Sunday, June 20, 2010

Feel Like You're Talking to the Wrong Media?

More than likely, it's because you are.

Quick trivia question: who was the most read "journalist" over the last two weeks during the Big 12 Crisis?

Give you a hint: he was also one of the most quoted sources.

If you were among the cognoscenti, you answered Chip Brown from

Brown recants for us his last week of reporting in a breathless, self-centered style that would make Dan Brown blush. That link is required reading, folks, on several levels.

I want to be clear, I pulled out my air quotes for journalist for the benefit of the old school. At a lot of institutions, Chip Brown would never get a credential -- he's one of them internets people. And he has every right to dislocate his shoulder patting himself on the back.

That is, as long as we understand my two-part hint. I can't speak to whether or not Brown sensed himself as a participant within the drama, but in the course of his reporting from sources within the Texas athletic department in particular, he became a de facto spokesperson for the Longhorns, steering (yeah, I said it) the story for the legacy media who were retweeting him and using him as a source.

How many newspaper stories or columns did you read last week that contained the phrase "according to Chip Brown at"? Here's an Orlando Sentinel example, and Waco Herald-Tribune. The Dallas Morning News got its hands on an email being circulated among the Baylor faithful to get politicians involved -- guess who was at the heart of the examples quoted? (Side note: the DMN article is a good read and a great example of if you're going to email out the talking points, make sure they are ones you want to see published verbatim along with your email address in the legacy media.)

Brown's duality as source and reporter is what makes this instructive and futuristic. Well, maybe not so modern -- for years on end, sports teams and athletic departments had their "homers"; from the birth of this nation, politicians have had their own media.

What seems different here is the individuality of Brown. The citizen journalist rises -- he may have an affiliation with a national network of participatory media websites, but he's a soloist. No traditional sports editor, no brick-and-mortar infrastructure, no legal team, no ombudsman.

In Brown's account of the Big Crisis, we get a first draft of this history, albeit without knowing who the players are that Brown is sourcing. Nevertheless, someone is putting out the flower pot for Brown, and he was definitely following the money. And finding some for himself. The turnaround passage from Monday tells the tale:

I cobbled a story together about how Texas had gone from nearly being signed, sealed, delivered to the West Coast to racing back to the Big 12 dinner table to see if there was any food. . . . I popped my story on at 8:36 a.m. and began Twittering furiously to draw attention to it.

He runs into the juggernaut -- ESPN writers call Brown out, and he is concerned. As he correctly surmises, they would have direct access to the Beebe bailout in Bristol. He sticks to his story.

I Twittered to my now 12,000 followers, "I'm not backing off my story."

Kind of Hunter S. Thompson for the perspiring arts.

With this crisis past, we begin an uneasy period. Is it really over? Did Baylor's social media Hail Mary work, or did it backfire by driving Colorado to accelerate? We've still got some summer weeks left to fill with gossip.

Winding this post up back at the original question, as media directors consider the landscape, they must put more and more stock in the digital media and social media. Brown spread to his 12K Twitter following because people believed him, and I'll bet they saw him more as a friend -- which Nielsen this week reminds us is still the No. 1 source for info -- and thus put lots of stock in his messages.

I'll bet Brown already had a seat in the Texas football media area on game day. If he didn't, I'll double-down that he should have one now.

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