The Future is Now for Baseball Journalism

Although the theme of this project is the future, the world of baseball journalism is already changing significantly as a result of digital disruption. Social media sites, especially Twitter, has changed baseball coverage into a twenty-four hour business. ESPN baseball writer and broadcaster Buster Olney says that covering the sport is “a 24-hour cycle, it feels like it never turns off.” Indeed this is the sentiment repeated by many in the business, who are more than ever required to be at the ready to file a story, no matter the hour. Reporter Ken Rosenthal also says that he checks his phone “every waking minute” for Twitter updates and texts. This increased connectivity has transformed the landscape of baseball coverage, which used to be reliant on print and television coverage, which were often not up-to-date twenty-four hours a day. This atmosphere can be both good and bad for the quality of reporting. Information regarding transactions is usually released almost the instant it is confirmed by a source from a team. However, there have been a lot of false reports coming out because of the haste to get the scoop on a blockbuster trade first. Twitter is also very limiting for reporters, as the 140-character limit makes it difficult to fully convey the story. The is an option, though, to link to a longer article, so speed can still be achieved without forcing journalists to use extreme brevity.

A new and interesting trend in baseball reporting is also the direct result of Twitter. More and more often, stories about big trades or other transactions between teams are being broken by teenage Twitter users. A recent free-agent signing, which brought superstar shortstop Hanley Ramirez to the Boston Red Sox, was revealed very early by a high-school freshman from Missouri named Jake Wesley. According to Wesley, he has a source within the Red Sox organization who gave him the information earlier than more established reporters. However, his tweet was met with extreme skepticism by others until the story was confirmed by the club. This type of reporting, using relatively unknown young people to leak information, is unique to the era of social media that we live in. Previously, one would have to be a well-established journalist in order to have the connections necessary to break stories of this nature, but the universality of sites like Twitter allow regular people to participate in the sport’s journalistic landscape.

Roy Halladay surrounded by members of the media in 2009
Roy Halladay surrounded by members of the media in 2009

The journalists are not the only ones affected by the rise of social media however. Former pitcher and current author Dirk Hayhurst wrote a very interesting piece about his experiences with Twitter at the trade deadline. The trade deadline in baseball is July 31st and all trades must be completed before a certain time that day. Hayhurst recalls teammate and future hall-of-fame pitcher Roy Halladay being subject to conastant trade rumors during the 2009 season. Twitter was just rising in popularity that year and it made Halladay’s life especially difficult. Someone even made a fake account using Halladay’s name to report a trade that didn’t actually occur. Many players experience similar issues today due to the popularity of Twitter as a method of breaking baseball news. It used to be that players would learn that they were being traded or otherwise acquired by another team through their manager or through the team’s front office. Nowadays, the players often learn of these events by receiving a text from a friend or family member or on a social media site. In these ways, digital disruption can make the life of a player more stressful.

A very recent example of how digital disruption can affect the lives of players in major ways is in the above video. Popular outfielder Austin Jackson played with the Tigers until he was traded to the Seattle Mariners on July 31st, 2014. However, the game that day was being played during the day, which is the time when most of the deals were physically taking place. Jackson was officially traded in the seventh inning. Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski texted Manager Brad Ausmus to remove Jackson from the game, as he was technically the property of another team. The result is what you can see in the video. Jackson was replaced by teammate Rajai Davis in the outfield, and he left to a standing ovation. This occurrence could never have happened without digital technology allowing for high-speed communication between teams and even within the same team. Before, the player (and manager) would need to be told in person and the process would take much longer. However, the constant worry about being traded leads many players to experience more stress because they are checking social media constantly in order to determine their status on their team.

Overall, the world of baseball reporting is changing rapidly, but I believe that for many journalists, the future has already arrived. Social media and new communication technology has made writing about baseball a twenty-four hour job, and has moved the power from well-established journalists into the hands of Twitter users who may not even be professional reporters. The lives of players have also changed due to the new technologies. Players now tend to find out about being traded from their smartphones while at home, in the dugout, or even on the field. The future truly is now for baseball-related media.

Sources:

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2137469-behind-the-curtain-of-the-clubhouse-drama-of-the-mlb-trade-deadline

http://www.boston.com/sports/touching_all_the_bases/2014/11/how_twitter_has_changed_baseball_coverage_for_better_or_wors.html

http://www.newyorker.com/news/sporting-scene/baseballs-teen-age-twitter-reporters

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mlb-trade-deadline-phone-call-time-article-1.1886843

Social Media is Making Us Dumber

Though it may seem like an easy stance to take, I truly believe that social media use is making its users as a whole less intelligent. A study that was published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface used five artificial social networks to test whether people who were more or less socially connected would answer riddles faster and more accurately. The study found that people with higher levels of social connectivity were better at answering the brainteasers, but only because they stole answers from those that they were connected to. In short, social media may give us the answers we are looking for faster, but we do not engage in any critical thinking in order to arrive at these answers. Without using these skills, eventually they will atrophy to the point where we become less able to think for ourselves. If all the information we could possibly want is simply given to us, we cannot expect to maintain any ability to think in an analytical way. A Time Magazine article about this study has an excellent quote at the end: “‘Increased connectivity may eventually make us stupid by making us smarter first.”

Now to address the second part of our debate, namely if social media, in addition to making us less intelligent, is making us more socially awkward. This one seems a bit more obvious. It is pretty much self-explanatory that interacting with people in an online space more often takes away from the time we spend interacting with others face-to-face, therefore making us less skilled at real-life social interaction. Some of the potential awkwardness comes from the fact that we primarily only see the highlights of the lives of our social media connections. In turn, the seeming perfection of our peers’ lives causes us to embellish our own posts, leading to a sort of vicious cycle. If we feel inadequate compared to our friends, we will become less motivated to interact offline with others. Social networks can certainly provide us with new connections that we would not have otherwise found, Another potential social impact of these sites was brought up by MIT professor Sherry Turkle. She claims that we are becoming awkward because online interactions afford us time in which we can formulate proper responses to others, a luxury we are not allowed when talking in real-life situations. She argues that social media gives us the illusion of easier and better communication while making it more difficult to interact with others face-to-face. Finally, here is a (slightly outdated) inforgraphic that I found interesting regarding this topic.

social-media-socially-awkward

Sources:

http://time.com/9207/social-media-is-making-you-stupid/

https://urbantimes.co/2013/10/professor-says-social-media-makes-us-more-socially-awkward-in-real-life/

NBC Nightly News

peacocknbc

For this assignment, I chose to watch NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams. I chose this program to review because I had heard of Brian Williams from shows such as The Daily Show and 30 Rock and I enjoyed his performances there. Overall, I thought that the broadcast was quite good. Though the program is clearly geared toward an audience older than myself, I thought there was actually a lot of substance to the reporting. Each story did not go on much longer than about five minutes apiece, but Williams was able to accurately deliver the important points of each story to the audience. None of the stories were difficult to understand, and I thought the graphics were made well and brought something more to the stories. There were parts that I thought seemed like a forced pandering to the millenial market, such as a check-in with Twitter regarding the recent snow storms throughout the U.S., which included a pictur of someone’s dog in the snow. Aside from this criticism though, the program got the points across and most importantly kept me engaged, something that many traditional sources have failed to do in the past. Perhaps it has to do with the charisma of Brian Williams, but I was legitimately interested in the stories presented.

The biggest dilemma facing us regarding news is how to get it out fast without sacrificing quality, and in my opinion this attitude has led to lower quality reporting. With the NBC Nightly News, however, they are almost never the ones to break a story first, but it is noticeable that they spend a lot of time and energy into making their reporting as accurate, unbiased, and engaging as possible in a half hour time block. I feel similarly about The Daily Show, which is easily my favorite place to learn about current events. Even if it is delivered in a comedic manner, Jon Stewart still has substance in his reporting. I think more people in my age group should consider using television news as a source more often. Although it may not be as fast and easy as a website, the information you will get will almost certainly be of a higher quality.

Bonus Video:

Phil Coke’s Brain

For my profile, I will be discussing the Twitter phenomenon that is “Phil Coke’s Brain.” One of several parody baseball-related accounts that tweet sarcastically about the sport, Phil Coke’s Brain is an account run by a man named Eric Wayne, who claims (in jest of course) to have a supernatural connection to the inner workings of the mind of Tigers left-handed pitcher Phil Coke. The account began as a simple account parodying the player Coke, who at the time the account was created was a little-know leftie who came over in a trade with New York. Soon, however, Coke rose to prominence by taking over the closer’s role in the Tigers’ 2012 playoff run. The account rose in popularity as well due to fans mistaking the account for that of the real pitcher. Eric Wayne pretends to tweet as the mind of Phil Coke, often in a mocking tone. In recent years he has broadened his tweeting scope, using the medium to discuss general Tigers news and happenings, as well as very occasional insights into his personal life.

The Twitter picture for Phil Coke's Brain. Eric Wayne does not post pictures of himself, preferring to be as anonymous as possible
The Twitter picture for Phil Coke’s Brain. Eric Wayne does not post pictures of himself, preferring to be as anonymous as possible

Though perhaps Wayne is not exactly prominent in a traditional, journalistic sense, his populairty rivals that of top baseball writers. The Phil Coke’s Brain account has about 14,000 followers compared to Detroit News baseball writer Tom Gage, who has “only” about 10,000. Though he considers himself to be a tweeter of nonsense, and he is at times, his brand of irreverent wit often contains nuggets of baseball wisdom. For example, he often berates managers who he deems to use poor strategy. He is also a staunch supporter of the sabermetric community, a network of people who dedicate their time to analysis of baseball statistics in order to figure out the most cost-efficient method of victory (similar to what can be seen in the movie Moneyball).

Eric Wayne has achieved popularity, like many other internet quasi-celebrities, by mastering the medium he uses. He may lack the ability to write out wordy, in-depth articles about the team, but he can certainly make pointed and interesting comments about them in 140 characters or less. Even within this liitation it is possible to make a statement with much larger meaning than the literal one. A criticism of baseball scouts for being wrong about a player can be taken as criticism of the scouting community being inaccurate a lot of the time in general. Overall, the account known as Phil Coke’s Brain makes following Twitter both during the season and not a very interesting experience.

The pitcher Phil Coke
The pitcher Phil Coke

My Sister and Her Horse

Since the baseball season is over and I don’t have the credentials to take pictures of the meetings that go on behind closed doors in the offseason, I elected to cover something close to home: my sister and her horseback riding. She has been riding for 10 years and has won many awards. Here is a series of photos I took while visiting her at her barn.

This is the barn in which my sister keeps her horse.
This is the barn in which my sister keeps her horse.
Before even getting to the horse, she picks up her saddle and other equipment in this room.
Before even getting to the horse, she picks up her saddle and other equipment in this room.
This is her horse Benjamin. He is very large but very easy-going.
This is her horse Benjamin. He is very large but very easy-going.
During the colder months, Benjamin wears a blanket for warmth.
During the colder months, Benjamin wears a blanket for warmth.
Anna putting on the bridle. It takes about 20 minutes of preparation before she even gets on the horse.
Anna putting on the bridle. It takes about 20 minutes of preparation before she even gets on the horse.
Next comes the saddle.
Next comes the saddle.
Now she takes Benjamin to the indoor ring and uses a platform to get on him.
Now she takes Benjamin to the indoor ring and uses a platform to get on him.
Now the horse and rider can work as desired within the indoor ring. Jumps are set up for practice purposes.
Now the horse and rider can work as desired within the indoor ring. Jumps are set up for practice purposes.
Finally, here are some of Anna's awards from various horse shows.
Finally, here are some of Anna’s awards from various horse shows.

Bonus Pic:

The barn cat!
The barn cat!

The Future of Protecting Pitchers’ Health

The 2014 season saw many strange happenings in baseball, from favored teams letting their division leads slip away to unexpected teams making the World Series. One of the most interesting stories, however, is about a new type of cap for pitchers. On June 21, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Alex Torres became the first pitcher in the major leagues to use an IsoBLOX cap, a new type of protective gear developed by the 4Licensing Corporation. The hat, though a bit unwieldy, contains extra padding at the front of the hat. This is designed to protect against line drive hits that may come back and strike the pitcher in the head. Torres, the man who debuted this new technology, had been struck in the head by a ball last season and was diagnosed with a concussion. Many pitchers have been hit and/or concussed by a batted ball in the last five years (including then-Tigers pitcher Doug Fister). The frequency has forced Major League Baseball to do something to insure the safety of their players.

Alex Torres wears his protective IsoBLOX cap in a game on June 21, 2014
Alex Torres wears his protective IsoBLOX cap in a game on June 21, 2014

However, even though these caps are completely optional for pitchers to wear, they have been met with some criticisms from the baseball community. The most common reaction seems to be negative reaction to the size and aesthetic design of the hat. Many feel that it is too clunky and unwieldy to make sense to wear in a game situation. Some pitchers are concerned about looking silly in front of fans and opposing teams as well. Another criticism comes from New York Yankees pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who had a skull fracture caused by a batted ball. He says that the size and weight of the hat may affect his pitching mechanics (developed over a period of many years by most pitchers in the Major Leagues) and make him a worse pitcher. However, in my opinion, safety should be the number one concern for these pitchers. A poorly placed line drive could end a career, or even a life, if measures are not taken to protect the players.

Data Visualization — Bar Chart

The graphic showing the Tigers' performance by runs allowed (2005)
The graphic showing the Tigers’ performance by runs allowed (2005)

The above graph is an example of a stacked bar chart that has good and bad qualities. The x-axis is labeled “Runs Scored,” meaning in this case the amount of runs scored against the Tigers in games from 2005. The y-axis has two labels, which is definitely confusing. The left side is “Games,” which just measures the amount of times during the season that the team gave up a certain amount of runs. The right side is not labeled in a clear way. I can only infer that it relates to the yellow line that passes through and that it measures the percentage of games that the team allowed at least the indicated amount of runs. The orange on the bar graph represents the number of games that were won by the Tigers when they gave up a certain amount of runs and the blue represents the losses. If you look just at the data being displayed on the x- and y-axes, the chart is pretty simple. It just shows that the Tigers tend to win more games when they give up a small amount of runs (which is pretty self-explanatory). The part that I personally dislike is the fact that the y-axis scale on the right-hand side of the chart is not labeled and the percentages could mean anything. It only adds an unnecessary layer of confusion to the visualization.

As far as how this differs from traditional journalism, I believe this type of graph to be completely different. Most traditional articles about baseball would not even mention the simple fact that allowing less runs increases a team’s chances of winning a game. If, however, a reporter or even just a fan were looking for a specific statistic related to runs allowed, or just looking at where it seems the team seems to lose the most winning percentage, the chart does a good job of relaying that specific information. Overall though, I see this as a graph that could stand to be fleshed out more and labeled better so that it is easier to understand.