The 2011 season marks the 10th season of baseball on the YES Network, and YESNetwork.com. I was there for the first five and remember the trials, tribulations, sweat, tears, conniptions and aneurysms that went into putting forth a top-flight product on a daily basis. Looking at where the overall coverage is now compared to 2002, the difference is like listening to a song in Mono and then flipping to Stereo.
Technology made my job easier, just as it has made the jobs of beat writers and columnists more efficient. Hardware, software and fiberoptic advances made it easier for scribes to file stories on deadline, fact-check, and ensure accuracy of quotes. Laptop computers, digital/tape recording devices, headphones, WiFi access to the Internet, and the Internet itself have helped reduce the latency that previously existed for the written word to reach fans. These products and services were available in 2002, but have become consistently better over time.
Due to the immediacy of the publication and distribution of information of all kinds, sports teams and leagues reacted accordingly. I don’t know what the current Social Media policies are for MLB, or the Press Box protocol for it. When I was covering games regularly, Social Media as we currently know it didn’t exist. If the Yankees had information to be released, they made it clear to both Mark Feinsand — who at the time was the Yankees.com beat man — and I that we could not publish the info to either Yankees.com or YESNetwork.com before the team OK’d it.
It was made clear that we were not allowed to break certain stories. (This most commonly occurred when players were named to the All-Star ballot or All-Star team, and other similar stories.) So, we would load the items into the system and wait for the go-ahead from Yankees’ PR staff. Twitter, Facebook, and other microblogging services must be a nightmare for team PR staffs looking to maintain a certain level of control over the flow of information.
In addition to the publication advances, informational sites like Baseball Almanac, Baseball Reference, Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, and tools like those available at Inside Edge, ESPN.com’s Gamecast and MLB.com’s GameDay do the heavy lifting, to where the writer can provide the originally intended core function: storytelling.
Even storytelling has gotten a facelift. Perhaps no single entity has affected the craft like Twitter. Many of the writers’ handles are affiliated with their employers, so they are easily identifiable. Follow them during games, you can time the tweets of key plays and events to when they appear in GameDay or Gamecast. In a way, it’s replaced the “running” game story that was once a staple of the beat writer’s portfolio.
Some beat reporters use Twitter in a unique and innovative way. For example, Marc Carig of the Newark Star-Ledger makes it part of his modus operandi to Tweet quotes from certain players as they’re drafting their recaps. Maybe those quotes will appear in their stories, maybe they won’t. But the preview gives you the reader a definite reason to check. I’m amazed at the level of multitasking these men and women can endure.
In addition to the Beat, a number of key figures in the Yankeeland blogosphere routinely tweet during games. Re-tweets, @ replies, and direct messages are frequent forms of communication. The tough part? Condensing feelings of frustration, disbelief or recounting feats of awesomeness in 140 characters or less. It’s an experiment of storytelling in as concisely as possible. It’s akin to the “Short, Short Version” of the wedding ceremony at the end of “Spaceballs.”
Priest to Princess Vespa: Do you?
Princess Vespa: Yes.
Priest to Lone Star: Do you?
Lone Star: Yes.
Priest: Good. You’re married. Now kiss her!
During off-days, like Monday, as the results of Pedro Feliciano’s visit to Dr. James Andrews were being made public, Twitter served as a primary vehicle for updates. In a half-hour span, numerous variations of “Feliciano not headed for surgery; rest for 6 wks, then rehab” appeared in my scroll. If there was a conference call with reporters, the only way to know who broke the story was to know who tweeted first. Still more writers re-tweeted or had strings of tweets to provide additional detail to the story as a precursor to the longer-form piece that would appear in print and online.
Other stories of importance, like Ian Begley’s report on ESPNNewYork.com that Yankees home attendance is down (really? with the cold weather, rain, $30 parking, people don’t want to venture to the Bronx?), elicited a string of reactionary tweets and re-tweets. Yet other sites, like YankeeAnalysts, tweeted shortened links to promote their off-day feature content.
Diving even further, the search for Hashtagged updates (if you’re on Twitter, check out the recent #JohnSterlingCallsHistory, it’s genius), and getting recommendations from the writers and reporters on who THEY read and follow, and recommend, are educational and enlightening.
The info provided in this column is hardly a revelation. It’s merely an exercise to demonstrate how the profession continues to evolve, and how technology is enabling different storytelling tactics. It’s an exciting time to be involved in the profession, whether you’re a writer, student, editor, or fan. The ways in which we create and consume info on a regular basis will only continue to change.
Who do you read? Who do you follow? Comments, suggestions, and recommendations welcome.