Life on a college beat can be quite tedious under the general pretenses of stability within the athletic department. It’s a difficult job, but when things are going well – or, at least, as planned – it can get repetitive. Same stories day in and day out with a slightly different spin.
However, when things go poorly, there aren’t many more stressful gigs on the planet. There’s source development, information gathering, fact checking, content creation and a million other things wrapped into one long stream of consciousness, all normally under the celestial sphere of tight nightly deadlines with Wes Rucker, Brent Hubbs and friends all doing their own Atlas impersonations.
All things told the local media has done a fantastic job covering the disaster that is Tennessee football right now. The problem, however, has been with the way their work has been interpreted both by Tennessee’s fanbase and the national media.
As journalists, we try to cling to a list of general principles that are becoming increasingly archaic amid developing technological mediums. Contrary to popular belief, journalism isn’t dying, it’s mutating. And, like in any comic book ever created, the resulting mutants are superpower-wielding pariahs. As things evolve, people have to adapt or else find themselves buried beneath the ruins of the Post-Intelligencer, the Rocky Mountain News and so many others.
But, some of those maxims we insist on adhering to have to be at the foundation of this new way of doing things. And readers have to understand some of these basics that make it all work.
Like two weeks ago when I said (as did so many others), without any substantiated sources, that the Derek Dooley era was likely winding to an end; that was a RUMOR. The claim had firm footing in the world of logic and reason, but it was an assumption. When Rucker and Hubbs both cited sources after the Missouri loss that said the administration was planning an exit strategy, it was a REPORT based on trusted information, and likely true. But, only when the University of Tennessee wheels out the podium (a press release also suffices for all intents and purposes) is something of that nature CONFIRMED.
With the way information moves in this day and age, understanding that as fans can help us all avoid misinformation spreading like wildfire through a cordite forest, because ultimately rumors become reports and reports become confirmations. Then, the national media, who is a dangerous combination of overwhelmed and lazy, latches on to a story that doesn’t actually exist in its current machination.
Slope, meet slippery.
Case in point, the way the national media took Tyler Bray’s “getting paid” comments today and ran like they were evading a crime scene. When the local media reported Bray’s barb, in context, the “money” quote was able to maintain its innocence.
Vols QB Tyler Bray on whether he's an NFL prospect: “I couldn’t care less. That’s what you guys are paid to write about and talk about.”— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) November 13, 2012
Bray: "I'm paid to win games." Reporter: "You're paid?" Bray: "I mean ... my education. That's what the SEC likes to call 'getting paid.'"— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) November 13, 2012
On its own, it was something else entirely.
How does something like that happen? Well, not everyone has a traditional journalism background, which isn’t a bad thing at all. It creates a wealth of information and gives you instantaneous feedback, but it also means certain entities are going to play fast and loose.
Chances are, Bleacher Report was alerted to **A** – emphasis on the singular – tweet written by Rucker, and because we live in a J.G. Wentworth world, they didn’t bother reading around that particular quote for context (in their defense, Rucker tweets like 6,000 times a day). The result: Tyler Bray now allegedly hinted at impropriety via some Freudian slip up.
Tennessee QB Tyler Bray said he's paid to win football games. Then he said he wasn't. twitter.com/BleacherReport…— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 13, 2012
Not true, but that didn’t stop the USA Today from hacking away at the quote, and God only knows how far it will have gone by the time this column finds its way to the Interwebz.
I’m not sure that there is a point to this other than to say: read with caution in this day and age. The entire journalism community is learning as they go – I don’t have a damn clue what I’m doing, so I just find good examples and try my best to emulate while incorporating my own brand of idiocy – and there is a lot of bad to sort through before you find all the really, really good.
Ryan Wooden is a full-time freelance sports writer in Chicago. He attended the University of Tennessee and writes this column weekly for CBC. It has been described by his Big Ten-loving friends as "moronicly biased", which he took as an unquestionable compliment. You can follow him on Twitter @ryan_wooden.