On Monday night, Todd Dybas of the Tacoma Tribune was reprimanded by the University of Washington sports information staff for Tweeting too much during a Huskies basketball game. According to the university’s policies, reporters are limited to 20 in-game Tweets for basketball games and 45 in-game Tweets for football games. The school has reportedly threatened to revoke Dybas’ credentials for this violation.
Getting this out of the way: Yes, every reporter who gets a press credential signs a release that includes the rules. No, none of them ever read it. Seriously, when’s the last time you read the terms and conditions when you update iTunes?
This is nothing new for the NCAA. Several years ago, a Louisville reporter was kicked out of an NCAA tournament baseball game for liveblogging play-by-play.
Look, reporters should not be Tweeting play-by-play. It’s pointless, it clogs up users feeds, and is a waste of reporters’ time and efforts. Reporters should use Twitter to point out in-game news (score updates, injury news, analysis, etc.), not as a stenography tool for play by play.
The reason the NCAA is so sensitive to this is, of course, broadcast rights. There’s a belief that if reporters are live-tweeting play by play, then fans won’t watch the games on TV. The TV networks pay a lot of money for the NCAA rights, so they want to guarantee viewership.
The problem with that reasoning is that it’s flawed and outdated. It’s 20th century thinking in a 21st century media world.
There’s a growing body of research looking into how people use Twitter with broadcast media. What this research is showing is that people don’t use Twitter as a replacement for watching games (or TV shows, or awards shows, or news events). They use it as a complement to the coverage. They use it to share their thoughts on what they’re viewing with others and build an online community. A paper I did last year suggested that people who are active on Twitter during games feel increased feelings of social presence (feeling like they were with others even if they were alone).
Limiting Twitter is antiquated thinking. It’s the attitude of a scarcity model – in which there was only one was to get the news, watch the game, or experience something. But we live in a surplus age right now. Media organizations and sports leagues need to understand and embrace this, rather than limiting user experiences.
There are better ways reporters can use Twitter than play by play. But they shouldn’t be limited in the number of Tweets per game.
I’d love it if, at the next Huskies game, every reporter there sent out exactly 21 Tweets. See if anybody notices. I bet, if they’re done wisely, fans would enjoy that game more than any other regular-season game in recent memory.