Steve Buckley has been a baseball columnist for the Boston Herald since 1995. He is also an author, a frequent TV guest host, and a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Buckley writes several columns a week for the Herald about the Boston Red Sox, but also covers the rest of Major League Baseball frequently.
“I’ve had an interest in baseball for as long as I can remember,” he said. “Though I was a Red Sox fan at an early age, I was also reading books on baseball history as early as 10 years old.”
It would not be too long after Buckley started his career that his profession would change dramatically. With the digital age on the rise in the early 2000s, followed by the launch of Twitter in 2006, leaders of news organizations quickly began to realize its importance for maintaining their readerships. Buckley’s case was no exception; he joined Twitter in November 2009 and now has nearly 25 thousand followers.
“I was slow to arrive at the gates of social media, but now I understand better and use it as often as possible,” he said. “The biggest challenge, I guess, is understanding that this is an ever-changing business and that you need to react accordingly or get out.”
But this does not just go for those who get paid to cover sports organizations such as Major League Baseball or teams such as the Boston Red Sox. Anyone now has the ability to produce news or opinions on their own, thanks to free blogging websites. Furthermore, social media helps the blogger achieve a higher level of readership and to keep it continuously growing.
“Journalists are now using Twitter as a notebook and then compiling information from the updates they’ve produced and ones they’ve read to make their stories,” said Jeff Cutler, a content creator and freelance journalist based in the Boston area. “Trades and big news are being broken first via social tools and then the in-depth reporting and commentary is done once the dust settles.”
Daniel Poarch is a staff writer for the Fire Brand of the American League blog, but he didn’t start out that way. He used Twitter to promote his own personal blog, and it attracted the attention of the site’s editor, which helped him acquire the position he currently holds.
“…I wanted to start building up a portfolio of work, so I figured having my own blog would be a good way to get my work out there,” he said. “I was also getting into Twitter at the time, discovered Fire Brand, and I ended up becoming familiar with one of their writers.”
Twitter also helped Matt Collins get started on his blogging career. Collins is a regular contributor to Over the Monster, which is a part of the bigger blogging site SB Nation. He said that although he did not have any formal journalism credentials, he updated his personal blog three to four times a week, and met Over the Monster editor Marc Normandin through sharing his work on Twitter.
“(Twitter) is a great platform to get to know other writers and get them to start reading your work,” he said. “I usually use discussions on Twitter or other forums to come up with ideas.”
And then there are blogs such as Fenway Nation, which is very active both on their own site and on Twitter. Editor-in-chief Ernie Paicopolos has a day job in market research; even though what he does for a living is completely unrelated to the Red Sox, he started Fenway Nation in 2000 “to basically formalize all the ‘water cooler’ talk about the Sox at (his) workplace.” A few of his co-workers were interested in the idea, and thus Fenway Nation was born. The site has been widely successful for short, embedded Red Sox blog posts, and has earned Paicopolos the recognition of being an Internet Baseball Writers Association of America member.
“We’ve found that attending Red Sox-related events — like player charity functions and official team ceremonies — is one of the best ways to get direct access to players,” Paicopolos said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to get credentials for these events, but it’s worth the effort. Otherwise, we try to keep abreast of emerging stories and trends via the usual news sources.”
Fenway Nation posts several short news stories nearly every day about the general goings-on in Red Sox Nation and sometimes of other clubs in Major League Baseball. But they all appear as embedded links on their Twitter page, which has been live since July 2008 and has gained more than 1 thousand followers.
It’s clear from talking with several journalists and writers that social media – especially Twitter – has revolutionized the way people gather, read and understand information (in this case, the different ways Red Sox fans can access news and opinions about the team and its players). The rules of the craft, however, have not in the least bit changed; just ask Steve Buckley, who had these pointers to offer to any aspiring baseball writer:
“Pay attention to the games, be willing to talk with baseball people even if it’s not for a story, and read as much of your competitors as possible,” he said.
As for readers who consume information journalists put out every day, it’s important for them to know who is credible and to weed out those who don’t have the best sources and don’t know what they are talking about. A recent case in point with the Red Sox and social media has surfaced, involving a 14-year-old blogger named Jake Wesley who has been incorrectly reporting team trades and not crediting his sources with his reporting that is correct.
“Unlike professional journalists…rumormongers on Twitter have nothing at stake, so they’re free to throw unsubstantiated speculation out there,” wrote Alex Reimer in a freelance column that recently appeared in the Boston Herald. “If we don’t know where the news is coming from, then it’s unreliable. Credibility matters.”
Just as important as a journalist’s credibility is his or her overall skills aside from their social media usage.
“Social media technology is just tools people use to communicate. But journalism is a profession and a skill,” Cutler said. “If you’re a crappy journalist, it doesn’t matter if you know all the ins and outs of Instagram or Vine or Twitter – you’re still gonna blow.”
These facts are so important to remember, especially considering the large number of Twitter feeds, Facebook profiles and WordPress blogs that are now available. In today’s technologically-savvy world, sending out what you have to say to mass audiences with the speed of a blink of an eye has never been easier. But writers must be mindful of how they understand the information and how it’s being understood by their readers.
“Once you tweet something or post it on Facebook or elsewhere, it’s there,” Cutler said. Somebody has seen it and screenshot it. There’s no going back.”