ESPN employees have jumped on the Twitter bandwagon, with old standbys like Bob Ley tweeting alongside NFL Live anchor Trey Wingo, ESPN.com editor-in-chief Rob King, NFL reporter Chris Mortensen, and, most notably, star columnist Bill Simmons, whose page has more than 555,000 followers. We’ve not only learned that Simmons thinks the Smashing Pumpkins are an important band and Wingo thought Nicolas Cage’s Knowing was “an interesting flick,” but many sports fans also got, for instance, their baseball-trade-deadline fix from reporters like Jon Heyman and Will Carroll via Twitter.
But there has always been a divide between ESPN “talent” and ESPN corporate, and it was inevitable that the freedom Twitter provides would conflict with the famously Office Space–esque structure of the network. Last night Deadspin broke the story of an ESPN memo cracking down on employee tweets. It read, in typical (and always amusing) Orwellian fashion, “If ESPN.com opts not to post sports related social media content created by ESPN talent, you are not permitted to report, speculate, discuss or give any opinions on sports related topics or personalities on your personal platforms. The first and only priority is to serve ESPN sanctioned efforts, including sports news, information and content.”
The first to feel the brunt of ESPN’s boot was NBA reporter Ric Bucher, who was known to report exclusives via Twitter. Deadspin says that Bucher, who revealed the policy via Twitter (of course), may be facing disciplinary action. It’s understandable that ESPN prefers its employees to break news on an ESPN platform — there are hundreds, after all, and those reporters do work for the company. And this isn’t all that different than many companies’ restrictions. But for reporters like Mortensen and Bucher, having a story first is the whole point of their jobs. What happens when an industry built on speed and scoops meets a technology that allows stories to be shared immediately … then crashes into a corporate structure notorious for fearing change? The real losers are the fans. Reading Trey Wingo’s Twitter is about to become a lot less fun — although we do hope he gets around to reviewing all of Nic Cage’s movies.