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How Does ESPN.com Plan on Aggregating the Tweets of Journalists?

I read this piece in the Sports Business Daily with befuddlement and amusement. Apparently, ESPN is upset that a spirited sports discussion is taking place on twitter nightly, and ESPN – the Worldwide Leader in Sports! – is going to try to entice you to visit ESPN.com to see everyone’s relevant tweets.

ESPN will start using that news feed [ie, twitter] more aggressively on ESPN.com, probably later this year, Stiegman said. The site is going to start making tweets from both ESPN sources and non-ESPN sources available on ESPN.com.

The tipping point seems to have come during the NBA draft. ESPN televises the draft, but Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski swooped in and must have announced at least two dozen picks on twitter before David Stern began his walk to the podium. This clearly chapped the ass of ESPN (probably because it had a small army covering the draft). I emailed Wojnarowski to get his thoughts on ESPN using his tweets in the future. “I guess I get it on some level, but it still seems a little chickenshit to me,” he said.

It’ll be interesting to see how ESPN handles the tweets. Will they be automated (unlikely, in my opinion), or will ESPN have a team in Bristol sifting through the twitter feed of 1,000 journalists? If the latter happens, it won’t have nearly the impact of twitter. Thinking beyond the NBA draft – what’s the point of sharing tweets 2-3 minutes after they’re posted during, say, the World Series or the Stanley Cup Finals or during the Olympics?

I called ESPN today to ask which one it’ll be, and there doesn’t seem to be a decision yet. [UPDATE: An ESPN spokesperson writes in: "it will be a curation not a straight aggregation."]

There are plenty of kinks to be worked out, of course – what if a journalist puts a link in his tweet? Will that be permitted? What if Wojnarowski and every other writer ended his tweet with a hastag of #Yahoo or #FoxSports or #SportsIllustrated? Would that be scrubbed? What if someone flippantly drops a curse word? Or pokes fun at an ESPN employee like Rick Reilly?

The next level of questions would be website specific – so if Yahoo sees that ESPN is using the tweets of its marquee NBA writer, how will Yahoo respond? Would it deign to post tweets of ESPN’s Marc Stein or Ric Bucher or Bill Simmons on the front page of Yahoo? ESPN can control what media outlets their writers talk to, but ESPN can’t control what the public wants to do with the tweets of ESPN writers. Interestingly, many ESPN writers are less active on twitter than writers from competing outlets; probably has something to do with the ESPN social media guidelines.

Maybe I’m just confused on the root of the plan. Let’s say I’ve never been on twitter and I go to ESPN.com and see a brilliant, informative tweet from a writer at the Podunk Times. I want more! Wouldn’t I just sign up for twitter and start following that guy? And then send him questions, and follow other writers and do the same? If anything, wouldn’t ESPN.com publishing tweets drive more people to twitter?

Or I suppose I could be one of the millions of lazy Americans who wants to sit back and be told by ESPN whose tweets are worthy.

 

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