Sports journalism in a post-Twitter world?
No one knows what's happening next. But if things go south, what does happen next?
Beware anybody who claims to know what comes next, or what it all means.
The fact is, of course, nobody knows what’s going to happen to Twitter now that Elon Musk owns the joint. It could become a right-wing cesspool. It could become pay to play. It could soon feature an edit button. It could soon welcome Donald Trump back. It could stay pretty much the same.
So any prediction or big-picture discussion of Twitter’s future — yep, including this one — should be taken with an Everest-sized grain of salt.
But this does feel different, doesn’t it. Musk’s buying of the company does feel like a serious inflection point in social media history. Maybe we’re all just prisoners of the moment, but it does feel significant.
And it’s got me thinking about Twitter and sports journalism, and imagining what sports journalism in a post-Twitter world looks like. If there are significant changes to how Twitter operates, how it’s used, or how many people use it, it could lead a significant change to how journalism is practiced.
No single platform in the digital age changed journalism as much as Twitter did. When we talk about social media journalism, what we are often talking and teaching about is Twitter journalism.
It’s so fascinating that a platform that’s used by just about 20 percent of the American population (and actively used by a percentage of that number) became the dominant platform for news and journalism. By sheer numbers, Facebook and Instagram are so much more influential.
But since Day 1, Twitter and journalism have been a perfect fit. Maybe it was the chronological timeline that Facebook and Instagram (and TikTok) abandoned that made the app feel like the old news write combined with the banter of a newsroom. Maybe it was the length of Tweets — the original 140 characters is the equivalent to what most basic ledes are, so the writing style fit. Maybe it was the platforms built-in asymmetry — I can follow you without you having to follow me.
Whatever it was, Twitter has changed journalism, and sports journalism. This didn’t just happen. It happened because journalists and news organizations used it the way they did. In the words of researchers Dominic Lasers, Seth Lewis and Avery Holton, they normalized Twitter (adapting the new media to fit traditional practices).
News is broken on Twitter. Reporters use Twitter as a way to track down stories, report them, and then promote them. Reporting happens in real time, a process as much as a product. Twitter changed the model of reporting from gather-sort-report to gather-report-sort.
So if there are major changes to Twitter with its new owner, what does that mean for sports journalism? Will reporters flock to Mastodon or another new social network? Will news organizations return focus to their websites and apps, to deliver news to people off social media but in personalized ways? Will news be broken on individual websites rather than a central social media platform?
Beware anybody who says they know what happens next.
They’re lying, or trying to sell you something.
ONE MORE THOUGHT
As a journalism professor, the changes in Twitter give me pause when I think about my students.
One of the lessons we have been teaching journalism students for the past decade is to have an active professional social media platform. Editors will look for you there, and it’s an important skill to demonstrate. And like I said above, when we said “social media platform,” we meant Twitter.
But if there are significant changes to Twitter, if a lot of people’s worst fears come true and the site degrades, is it responsible for us to direct our students to be on the platform?
Again, beware anybody who claims to know what’s next.