When Crowdsourcing the News Goes Bad...and Good

Two disconcerting stories took hold in the college sports world on Thursday. The first one was a firestorm of criticism for University of Wisconsin men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan. It started Wednesday morning with a tweet from influential sports broadcaster and outspoken NCAA critic Jay Bilas. A popular ESPN analyst, Bilas has over 300,000 fans on Twitter.  

The story revolves around a common occurrence in men’s college basketball programs: players who request to transfer out of the program and are blocked from going to certain schools.  Bilas was outraged that the Badger coach was restricting the player from playing at several colleges that compete with Wisconsin. The story on the link Bilas tweeted did not mention the fact that the player had never actually talked to the coach in person, but had sent his request via mail.  Ryan said in an attempt to get the player to talk with the school, he responded with a list of schools the player could not transfer to, motivating the player to file an appeal that would require him to talk to an athletic administrator.

On Thursday morning, popular ESPN talk show hosts Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg decided to take Ryan’s actions to task, and managed to get him on their radio show.An unkowing assistant evidently yanked Ryan out of the middle of a personal workout to take the phone call from the show. Ryan, in an attempt to explain the process, was basically ambushed and did not do well in the interview. Transcript is here. Consequently, the story was rehashed on every ESPN radio show throughout the day, serving as a crucifixion of sorts for Ryan and Wisconsin.  An angry Twitter storm accompanied the all-day tirade on ESPN. And so it goes--crowdsourcing the news.

By the end of the day, the player in question had met with the Wisconsin Director of Athletics  and evidently assured him there had been no tampering or NCAA violations embedded in his request to leave. All is well and the young man is free to go wherever he wants, except to schools in the Big 10 Conference, according to conference rules. In the meantime, ESPN commentator Linda Cohen continued the nonsense on The Doug Gottlieb Show, wondering if this would affect Ryan’s future at Wisconsin. More gas on the fire.  

It should be noted that there are currently over 500 players in the NCAA that have requested transfers and the number could raise by hundreds more before the summer. There have been other high profile transfer dilemmas in the past, and there are currently two others: at Tulsa new coach Danny Manning (former assistant at Kansas) is trying to block a star playing from leaving, and South Carolina’s new coach Frank Martin is doing the same. These events are not really news, so why the fuss over Wisconsin?

The power of social media influencers (like Bilas and other ESPN personalities) to gather an angry mob is vividly illustrated in this story. The flip side of this coin is that social media can also gather a sympathetic mob of influencers to silence a negative story. This was shown when a story from a Milwaukee sports writer reported two NFL scouts criticizing top draft choice Robert Griffin III from Baylor. The comments were disparaging to say the least, and attacked Griffin’s character as well as his athletic ability, saying basically that his Heisman Trophy was a bunch of hooey. The comments reminded me of the scene in the movie Moneyball where the scouts were trying to convince Billy Beane  that they knew more than he did about how the team should be put together, and were miffed when Beane ignored them. But scouts will be scouts.

Fans all over the internet came to Griffin’s rescue. Everyone from John Gruden, former NFL coach who now analyzes potential quarterback candidates on ESPN, to Baylor University employees took to Twitter and Facebook to defend the young man. It’s probably a good idea for the NFL scouts to remain anonymous at this point. Griffin took it all in stride.

Crowdsourcing news is a double-edged sword. From misquoted sources to misinformation and outright lies, opinion is quickly quoted as fact. Follow some basic rules before spreading your “news” online:

  1. Measure twice and cut once. Check your facts and sources with more than one person.
  2. Always keep the potential news in perspective. Is there a process playing out? Say so.  It’s impossible to have all the facts, but are you missing anything important? Will releasing a partial story cause panic or ruin a reputation?
  3. Be careful of anonymous sources online. There’s a reason people don’t want to give their names. If it’s not a matter of life or death, why can’t people be quoted by name?
  4. Don’t leave out facts just to make your opinion stronger. Report everything you’ve got.
  5. Is the “news” you’re reporting the result of a gripe or a desire to be important? When the reporter wants to be the news, that’s a bad sign.

Do you have any crowdsourcing rules you live by?

About This Article
Chris Syme