presentation at Northeastern University was interesting and painful to hear.

Most of what he said was nothing new. Everyone knows that social media is going to play a major role in breaking news in the future. However, before I give a few thoughts on Maness and social media, I do have an issue with robots getting integrated into the sports writing world.

Over the last several years, Northwestern University has been developing robots that have the ability to write sports stories based on information it’s given. In an age where people are struggling for jobs, Maness seemed excited about the technology and prospects of robots taking over in writing sports news stories.

For me personally, and as a lover of sports, it hurts to see that a field I want to work in could be disappearing right before my eyes. I’m sure the robots will help newspapers as they’ll save editors from hiring a sportswriter to write basic game stories, but there’s more to this development.

The problem is that sports are intimate and emotional.

They require a human element to write a compelling game story. Fans and readers not only like to read about the stats, and what happened over the course of the game, but they want to know how the players felt. How did he or she work towards accomplishing a particular feat such as home run title? Only a writer tied into a team over the course of a season can really understand that. In fact, most sportswriters have an approach or connection to a team that many people don’t have. Fans want to read about their thoughts and analysis of what happened.

Think about it this way. The 2004 postseason run that the Red Sox went on was so emotional and epic that no robot could ever write about the events that transpired. The sportswriters in Boston such as Dan Shaughnessy and Bob Ryan waited since birth to see the Red Sox win the World Series. In the end, the game stories they wrote were among some of the best stories ever written in Boston sports history.

Robots don’t have the knowledge, the full ability, the emotion, the understanding and the love of sports to write stories that’ll intrigue readers. Maybe one day they will, but hopefully not anytime soon.

The robot story examples that Maness showed just seemed like boring recaps that a newspaper would use to fill up blank space. What serious sports fan would want to read that. Robots can do the basics, but it’ll be a matter of time before they can write and do a lot more.

I think newspapers need to tread very carefully when it comes to robots. They may seem like a good idea, but there’s always two sides to a story and more that meets the eye. Let real writers who’ve worked hard and have the knowledge write all sports stories.

As far as other digital technology goes, everything else Maness said isn’t new news to me. Interactive and social media is slowly taking over what the idea of a news story once was. News isn’t going away, it’s just getting told differently.

He said that people today get news in ways that were once seen as impossible. Facebook and Twitter are probably the most widely used websites on the planet. Since they’re used a lot, it’s only fitting that news is broken through them. Stories are broken through platforms such as Twitter because it’ll reach more people. In fact, most news organizations have a presence on both social media giants, and usually break important stories so readers can comment on them.

I also found it fascinating how much people value visual designs. Through his research, Maness discovered that the better the layout, the more credible the news site is. In other words, if the site is a legitimate news organization with an amateur layout, then why should people take it seriously? If that organization doesn’t want to adjust to the times, then they obviously aren’t that serious in reporting news. That’s the feeling people might get, so in order to get eyeballs onto a webpage, the site has to be revamped. It needs to be user-friendly, interactive and not boring.

People crave information minute by minute, and they want to be able to decipher it in the easiest way possible. If it looks boring or is hard to understand, they’ll move on and find another way to get news.

Maness had some interesting facts and takes on digital technology. He is right about news changing, but it’s only changing in the way it’s presented. There’s always going to be story, and always an audience willing to read one. With news easier to access than ever before, news organizations have a chance to embrace digital technology and to stand head and shoulders above their competition. Like the military, media outlets have to adapt to a situation in order to survive. It’s the only way they’re going to remain relevant in this digital age.

That’s unless robots take over and we’re all screwed.