Crowdsourcing is an important development of digital journalism. Friday Night Tweets is a way to bring the crowds that gather in bleachers during football season (or any sports season) into sports coverage.
I started my journalism career covering high school sports for a Monday-Friday evening newspaper. That meant games were nearly three days old by the time I wrote about them. If you cared about the game and weren’t there, you certainly heard the score on the radio Friday or Saturday or on the grapevine over the weekend or at school Monday before reading my story. I could have and should have made those stories more engaging and timely by bringing the crowd into them more. But mostly I just reported the old news.
Now journalists can cover games as they happen with liveblogs and livestreaming. Even if you’re not at a game, you can provide live coverage by encouraging and curating social media coverage by students and parents attending the games.
My boss in that first sportswriting job, Chuck Offenburger, recently suggested to our hometown audience that every school activity (including music, speech and other competitive activities, as well as sports) have a designated tweeter to provide live results of its games through social media. I heartily agree. And I’ll add the suggestion that every local sports staff should curate those results into a Friday night live prep sports feed. (Actually, you might want to make it any night that any team plays and Saturday during the day, when a lot of wrestling meets, band contests and the like happen, but Friday nights would be the peak.) I’m sharing this suggestion directly with sports editors throughout the Journal Register Co.
Ideally, this would be a cooperative venture between local news organizations and student newspapers or high school journalism programs. But it also could be a duty of the student managers who keep statistics for games. Or booster clubs or volunteer parents could undertake the duties.
I should add here that Friday Night Tweets is not original with me. I didn’t steal it, but an hour or so after I wrote this headline, and before I posted the blog, I wondered if I was the first to think of it. Sure enough, the Quad City Times was liveblogging Friday Night Tweets last Friday, though it appears to be primarily aggregating tweets from sportswriters, not contributors recruited from the schools. I’ve asked sports editor Don Doxsie how that went and whether he has any tips to share. I’ll update with his response if I hear from him. Update: See Doxsie’s response in the comments below.
Update: Kelly Metz of the Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio, tells me that our JRC sports colleagues there did a similar thing last week, with sportswriters tweeting from the football games they were covering.
Update #2: Thanks to Robert LaHue of the Appeal-Democrat in Marysville, Calif., who noted that is staff is collaborating with other local media in a Friday night live-tweeting effort along the lines I’ve described.
Update #3. Thanks to JRC colleague Jason Schmidt, MIPrepZone editor for the Oakland Press, for noting that they did a video broadcast of a game last Friday and are planning live audio (and video playback minutes after the game tonight).
The updates keep coming: Brian Norton of my old newsroom, the Omaha World-Herald, tweets that they are having some success with a #nebpreps hashtag, fed into CoverItLive and moderated by Graham Archer. It does include fan tweets, but Brian says they would like more.
Still another update: Nathan Byrne of KQTV in St. Joseph, Mo., tweets that his station is doing Friday Night Tweets. I asked him to elaborate, and he sent an email that I’ve added in the comments below.
And another update from Sean Barker, also in the comments.
At the minimum, you want to encourage people to tweet final scores using your hashtag, something like #freemanscores if you’re the Daily Freeman in Kingston, N.Y. But you would encourage participants to tweet the score at each quarter (or inning or other period) and each time a team scores (perhaps not in basketball or volleyball, but maybe more often than quarterly). Ideally, tweeters would provide some color commentary, sharing opinions on officiating calls and describing outstanding plays.
People wouldn’t have to use Twitter to follow the progress. A news organization would feed the hashtag and/or designated tweeters into a CoverItLive event or Twitter widget on the news website, so anyone could follow online. If a fan’s team is contending for the conference championship, you could watch (and join the tweeting) from your home bleachers and keep tabs on you cellphone on how your rivals are doing in their games.
Each news organization would need to work out logistical details locally, but I suggest something like this:
Invite athletic directors (and activity directors, music directors, etc.) to share guidelines with interested students, coaches, teachers and fans. The AD’s would submit the names and usernames of people who agree to tweet about the games. You would add them as approved tweeters to feed automatically into the CoverItLive event.
You could feed the hashtag in automatically and monitor what shows up or have an editor monitor the hashtag to add other tweets or others who appear to be tweeting responsibly. (You have to presume some high school students will clutter the hashtag with crude or mischievous tweets.) You’ll want to monitor the liveblog anyway to approve comments from the public that don’t come through Twitter and delete any inappropriate comments (that will happen with students and avid fans contributing).
You won’t be staffing every game in your coverage area, but make sure your sportswriters provide strong and steady coverage by Twitter, especially if they are not liveblogging (which I encourage). What they can do will vary depending on whether they have to keep their own stats or whether the schools provide them, and whether they are in a pressbox, stands or on the sidelines. At the least, sportswriters should tweet quarter scores and every time a team scores, (or occasional summaries, lead changes and such in basketball or the score at each serve change in volleyball). Ideally, a few tweets about big plays or trends in the game would also be good.
With the base of your staff tweets and a few tweeters generated from promotion to athletic directors, you can develop a strong live feed that will become a go-to place for your community for busy high-school sports nights. And every time a school or activity complains about not being included, you sent them a copy of the guidelines and encourage them to join the fun.
If you have honors such as Athlete of the Week or all-conference teams, encourage the tweeps to nominate stars for those honors.
Be sure to promote your Friday Night Tweets in the print product, on your website, Twitter account(s) and Facebook. You also should offer a text-message service for high-school scores. Maybe you could create a widget (perhaps with a sponsorship) that local sports blogs or high school websites could post, linking to the liveblog.
Here’s a draft of some guidelines you might offer for approved tweeters from the schools:
- Tweet the final score and scores at the end of each period.
- Tweet each score (except in basketball or other sports with lots of scores; in those cases, tweet highlights, lead changes, streaks and the like).
- Get a program, if one is available, so you can be sure to spell names correctly. If not, try to get a roster from each team in advance of the game.
- Use the hashtag. And if you’re covering something other than the dominant sport of the season (football, in fall), use a secondary hashtag identifying the sport, such as #volleyball or #xcountry.
- Before you hit “tweet,” read over the tweet and doublecheck the spelling and score.
- Use the team names frequently, if not in every tweet. School and mascot names.
- Before the game starts, tweet what you’re doing (warning people who follow you and don’t care about the game that you’re going to be tweeting a lot).
- If a performer really stands out to you, tweet a nomination for Athlete of the Week.
- If you’re a fan, cheering for your team is welcome, as is some good-natured trash talk about the opposing team in general. Mean-spirited trash talk or personal attacks on players or coaches will not be allowed in the liveblog. Those tweets will be deleted, the offender will be warned and banned from the liveblog if the offense is repeated.
What are some other guidelines a news organization should provide to designated tweeters? Do you have some tips (or experience) recruiting people to tweet about high school activities? Do you know of others already doing Friday Night Tweets or something like it?
Thanks to Ron Rosner, Freeman sports editor, who helped me add some form to this general idea in a brainstorming discussion in my visit to Kingston last week.
Acknowledgement added after the original post: This idea would have been more timely if I had proposed it in July, giving sports staffs more time to implement it. But I still think you can move pretty quickly and provide Friday Night Tweets engagement for most of the football season (and the seasons beyond).