STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 12: Penn State fans gather around a statue of Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium before the start of the Penn State vs. Nebraska NCAA football game in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal on November 12, 2011 in State College, Pennsylvania. Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno was fired amid allegations that former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was involved with child sex abuse. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
As the Penn State scandal began to unfold early last week, local Nittany Lions blogger Ben Jones began tweeting anything and everything from the scene and instantly became a national voice from Happy Valley.
Last week was pretty crazy. I saw Happy Valley turned upside down, I watched the end of the Joe Paterno era in person, and I gained almost 9,000 Twitter followers in five days. All three of these things happening at once has been nothing short of a personal system overload.
For the sake of formalities, I’m Ben Jones. I’m 22, and I’m a credentialed member of the media. I like to think of myself as a fairly respected writer in the Penn State community, even though I write from my parents’ house (but not the basement). If you’re the sort of person who finds any aspect of the above interesting, I encourage you to visit Penn State blog Black Shoe Diaries.
Last week, Bill Simmons said that he felt Twitter could be a "real danger" to sports journalism, that the instant access to information and quotes was taking the job from the paid writers and putting it in the hands of anyone who cared enough to tweet. If you watch the documentary Page One about the New York Times and the newspaper industry in the Internet era, it certainly goes to show Simmons' point isn’t totally off base.
That being said, I would argue sports journalism isn’t being killed by Twitter; it’s being handed a superb tool. A good story cannot be written in 140 characters, but good reporting can be enhanced with Twitter’s help.
Like everyone around Penn State, I was appalled by the details of the Jerry Sandusky grand jury report. It was hard to read the 23-page report and not feel sick to my stomach. As the case turned toward Joe Paterno, Tim Curley, and Graham Spanier, only one thing was clear: this was not going away quickly.
People have a tendency to read whatever is put in front of them. A person might not look for a book, but if you give them one to read they’ll be more than happy to open it. Twitter gives sports reporters an amazing opportunity to give people something to read. A quote or an article might spark interest online, and sometimes all you have to do is show it to people for the wave to start.
So I tweeted. I tweeted a lot. Articles, quotes, pictures from campus. People want to be in the know, want to see what it’s like to be somewhere, want to know what is going on. I don’t think I discovered anything new, but instead of putting it all in an article and sending it out a few hours later, I kept my feed flowing with information as it came in. Whether I reported it or someone else reported it, I wanted people to get the facts as quickly as they could. I would still write up articles, but news and updates on daily events could be shared as soon as I could confirm them.
And my followers exploded. Suddenly, I was one of the people that Penn State fans and outside media members looked to for the newest information. I ended up on Scott Van Pelt’s show, SportsCenter, radio stations in four different states, and Deadspin, and my name was in the Washington Post. I was getting calls from Canada, MSNBC, and Versus to do TV spots. I went from zero to 60 in no time at all.
My story is not all that special. It’s just an example of the changing world of journalism. Certainly, the ability of anyone to publish anything can make the waters a little murky, but if you keep your facts reliable and separated from your opinions, people can and will trust you when it comes to breaking news. Twitter gives journalists the power to share videos, news, pictures, and articles with an unlimited number of people. I just figured out a way to focus that power this week.
In the end, my new-found "fame" will die down. Much like Chip Brown was the man of the hour during conference expansion, I soon will be the guy that was on the scene when Penn State came crumbling down. As a fan and a local, I find myself wishing that it didn’t have to come at the cost of Penn State’s reputation. In the end, I’m just honored that so many people trusted me to bring them the news.