University of Washington Athletic Department made headlines after reprimanding a reporter for tweeting too many times during a basketball game. The reaction was immediate with reporters and individuals calling the action censorship and an old-school media policy.
We also published a story on the incident, in which my colleague explained why he thought it was the wrong strategy, one that won’t be successful in the long run.
Since then, I’ve had the chance to talk with Carter Henderson, Assistant Athletic Director of Athletic Communications at UW, to get the other side of the story and learn the reasoning behind the policy.
The policy, which limits in-game social media updates for basketball and football, was a strategic move by a department. UW Athletics wanted to be proactive instead of reactive, especially in a digital landscape that is changing almost daily.
Henderson explained that the relationship between the school and reporters drove this decision, in that the university, along with the PAC-12 and NCAA, holds the rights to broadcast the game, while the reporters are there to, well, report.
“We needed to find what space was going to be ours as early as possible,” Henderson told me.
Since the initial outcry, there have been a number of stories that looked more deeply at live tweeting and future of sports. Mashable concluded that it will become impossible to the teams and organizations to differentiate between fans with huge followings and reporters. Geekwire saw the move as more than just claiming turf.
Henderson, however, made clear UW’s take on the issue.
“If you looked at all athletic departments, we are among the top in terms of percentage invested in social media,” Henderson stated. “We’ve placed so much worth in digital, we can’t give it away for free.”
Ultimately, according to Henderson, the UW athletic department feels it has the access to tell the story better than anyone else.
In terms of technology, Henderson said, “Twitter and Facebook are the predominate tools now, but who knows what will happen in the future.”
It’s not hard to imagine people being able to shoot, edit, upload, and share a video with their networks in just a minute or two.
In sports, the games, the competitions are the product. Think about it, every other sale or profit made relates back to the game. Without the action on the field, pitch, court, or diamond, the jerseys, bobble heads, trading cards, and everything else would be worthless.
And it’s the university that takes on the burden or risk for hosting the event. Because of that burden, the university reserves the right to radio and television broadcasts. Now UW is applying the same logic to live coverage in any digital form.
“The policy is a condition of the media credential,” Henderson said. “If you are choosing to accept the credential, you are agreeing to these rules.”
So the credential serves as a contract between the athletic department and the reporter. By accepting the credential, the reporter agrees to the University’s policies, but is also granted access and information they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Much has also been made of the response from other universities to this policy, most of whom have little or no restriction on reporter activity on social media. But the University of Washington has invested heavily to build an interactive presence online.
Greg Bell serves as an in-house writer and hosts an in-game live chat. They have a tagboard set up on their site pulling in tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagram photos with the #UDUB from athletes, coaches, and fans alike. Their Twitter feed is active with original posts and retweets. A whole website page is devoted to where you can find coaches, teams, and athletes online.
It may seem ludicrous for a reporter to be reprimanded for sending one or two tweets too many, but a 20 tweet limit for 40 minutes of live action on the basketball court doesn’t seem that restrictive. Reporters are allowed to tweet as much as they want pre-game, post-game, and even at halftime.
All that coverage could very easily, and within the terms of the policy, add up to more than 20 tweets. That would be just fine under the policy. And there’s nothing to stop a news outlet from sending a reporter into the stands to live tweet instead of into the press box.
The real conflict between UW and the media seems to be over the line between broadcasting and reporting. UW has heavily increased their in-game coverage, particularly online; it’s not just about granting someone broadcasting rights anymore. Historically, athletic departments have produced press releases with information before and after games, leaving reporters to tell stories. But the rise of digital platforms, and UW’s investment in those spaces, have shifted the role of the athletic department, changing the nature of the relationship with the press.
How this policy will unfold, adapt, and play out in the future is unknown, but I think it’s safe to say that UW is being progressive, not old school, in how they view the digital space. As UW continues to stake out its own digital space, it may continue to run into conflict with the more traditional media outlets over where the boundaries are.