Tuesday, March 15, 2011

You Knew it Had to Happen

Sooner or later, the growing use of Twitter by sports journalists was going to get someone in trouble. The someone in this case is John Krawczynski, a Associated Press beat reporter covering the Minnesota Timberwolves. Krawczynski tweeted during the game that referee Bill Spooner told Wolves coach Kurt Rambis he would provide him with a makeup call after Rambis complained about one of Spooner's calls. Krawczynski tweeted that Spooner then "made an even worse call on the Rockets. That's NBA officiating for you." Spooner denies saying that to Rambis and has filed suit; the suit contends that publication on Twitter constitutes defamation and seeks $75,000.

Libel suits are incredibly difficult for public figures to win, and it would seem an NBA referee would qualify as a public figure. Spooner must prove actual malice, which means Krawczynski knew it was false, published it anyway, and do so in an attempt to harm Spooner. Spooner's suit attempts to make that argument, saying, "Defendant Krawczynski published this statement on his AP Twitter account knowing at the time, or with reckless disregard of the truth at the time, or without due care of the truth at the time, that Plaintiff Spooner did not tell Coach Rambis that 'he'd get it back' nor utter any words to that effect, and therefore that the quoted attribution was, in fact, false." Spooner apparently filed suit after Krawczynski and the Associated Press refused to publish a retraction.

Again, it's unlikely that Spooner will will this case (and more likely that some sort of out of court settlement will be reached), but the other issue here relates more to Twitter. Increasingly, Twitter is becoming the battlefield upon which media competition is taking place. The push is to get information out faster, and a "shoot from the hip" attitude, now pervades sports journalism. The new mantra is often "worry about the consequences later; get the information out now."

Well, now someone has to worry about the consequences. I wonder if Krawczynski would have written the same thing if he wasn't using Twitter and had more time to think about it (for a column the next morning, for instance). There is a complaint that the pressures to get information into the public immediately are eliminating the traditional debate and consider policies that go on in newsrooms. Here's guessing that such policies will now be discussed more seriously.


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