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A Tumultuous Week for Twitter

It was really quite a week for Twitter. And I’m not even talking about Egypt – just sports.

First came Yankees general manager Brian Cashman’s appearance for a breakfast at the Hard Rock Café in New York. From the get-go, Cashman wasn’t exactly guarded in his comments: WFAN’s Mike Francesa greeted him with “Hi Brian, how are you?” and Cashman replied that “I’d be better if I had a starter.”

That was just the start of Cashman Unfiltered. The bit of opinion that got all the attention in New York was Cashman opining that he’d be “surprised” if Derek Jeter stayed at shortstop for the next four years instead of moving to the outfield. But there was more. How about when Cashman said that flamethrowing Joba Chamberlain hadn’t been the same since a 2008 shoulder injury? Or that bullpen aside, the Red Sox were better than the Bronx Bombers?

Amanda Rykoff of ESPNW was in the audience, and began tweeting Cashman’s comments, as well as recording them with her iPod. (Disclosure: Rykoff and I are friends.) So what happened next? As Rykoff wrote, “My Twitter timeline exploded with retweets. Blog posts popped up in real time, using my tweets as the source. Controversy had arrived just weeks before pitchers and catchers. E-mails were flying. All because of a tweet of something Cashman said at a breakfast. In an instant, thanks to my Blackberry, I went from a fan attending a fan breakfast to a source of breaking news.”

Cashman seemed surprised that his comments caused the ruckus they did, saying later that he answered the Jeter question the way he did because it wasn’t a formal setting. Once the Jeter To Outfield tumult died down, interest turned to psychoanalyzing Cashman. Or, rather, interest returned to psychoanalyzing the Yankee GM: A couple of weeks ago, we witnessed the peculiar spectacle of Cashman barely leaving the dais where free-agent acquisition Rafael Soriano had been introduced before telling everybody he hadn’t been in favor of the deal.

Is Cashman no longer bothering to hide his displeasure with Yankees ownership? Is he working to engineer his own departure? Beats me. But it seems very odd that the veteran GM of baseball’s most-visible team would sit down with the best-known host of New York City’s most-popular sports-radio station and have no inkling that his comments would become news. After all, this was a public event — formal setting or not.

As Rykoff noted, “yes, I'm a contributor to espnW, but I'm not officially a reporter and I wasn't at the event in that capacity. But thanks to smartphones and Twitter, aren't we all reporters? Anybody else at that event could have tweeted the same thing. There were over 150 people there this morning at the sold-out event. We all heard Cashman. I was just the one person there who tweeted the nugget.”

Just a couple of days later, athletes used Twitter to make news all by themselves.

New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie had been critical of the NFL Players Association’s leadership for what he saw as slow-paced negotiations with the league. That apparently didn’t sit well with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who tweeted “Somebody ask Cromartie if he knows what CBA stands for.”

Hasselbeck deleted the tweet, but word got to Cromartie, who wasn’t pleased. He tweeted back this: “hey Matt if u have something to then say it be a man about it. Don't erase it. I will smash ur face in.” Wow! To which Hasselbeck responded, “Sorry for the joke man. No hard feelings. DB's & QB's have a hard time getting along I guess sometimes. lol." (Somehow I can’t see Cromartie laughing out loud.)

The Cashman story escaped the confines of a breakfast because someone in the audience had an ear for news and a Twitter following. Cromartie v. Hasselbeck didn’t even need that.

As sportswriters, a week like this can leave us feeling superfluous – but I think that’s a mistake. Yes, there are now many more conduits along which news may flow, and many more people to break that news – from well-connected observers to athletes themselves. And yes, Cashman’s unguarded comments and the Cromartie-Hasselbeck spat were the kind of items that make anyone who likes a good headline whistle appreciatively.

But the real juice wasn’t in what was said – it was in what it meant. Why was Cashman suddenly being so unvarnished in his comments about the Yankees? What did the Twitter squabble tell us about what’s going on within the players’ union? The job of explaining what such things mean is no longer reserved for sportswriters – that world no longer exists. But we still have our contact lists and our reporting skills and wisdom born of lengthy experience on beats. In a world with more and more information from more and more sources, these skills are more valuable than they’ve ever been — provided we put them to wise use.

Jason Fry is a freelance writer and media consultant in Brooklyn, N.Y. He spent more than 12 years at The Wall Street Journal Online, serving as a writer, columnist, editor and projects guy. While at WSJ.com he edited and co-wrote The Daily Fix, a daily roundup of the best sportswriting online. He blogs about the Mets at Faith and Fear in Flushing, and about the newspaper industry at Reinventing the Newsroom. Write to him at  jason.fry@gmail.com, visit him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.on Fry is a freelance writer and media consultant in Brooklyn, N.Y. He spent more than 12 years at The Wall Street Journal Online, serving as a writer, columnist, editor and projects guy. While at WSJ.com he edited and co-wrote The Daily Fix, a daily roundup of the best sportswriting online. He blogs about the Mets at Faith and Fear in Flushing, and about the newspaper industry at Reinventing the Newsroom. Write to him at  jason.fry@gmail.com, visit him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.
  
  
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