The pressure to get the story out first has become paramount in this era of social media, sometimes at the expense of accuracy, said Washington Post sports columnist Jason Reid April 14 at Samford University. “The best thing to do (in this environment) is to be true to your standards,” he told Samford journalism students and others.
Speaking in Brock Forum on the 2011 Timothy Sumner Robinson Forum, Reid said, “Social media has changed all the rules.” The advent of Twitter, blogs and Facebook means stories can be broken in real time, he said. “The pressure to be first is greater than ever before.”
But because bloggers and others who use social media technology don’t always apply traditional journalism’s standards of accuracy, “a lot of iffy stuff is going on,” he said.
He cited the case of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and stories that he had accepted money to play. “So much of the stuff that had him convicted was not well resourced,” he said. This drove home “how dangerous the social media explosion has become,” he added.
Bloggers played the biggest role in the Newton situation, Reid said. He added that while some bloggers are responsible, there is “little control over bloggers.”
Traditional newspaper reporters today also are expected to use Twitter, blogs and Facebook to get their stories out before they get around to writing a story for the next day’s paper. “Competition demands it,” said Reid, who formerly covered the Washington Redskins for the Post and the Los Angeles Dodgers for the Los Angeles Times.
At The Post, two sources are required before a reporter can tweet, the same standard required of its newspaper stories. “If such rules were in place for everyone, we wouldn’t have shoddy reporting,” he said. “I wish we had an across-the-board rule for accuracy in Twitter.”
Speaking to a journalism class earlier in the day, he said social media have made sports writing “harder, better and worse.” Harder because it never stops, better because the immediacy serves fans, and worse because some who use the technology don’t apply standards of accuracy, he said.
“Better or worse,” he added, “it’s here to stay.”
The Timothy Sumner Robinson Forum is held in memory of the late Samford journalism graduate who covered the Watergate scandal of the 1970s for The Post. Previous Robinson Forum speakers included political columnists David Broder and Eugene Robinson and editor Len Downie of The Post. The Forum is presented by Samford’s department of journalism and mass communication in cooperation with the Robinson family and The Washington Post.
Sean Flynt contributed to this story.