Ready for Primetime
One morning late in Spring Training, I’m standing with a couple of Toronto baseball writers when Blue Jays manager John Gibbons appears for his daily pre-game session. He takes a handful of questions and then stops.
“Did I mention Lawrie?” he asked.
“We’re putting him on the Disabled List,” he said.
Lawrie was still slowed by a pulled rib cage muscle, and rather than rushing him back and risking a more serious injury, the Blue Jays wanted him to make a complete recovery. Thus, the Disabled List.
What should I do with this information? My choices were:
–Tweet it immediately, noting that a complete story would be on MLB.com shortly.
–Hold off on the Tweet until the story was posted online.
In a hyper-competitive media world, there would be some satisfaction in getting at least 20 seconds in front of the rest of the world.
I know I would have been out front because as Gibbons spoke, I held my tape recorder in my left hand and my iPhone in my right.
Baseball writers once prided themselves on drinking until dawn, sleeping three hours and then doing it all over again.
Now, we have 24/7 news cycles.
And I do mean 24/7.
Last October, I left Yankee Stadium after a playoff game at precisely 3:07 a.m. I was pretty pleased with my work ethic until a stadium security guy told me the last guy had left the press box at 5:25.
Once upon a time, we delivered the news once a day. Okay three times a day. We’d have an 8 p.m. deadline, followed by other deadlines at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.
That was it.
When Skip Bayless kept subbing out his column while working at the Dallas Morning News, an editor finally had enough.
“Skip,” he said, “you can go home now. The presses have stopped. That column is as good as it’s going to get.”
There’s a different media landscape on multiple levels. First, websites that generate news are updated round-the-clock.
Readers demand that coverage be quick, accurate and thorough. When Mariano Rivera gave an impromptu news conference after announcing his retirement, there were at least a half-dozen reporters holding their iPhone in one hand and typing with only a thumb.
When Vernon Wells showed up in the Yankees clubhouse, at least a dozen reporters Tweeted it within seconds.
And then as he spoke to reporters, as he talked about changing his approach at the plate and how thrilled he was to be playing for the Bronx Bombers, his words were being reported almost instantly in 140-character increments.
That’s another thing that has changed. Once upon a time, news consumers had to go get the news.
They did this by walking down to the end of their driveway to pick up the morning newspaper and stopping by a news stand on the way to work.
Those days are gone forever. First, the news arrived via your computer. You turned it on, went to your favoriteweb site and clicked through the articles.
Even that scenario, as high tech as it appeared to be at the time, seems outdated. Now the news is delivered directly into your hands.
It’s on your phone or your tablet. It’s right there in your pocket or your nightstand. News consumers have come to expect that the news will be delivered right into their hands.
I have friends who refuse to post links to their stories on Twitter or Facebook or Google+.
“I don’t do that stuff,” they say.
Plenty of newspaper reporters—and their editors—feel the same way. They simply can’t understand the need.
I’ve had enough friends lose their jobs that I’ve forced myself to adapt. Those of us who have covered beats for most of our careers are intensely competitive, and if there’s a method for publishing a story first, we’re going to take advantage of it.
For instance, when Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver died, I went straight to my computer and typed 2,000 words.
I was online before almost anyone, and then as soon as it was published, I Tweeted a link to the story. I did the same thing on my Facebook account.
That story exploded around the world. My friends re-tweeted it, and then their friends re-tweeted it.
Pretty soon, I was hearing from American soldiers on foreign soil and baseball fans all over the country.
Here’s the point.
They had not been looking for my story. But they had scrolled through their Twitter feed and saw it.
They might have been sitting at a red light or in a Starbucks when they clicked on it and read it.
That kind of thing is amazingly energizing, to know that so many people saw work you were proud of so quickly.
Twitter has changed my world far more than Facebook. On the night, President Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed, it had been common knowledge on Twitter for almost an hour.
When the search for the alleged Boston Marathon bombers was winding down, the Twitter feeds of the Boston Globe and various other New England media outlets were absolutely compelling.
They were doing what reporters have been doing forever. They were reporting what they saw and what their sources told them and all that stuff.
They were taking all the information and putting it into context. They were also immediately delivering it into our hands.
There was a version of this kind of hunger for news in the hours after the Kennedy Assassination. Folks would spend two hours in line outside the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to get a copy of the latest edition.
Once they got the newspaper in their hands, they would turn, walk a couple of blocks down the street and get back into line for another newspaper.
Now we open our Twitter accounts—or our Facebook accounts–and have it in our hands.
Back to that morning with the Toronto Blue Jays. I wanted to be the first to Tweet the news that Brett Lawrie would begin the season on the Disabled List.
However, in a larger sense, in a business sense, the news would not be bringing people to our website at MLB.com.
But the news was the news. If I didn’t report it immediately, someone else would.
So here’s what happened: I emailed my news desk with the fact. They quickly compiled and posted a news story. I then Tweeted the news. And moments later, I Tweeted it again, this time with a link to the story on our website.
Funny thing about all of this is that it has made our jobs better. Speed is more important than ever, but so is accuracy.
And we’re no longer slaves to print deadlines, at least most of us aren’t. We have time to go down to locker rooms and poke around and ask questions, and when we do sit down to write, we’re going to offer the reader more depth, more clarity, more of everything.
Rather than men and women in trucks delivering the morning news, I now can deliver it myself. Faster than ever. Better than ever.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Justice has previously written for The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle.