Press Coverage: Will Citizen Journalism and iReports Dominate Sports Like It Does News?

↵It was 3:15 a.m. on what had become Sunday morning and the national news was in full cycle on the Times Square car bomb situation. On Twitter, Brian Stelter of the New York Times and other news-media savvy Tweeters were cleaning up the winners and losers of the coverage. Lost in a haze of sleep depravation, diapers (not mine) and tears (mine), I jumped on to CNN.com to see what the heck had happened. ↵

↵

↵For all their ratings issues, and they have immense ratings issues, CNN's non-partisan coverage has always been the best place for straight news. Well, except for that whole Michael Jackson situation where they refused to credit TMZ as a source reporting that he had died. Now, increasingly, CNN is passing off user-generated video and eye-witness accounts as "news." ↵

↵

↵In the middle of a story on their website about a car bomb sitting on one of the busiest streets in the country just waiting to blow up, CNN threw in this line: ↵

↵
↵⇥iReport: Are you there? Share pics/video ↵
↵All I could think is, "share pics/video? How about "are you there? Well there's a bomb in the car! Get to Brooklyn. Get to Jersey. Just get the heck out of there!" I'm pretty sure I didn't actually say heck. ↵

↵ ↵

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↵It got me thinking – remember this was the wee-est of wee hours – that CNN's reliance on free user-generated "citizen journalism" has taken over the network to the point where they're asking regular people to send in videos from an active bomb investigation while news is being disseminated by anchors who are shown on camera reading what the average viewer thinks about a topic via Facebook. Is this the future of news or is it the reason CNN is getting crushed? ↵

↵

↵And, to the point of asking this on a sports blog, is there a viable parallel for sports? Will we see a day soon where ESPN anchors are hosting SportsCenter by spending 20 minutes on viewer feedback through Twitter? Will Josh Elliott soon be scouring my Facebook status updates for content? ↵

↵

↵Rather than posit that query in the hypothetical, I asked ESPN, as well as a few others in the industry who have a vested interest in this citizen journalism business. Is there a place for citizen journalism and news through social media at the World Wide Leader? A reply from Rob King, head of ESPN.com: ↵

↵
↵⇥We've been in this space for some time already. We cull fan contributions from registered fans who blog on their "My ESPN" pages (best example was when Favre left Green Bay and joined the Jets), feature fan content in CoverItLive, and the current opportunity to contribute on our Commentary pages. Further, the Passport application encourages fans to tell us stories and send pictures and video from big events they may have attended. ↵⇥

↵⇥Our Mobile efforts are designed ultimately to make such contributions easy. Bottom line: We're early in exploring this avenue of content, but we expect it to grow for us. ↵⇥

↵
↵So far, ESPN has developed a really good balance of giving us the news and sharing the user experience with the viewers. Shows like SportsNation and Winners Bracket cater to the "let me be part of the story" populous instinct without having the program dominated by it, like some of CNN's coverage has been. This point was echoed by ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz: ↵
↵⇥We are already doing that on certain shows and outlets, namely SportsNation. The world is evolving, and that includes the world of sports fans who have as active a collective voice as ever. ↵
↵It is important to remember that most "sports news" happens on the field or court, and the video and audio rights to that coverage is owned by the league and network. It's a lot easier to record "news" on the street, like reaction to the car bomb, than capture "news" in an arena that already has 20 cameras set up. That said, how much of ESPN's push into social media is their own progressiveness and how much is keeping up with the Joneses for news items off the court? ↵

↵In this case, the Joneses have become sports blogs. ESPN tried Blog Buzz on SportsCenter and that became somewhat of a colossal failure because they'd never promote competitors' blogs on their air and ended up linking to the most ridiculously obscure sites you could imagine. Then, of course, they didn't know how to handle the "Buzz" when it was all about them. ↵

↵

↵But the actual blogs' buzzing may be their biggest competitor after all. And fresh off the heels of Dick Ebersol making the ESPN-TMZ joke at the Emmys, it's fair to wonder if ESPN sees this as a big part of the future of their breaking news coverage. ↵

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↵A former ESPN insider, who requested anonymity, offered some insight to his time at the WWL with regard to social media: ↵

↵
↵⇥ESPN has started [highlighting social media responses] in breaking news situations when it comes to trades and trying to get "the pulse of the fan". The only reason that producers do this is to kill time between phoners and they think that it's what fans really want to hear. ↵⇥

↵⇥What ESPN doesn't understand is that most hardcore fans are watching SportsCenter as background noise while on their laptop and are possibly already looking at tweets and Facebook status updates. ↵⇥

↵⇥

↵⇥As a former member of the Bristolplex I can tell you that the reason you don't see more social media usage on ESPN is because the people who run the shows, coordinating producers and up, don't understand how social media works. ↵⇥

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↵I understand the fact that using an anonymous source that is disparaging his old place of employment doesn't really hold much merit – it's worth noting that the source requested anonymity because of his position in the industry at his current job, not fear of being on the record talking about ESPN – but I felt it was important to show the other side from someone who was there. It's also important to note that I don't agree with his last assertion, as King is one person in particular, albeit on the dot-com side, who really does understand the value and landscape of social media. ↵

↵I'll give the last word to A.J. Daulerio of Deadspin, whose original post of the now infamous Jerry Jones video was run on SportsCenter and was the genesis of Ebersol's ire. Does he think we'll see a CNN style on the "hard news" sports shows like SportsCenter? Is that a good thing – the world is changing and everyone has a voice in it, yada yada yada – or a necessary evil of the business for ESPN to keep up? Or is it evil at all? Is it just that CNN went way too far and there is a good balance for it that would really work in sports? His reply: ↵

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↵⇥In short, yes. Real-time information is a commodity for any news org. And I don't think that necessarily shifts into TMZ territory. I think there's a value in 'I-was-there' type coverage that achieves the same goal. ↵
↵So the Joneses and those keeping up both agree: this is the future of media. Just please, if there's a bomb somewhere, don't wait around to send in a report to the news. Get the heck out of there as soon as possible. But a drunk owner ripping on a potential draft pick? Stay as long as he lets you and send it on over to us as soon as you leave. ↵

↵FOX Upset over NFL Web/Mobile Streaming ↵
↵Speaking of new media, Media Post reported late last week that FOX Sports president Ed Goren sees a growing concern with online and mobile streaming of sports. ↵

↵
↵⇥Goren acknowledged that multiplatform maneuvers by the NFL are "not an issue" now, as Fox saw major ratings gains last fall. But if the NFL, Major League Baseball and NASCAR continue to look beyond the traditional set, a snowballing effect could occur. Fox will be more reticent to pay billions in rights fees to the three. ↵⇥

↵⇥"Our ratings will go down, our ad sales will go down and the leagues can find another sucker," Goren said. ↵⇥

↵
↵Part of Goren's issue comes from the fact that NBC can stream the Sunday night game but FOX can't stream their games. In addition, the amazing creation that is the RedZone channel may be the biggest offender in the eyes of FOX, because if people are watching that to get all the games at once, "then you can't be watching Fox," Goren said. ↵

↵People Love To Watch The Horsies ↵
↵Could it have been the rain that brought the entire field into contention? Could it have been the combination of Bob Costas and Tom Hammond with copious amounts of enormous hats? Or was it the on-site reporting of Jim Cantore giving weather updates from every mud puddle he could plant his waders into? ↵

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↵Whatever it was, it got people watching, as NBC recorded the highest overnight rating in 18 years for the Kentucky Derby, narrowly eclipsing last year's overnight rating. It should be noted that the full ratings of last year's race exceeded 16.3 million viewers, which was the most watched Derby in 20 years. If Stephen Colbert can get Bob Costas on a moose at the Olympics, we need to get Costas on a horse for the Preakness or Belmont. The ratings would be through the roof. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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