For the love of the game: How Twitter is changing baseball coverage

August 1, 2012

Today’s Major League Baseball press box isn’t what it used to be.  These days, you don’t see cigar smoke-filled rooms populated by scribes banging on typewriters. Now, the press box resembles more of an Internet café, where lattes replace cigars and tapping takes place on laptops.

Besides writing daily stories about wins and losses, 21st-century baseball journalists are also immersed in a host of social media duties.  Twitter feeds have become almost as important as the box score to those on the baseball beat.

To understand how baseball journalists view the growing role of  Twitter within their profession, Tactics talked to three reporters who cover the Philadelphia Phillies.

Jim Salisbury of Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News and Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer not only put in long hours in the press box, but also in the Twitterverse.

“Reporters must embrace Twitter to get the most out of their coverage,” said Salisbury (@JSalisburyCSN). “If a reporter is not using Twitter, he isn’t using all the resources at his disposal.”

Murphy (@HighCheese) believes that reporters who are not active on Twitter are doing their employer a disservice, as well as themselves. “It’s a great tool to improve your personal brand,” he said. “Even if you move to another media outlet, you’ll still have that  Twitter following.”

It starts with Twitter

According to these reporters, a growing number of baseball fans are turning to Twitter first — at the expense of established sources such as ESPN.com or the online edition of  local newspapers — to acquire their news.

“I’ve come to find [that] most fans are now leaning on Twitter more than anything else for breaking news,” said Murphy.  “I get questions on Twitter regarding news I already answered in the newspaper and online, which says to me [that] people aren’t reading it there and are going straight to Twitter.”

With the news migration patterns of baseball fans evolving, reporters must maintain visibility and relevance.

Salisbury created a  Twitter account in December 2009 when rumors surfaced about the Phillies acquiring all-star pitcher Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays.  Within minutes of his initial tweet, Salisbury reached 500 followers.

On average, Murphy, Gelb and Salisbury tweet 10 to 15 times per day, sometimes reaching 20 when news breaks. Pre- and post-game tweets tend to be locker room observations, whereas in-game tweets are usually immediate reactions to what just occurred on the field. 

Even with their deadlines, all three acknowledge the importance of consistently responding to questions that others tweet to them.

“Twitter engages your reader and hopefully increases your audience, especially a younger audience,” said Gelb (@magelb). “It’s where the competition is so you have to make sure you’re there as well.”

With so much downtime in covering baseball, conversations regarding trade rumors, obscure statistics and second-guessing management fill the void between pitches. Reporters’ tweets on those subjects generate the most responses and attract new followers.

Risks and rewards

While fans crave constant communication,  Twitter has its drawbacks for reporters. “It’s a distraction,” said Murphy. “You have to monitor it all day — what people are asking you and what others, especially the national guys, are tweeting. If you don’t report about what others are talking about in like 10 minutes, you will hear from your editor.”

Reporters also have to decide whether to immediately tweet information that they obtain via an interview or to observe all of the sights and sounds and then incorporate them into a story.

Bottom-up communications

The only guidance that these three reporters have received from superiors about their Twitter usage was to be active and to avoid any type of controversial communication. Even though there is little in terms of written policy for best practices, a pattern is developing as far as how reporters can best utilize Twitter for promotional purposes.

To capitalize on fans’ need for constant updates, reporters should first post their breaking news on the publication’s website in its main sports section.  Then, they should immediately tease the story and provide a link to it in ensuing tweets.  These tweets lead to retweets by bloggers and fans.

“Tweets should drie traffic to the site,” said Salisbury.  “Write a story, tweet the URL [and] get readers to the site.”

Salisbury’s employer, Comcast/NBC Sports, is now providing its reporters with detailed directions on how to create synergy between local and national outlets by using shared hashtags.

What comes next?

While Murphy, Gelb and Salisbury hope to strategically capture a wider following via Twitter, the team they cover is doing the same. Before the Phillies provide the day’s starting lineup to reporters, management tweets it out from @Phillies to its 700,000 followers. 

All three reporters predict that all MLB teams will soon start tweeting out more information before the media has access to it, in order to attract the multitude of  fans using  Twitter as their starting point for baseball news.

Expect  Twitter to intensify as the epicenter where journalists and teams battle to attract the hearts, minds and eyes of baseball fans.

Aaron J. Moore, Ph.D.
PRSA member Aaron J. Moore, Ph.D., is an associate professor of public relations at Rider University. His primary research topic is sports media relations. Moore is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association. You may reach him via email at amoore@rider.edu or on Twitter: @pubrelationprof.


Martin Munguia says:

I agree completely! As a lifelong baseball fan and recent Twitterer, I added the Seattle Mariners official account to those I follow and find that I am not turning on the radio, opening a newspaper or checking a local news website to learn what's going on with the team, but I am going to Twitter. Not only can I learn who is pitching tonight, what the current score is or what latest report is on farm propects, but I get retweets from the players with their perspectives and sometimes even their pictures! How great is is that? I feel like I'm a part of the team and not just a fan. Good story!

Aug. 3, 2012

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