Twitter Legitimacy Through Speed: A Sportswriting Perspective

Last Thursday’s Major League Baseball trade deadline kept baseball fans on high alert. Big deals were struck, fan favourites shipped out of town, and some writers even declared it the best deadline day in the history of the league.

One of those writers was Ken Rosenthal.

Rosenthal, a reporter with FOX Sports, is one of the league’s best analysts. As FOX’s on-field reporter for each of the last five World Series, he’s become a well-known and likable authority on the game and a go-to source for rumours, news, and insight.

Online, he’s racked up over 500,000 Twitter followers, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that a number of fans were receiving their deadline updates from him. The day was a busy one for him, frantically tweeting and re-tweeting any reliable information.

A new trend was also emerging throughout the day, though. While Rosenthal worked his own sources and would try to confirm rumoured deals, he would also tweet recognition of whoever was responsible for first breaking the story, usually local affiliates with the team, but also national analysts with competing networks, like CBS.

It’s not a new development that Twitter has created an all-new race to be the first person to break a story. In fact, in almost all cases of breaking news, reporters turn to Twitter to try to scoop all other competitors. As Brendan Nyhan wrote for CJR in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and manhunt, “Fast and wrong beats slow and right.”

Rosenthal’s approach, though, was starkly different. He was giving credit to the reports/analysts who first broke the story. It flew totally in the face of what we’ve grown used to, where all outlets report the same story as their own.

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Te’o, Thamel and Deadspin: How the Web Outreported the Traditional Media

With the unraveling of one of the strangest sports stories of recent memory still leaving much to be explained, in the wake of Deadspin breaking the story that Notre Dame Fighting Irish All-American linebacker Manti Te’o’s inspirational girlfriend was, in fact, fake, it strikes a few questions on how something like this could go on for so long.

The circus surrounding this issue started just yesterday when Deadspin, an online sports blog that is part of the Gawker Media family, revealed that Te’o’s girlfriend, who passed away of leukemia just six hours after his grandmother had also passed away, has no record of ever existing. Despite being a graduate of Stanford, having been in a serious car accident that hospitalized her, and having been admitted to a (unnamed) California hospital for months for leukemia treatment, and ultimately passing away, Deadspin journalists’ Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey found no paper trail for Lennay Kekua having done any of these things. Or even being an actual person.

Photo by Flickr user JamesChicago. Published under Creative Commons.

Photo by Flickr user JamesChicago. Published under Creative Commons license.

While there has certainly been swirling tidbits of gossip and speculation as to why such a hoax was pulled off, let’s leave that alone and look at how such a story proliferated through the mainstream media for so long.

Remember, this wasn’t just some hoax that didn’t carry any weight outside of the Notre Dame community. No, the death of Kekua garnered national media attention, especially after Te’o spoke of her making him promise to continue playing no matter what happened to her. That same narrative of Te’o overcoming great amounts of grief (some of it real, as a result of his grandmother’s passing, keep in mind) followed him throughout the entire season, on his way to seven major collegiate football awards, and a Heisman nomination. There is no denying Te’o was a skilled player, yet you must still question whether that emotional aspect played into the minds of voters.

So, again, how did such a story receive so much coverage without this information of Kekua’s non-existence coming to light earlier? There are a few significant problems in the reporting of the story that can be looked at here.

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