That's logical of course -- anytime that ESPN sends a company-wide memo around, the standard course of action is to freak the mess out and blame them for being a corporate monolith that just doesn't get it (if I recall correctly, there was a similar dismissal of blogs, which means Twitter has yet to fully jump ye old dorsal fin). But the policy -- which was ironically "broken" by ESPN employee Ric Bucher -- isn't all just ridiculously inane corporate behavior. There's some thought process behind it. I think.
The hammer just came down, tweeps: ESPN memo prohibiting tweeting info unless it serves ESPN. Kinda figured this was coming. Not sure what this means butAlso ironically (or not, who really even knows, right?), Bucher managed to report it twice, thereby misusing Twitter; and may or may not be getting in trouble for the whole shebang because he immediately tested the guidelines. What are those guidelines? Glad you asked.
[...]I'm probably violating some sort of policy just by telling you. In any case, stay tuned.
ESPN regards social networks such as message boards, conversation pages and other forms of social networking such as Facebook and Twitter as important new forms of content. As such, we expect to hold all talent who participate in social networking to the same standards we hold for interaction with our audiences across TV, radio and our digital platforms. This applies to all ESPN Talent, anchors, play by play, hosts, analysts, commentators, reporters and writers who participate in any form of personal social networking that contain sports related content.
ESPN Digital Media is currently building and testing modules designed to publish Twitter and Facebook entries simultaneously on ESPN.com, SportsCenter.com, Page 2, ESPN Profile pages and other similar pages across our web site and mobile platforms. The plan is to fully deploy these modules this fall.
* Personal websites and blogs that contain sports content are not permitted
* Prior to engaging in any form of social networking dealing with sports, you must receive permission from the supervisor as appointed by your department head
* ESPN.COM may choose to post sports related social media content
* 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
* Assume at all times you are representing ESPN
* If you wouldn't say it on the air or write it in your column, don't tweet it
* Exercise discretion, thoughtfulness and respect for your colleagues, business associates and our fans
* Avoid discussing internal policies or detailing how a story or feature was reported, written, edited or produced and discussing stories or features in progress, those that haven't been posted or produced, interviews you've conducted, or any future coverage plans.
* Steer clear of engaging in dialogue that defends your work against those who challenge it and do not engage in media criticism or disparage colleagues or competitors
* Be mindful that all posted content is subject to review in accordance with ESPN's employee policies and editorial guidelines
* Confidential or proprietary company information or similar information of third parties who have shared such information with ESPN, should not be shared Any violation of these guidelines could result in a range of consequences, including but not limited to suspension or dismissal.
So, yeah, that seems pretty, um, stringent. But then again, maybe it's not. If you sign a full-time contract with ESPN, odds are pretty good that you have also inked a non-compete clause. This means, of course, that you can't do anything anywhere else that's sports related, and that at all times when you discuss sports, you are, in fact, representing ESPN. It's just the nature of the job (sports media is, whether people who work in the field want to recognize it or not, a 24/7 job, just like any other news coverage).
And, of course, as my colleague Jay Mariotti so eloquently wrote yesterday, there are athletes shattering the First Amendment barrier daily; as a result, interaction occurs not only with fans but with the media as well. See: Mark Schlereth and Chad Ochocinco engaging in a "Twitter war."
Now, of course, I'm not saying that ESPN's Twitter policy stemmed from that "war," but that was most certainly a tame version of something bigger that could have erupted (or will eventually erupt). So from the sense of making sure that the talent "behaves" online, this isn't a horrible policy.
Especially considering, as an ESPN PR confirmed to FanHouse, that this policy applies all ESPN employees. Yes, that's already in the guideline, but that means that anyone who provides a "Special to ESPN" or is an affiliated radio host also has to watch their Tweeting, because, obviously, they don't want the WWL pipeline cut off.
On the other hand, from the sense of breaking news, as well as engaging readers/viewers, well, it's not so smart; Twitter has become a tremendous source of information for every news outlet to bring in new fans, to interact with current consumers and to break news.
The fact of the matter is that tweeting a piece of information is obviously faster than bogging through the editorial process that sometimes occurs even for the online media (it's even faster than blogging; hence, "micro-blogging") and certain people -- FanHouse's own Ed Price is a fantastic example -- have quickly developed large Twitter followings because of the information they disseminate via tweet.
So, yeah, this is probably a touch of a knee-jerk reaction from ESPN; sure it's "smart" to have rules in place that will make sure your employees don't cross any lines while representing the Mouse on Twitter or Facebook, but implementing such a policy in such a rapid and stringent manner seems short-sighted. I mean, even Roger Goodell is going to wait until the season starts before he starts throwing the Twit-gauntlet down, so it's surprising to see even the WLL beat him to the punch.