An (under)current event: the Twitter riptide of breaking news

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I got a text on Monday night just past 7 p.m. asking if I knew why Tony Bruno wasn’t on his syndicated radio show heard locally on KLAC-AM (570).

My text back: I sent out a tweet (twitter.com/tomhoffarth) about a half-hour earlier, that Bruno had been suspended by the show’s parent company, DirecTV. Anyone following my Twitter feed would now know that piece of info.

“Oh, OK,” came a reply.

Oh, no, I said to myself at that moment. Did I just do something right, wrong or fall into a black hole of no return?

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For all journalistic intents and purposes, I could have been just as stupid about my use of Twitter as Bruno was last Friday night. During his show, while he was watching the Phillies-Giants game, he got caught up in the moment of a brawl igniting. An unabashed Philly native, Bruno tweeted out his frustration, not only calling Giants manager Bruce Bochy a “coward” but referred to Giants pitcher Ramon Ramirez as an “illegal alien.”

The Bruno backlash was predictable, even though he had taken down the tweet just minutes later and apologized for it on his Facebook page. Over the weekend, Bochy addressed the incident by calling Bruno’s response “racist,” giving it much more national exposure. And leading to Bruno’s suspension.


When I got word of Bruno’s situation, while sitting in the Dodgers’ dugout before Monday’s game at Dodger Stadium, I mentioned it to another reporter, because we had been discussing the story. That reporter quickly posted something about Bruno’s suspension on his Facebook page.

I gulped. But then, I wasn’t the one putting my name on it as the source of the report.

My ethical issue is I had not received any other sources of confirmation, especially from DirecTV. This was an internal matter and the company could have easily said it would not comment on it. But I didn’t even have that yet.

After more pondering of the situation, I went to my own blog. I posted a column earlier Monday about the Bruno situation. I now updated it at about 6:30 p.m. with the suspension, because I didn’t want to get left behind on a story that I felt I had been given solid-enough information about to get out there first.

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In these cyber-riptides of social media, there’s far more danger of getting pulled under. We’re bound to panic and lose our grip. But that’s no excuse.

In this situation, I felt like I was trying to paddle quicker to stay afloat. That’s more human survival instinct. But any lifeguard will tell you that’s counterproductive.

I then went onto my phone, accessed my Twitter account, and sent out the tweet: “and tony bruno has been suspended this week from his radio show by directv, which owns it.” That was supposed to be posted after a tweet I composed, a comment about how there were so many Phillies fans at that night’s game, I wondered if the cheesesteaks would already be sold out at the Dodger Stadium concession stands. Somehow, in my thumbing through those two posts, the Bruno tweet went out first.

Here’s why that juxtaposition mattered, maybe only to me: At that point, I decided that I was going to somehow get the Bruno report out there, but couch it for the social network readers, as only a “for the record” item, after using my Twitter account to make a general observation / joke.

The current ripped again: Now what was I really using Twitter for?

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Back in April, I did a blog post as an sounding board on how to weigh the options of Twitter use for breaking stories versus just blathering about what’s going on in the world. As an example, I followed the tweets of Sports Business Daily reporter Liz Mullen, who had a stream of reports about the NFL labor situation. But in the midst of that, she also tweeted: “What’s the best lines to pick up a woman in a coffee shop? My BFF guy pal wants to know.”

Mullen emailed me via Twitter to say she was both amused and horrified by what I wrote. Now I understand better. I had just done the same thing, unsure of proper journalistic etiquette — or if such a thing existed on this platform.

By this time on Monday, Ben Maller tweeted that he would be filling in for Bruno on his radio show, but made no mention of the suspension.

Before long, SI.com’s Richard Deitsch sent me an email via Twitter, asking: “This your reporting, TH?” I confirmed that it was, with a brief note about my source. My intent was to email Deitsch back directly in confidence, exchanging information among reporters. I quickly discovered I was also putting this information out on my Twitter account, for all to see.

I since deleted it. But again, it’s as if someone had handed me a loaded gun, and I couldn’t stop pointing it at my own head.

Maybe I know what Bruno was going through, to a small extent.

A few minutes later, Deistch posted on his Twitter feed about my report (linked here). By Tuesday morning, NBCSports.com’s “Off The Bench” blog was linking to my tweet in reporting the news of “radio dope” Bruno’s one-week suspension (linked here). The Sports Business Daily ran an item that I had “reported on Twitter” the Bruno firing. To me, that read as one of the great oxymoron lines of our media generation. With my name now attached to it.

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If there’s a way to feel validated, ambivalent and virtually alienated at the same time, it was happening to me.

I had taken some ownership of this Bruno suspension news because apparently no one else has reported it. Until, in a later Google search, I discovered that a blogger named Rich Lieberman at “415 Media” in San Francisco posted something about it at 4:26 p.m. on Monday in what he called a “Media Exclusive” (linked here). He followed it with a Twitter post (linked here).

Not that I felt I was off the hook. I could have attributed my report to Lieberman if I had known he wrote it, but I had no idea where he got his information, or what his background is in the business.

I’ve since received further confirmation – which is why writing about it for today’s column makes me much more comfortable with having it printed in the newspaper and on the company’s website.

I’m not asking for a life preserver to wear at all times, but after this brief primer in how information of any importance can take strange detours — not all for the better – it’s easier to understand why more coaches are banning their players from using Twitter, if only to prevent people from doing dumb things to themselves.

Yet, in an information business that is trying to cut through the clutter of rumors and quasi-truths by promoting its own reliability with its reporters, there’s far more pressure on employees of major media outlets to become immersed in this delivery resource. We are encouraged to use it to promote our stories, ASAP, wielding this double-edged cyber-sword that’s cuts just as deep either way.

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I circle back to something I posted recently from Ken Rosenthal (linked here) leading up to the Major League Baseball trade deadline, as he was tweeting for MLB Network and FoxSports.com:

“The social media explosion has added a whole new variable . . . There’s no question, and the presence of Twitter right now is a huge change in reporting for all of us, in every sport.

“The difference now is you get information and people put it out there — sometimes I do it too — instantaneously, and it’s one source, not multiple sources which we were taught to do. . . . It’s a short-term attention-span kind of thing and I am not sure, to be perfectly honest, it has been a constructive development for journalism.”
In deconstructing my small part of it this week, I’m even far less inclined now put the word “journalism” in the same sentence as anything related to social media.

When news breaks, many times you can try to fix it in cyberspace if there’s something inaccurate. But it’s not the same. You don’t really feel whole again.

Now, I suppose I’ll go to tweet to my cantankerous 730 followers that I’ve just posted this column. Hopefully without having to do any sort of damage control afterward.

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