In today’s digitally run world, the pressure on news agencies and journalists to be the first to break a story, or provide a constant stream of news to our readers is immense. This is especially true of reporters covering live events, whether it’s sports, entertainment, or public proceedings. Combine this pressure with easy access to social media and the Internet, and situations form that can quickly turn to disaster. Gone are the days when a reporter covered the day’s breaking news, fact-checked it and it went out the next day after being thoroughly vetted. Today, stories go out before they are fact-checked and reviewed, and as a result the risks of mistakes being made are much higher. Writers can easily get in trouble for incorrect facts, or in the case I am writing about, a incorrect tweet.
Last January, Associated Press reporter Jon Krawczynski covered a Minnesota Timberwolves- Houston Rockets profession basketball game. Partway through the second quarter, referee Bill Spooner called a foul on a Timberwolves player. Krawczynski claimed that when Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis complained to Spooner, Spooner replied that Rambis would “get it back” and soon after Spooner called a foul on Houston. Krawczynski Tweeted this exchange and Spooner sued Krawczynski and the Associated Press for defamation and $75,000 in damages.
In the lawsuit, Spooner denies making any such comment. The reason Spooner sued over a seemingly inane comment criticizing his refereeing, which is common throughout all professional sports, is that the comment implies that Spooner is somehow “fixing” or affecting the outcome of the game. All National Basketball Association referees are particularly sensitive to this issue after former NBA referee Tim Donaghy was convicted in a gambling scandal involving the NBA where he admitted to providing inside information on games to gamblers.
This brings us back to the overarching question regarding this situation and many others: Should we as journalists show more restraint in our use of social media in order to fact-check and avoid sticky situations such this? If Krawczynski had held onto this tweet, investigated it, and followed it up it could have turned out to be a full-fledged story. Instead, he went ahead, tweeted, and is now involved in a serious lawsuit. I do not know his intent with the tweet, whether just as an aside, satire, or in legitimate outrage over the situation, but obviously he did not think through the consequences or potential harm this could cause without proper follow-through. This entire situation raises the following questions:
- What are the disadvantages of reporting through social media like Twitter?
- Should there be more checks and fail-safes for those involved in real-time media like Twitter or blogging?
- How much responsibility should journalists bear for their tweets both “on and off” the job?
- How do we as journalists prevent ourselves and our colleagues from committing this kind of mistake? Is it even possible to prevent?