Wild Tweet Chase March 23, 2012
I’m the worst blogger in the world. Seriously – the worst. Here I am, with no editor, no credential that could be pulled, the freedom to say whatever I want to whoever I want with zero consequence anywhere – the very focus of all the internet hate towards websites that don’t have to care about editors and credentials – and I do nothing. Brad Stevens rumors flying left and right all afternoon, and I decide it’s time to play the “show me a source or I won’t believe you” card.
I should be taking risks! I should see that there’s a 54% chance that this rumor is true, make up a source, put up a story like “a source just confirmed that Brad Stevens has accepted the Illinois job”, and then, when it comes true, climb the ranks of Illini writers as “the guy who originally broke the Brad Stevens story”. And if it wasn’t true, nobody would really care. Nobody would remember in a week. I’m just a blogger.
But I can’t do it. See, Twitter is awesome. But it’s also awful. Those that hate Twitter shake their fist and long for days where fire wouldn’t spread this quickly. It’s so easy to get confused as to what’s a sourced report and what’s just a hedged “I’m hearing that…”. I’m in the Twitter is awesome camp. Because if you follow the oldest rule in the book – who is willing to go on the record, and what is their credibility – you can separate the fire from the smoke. So let’s unpack this rumor and see what we can learn.
I first learned of it when I saw on a certain Illini message board that another premium (pay access) Illini message board had a rumor posted: Brad Stevens to Illinois. There were no details as to what the post said, just that this was a rumor out there. Please note that this other website wasn’t reporting this – just some guy on one of their message boards had apparently posted about hearing this. No big deal. Happens every day. Sometimes it’s a guy on a Texas A&M message board claiming his girlfriend works at a car dealership and saw that Rhett Bomar was getting paid to not work there (eventually leading to Bomar’s dismissal at Oklahoma), and other times it’s just some guy claiming something he heard that was just a rumor. Always fun to talk about, almost never true. But I always find myself believing the positive ones. Like Brad Stevens to Illinois.
If it was just that rumor (or the other texts and phone calls that people were receiving and posting on Twitter), nothing would have exploded this afternoon. But Jeff Rabjohns – former Indy Star sportswriter turned Peegs.com sportswriter – tweeted the following:
Butler coach Brad Stevens, possibly on the move?
This contained a link to Peegs.com’s premium message board (a post that I have not read, as I am not a subscriber). But this had a lot of credibility in my eyes because it was Rabjohns, on Wednesday, who was the first reporter to officially report on Twitter that Shaka Smart had turned us down, citing a source on the “East Coast”.
The next step (at least in front of my eyes) was Shannon Ryan of the Tribune tweeting the following:
@JeffRabjohns of Peegs.com has reported Illinois has reached out to Butler coach Brad Stevens.
Because Shannon has been right-on as far as the coaching searches have gone, I think this was where it took off. Or maybe it was other places, too. But on my twitter feed, this thing was gaining steam.
Next, Herb Gould of the Sun Times joined the twittering:
Report #illini have contact Brad Stevens looks solid. Don’t know his interest level. Has great situation at #butler, loves Indy.
Report looks solid? Robert is getting excited. Robert want Stevens. ROBERT WANT ILLINI WIN.
But wait. What is the source of this thing? There’s certainly a lot of smoke, but does it all source back to Rabjohns, who only said that we were “interested”? Did Herb Gould hear “interested” and then mistakenly Tweet “contacted”, taking this up a notch? And does Rabjohns’ story on his premium message board simply reference the rumors on the other premium message board? I’m suspicious, but trying to contain the wild excitement inside.
Adam Hoge, identified as the Sports Editor of CBSChicago.com, tweets the following:
Of course there is a small private plane flying from Indianapolis to Champaign just minutes after these Brad Stevens rumors blow up.
This was my holdonasec moment. Flight tracker? My spider senses tell me that every time a flight tracker is used, we’re way off the reservation. Now I’m wondering if this whole thing isn’t just a wild tweet chase.
So I ask on Twitter.
In all of this hubbub today, there’s not one single reporter willing to go on the record with “Illinois has contacted Stevens”?
And… nobody could find anything. All this smoke. All these tweets from beat writers and website publishers. And all of it is based on nothing?
One person sent me a link to a tweet of an employee of WISH-TV in Indianapolis. His tweet has since been deleted (is there a guidebook for whether I can talk about a deleted tweet?), but I’ll show you my retweet of that:
This is the only thing I can find from some WISH-TV guy in Indy RT @dougwaggoner: Breaking sports news Butler coach Brad Stevens to Illinois
Sounds credible, right? Someone whose profile says they work at a television station is reporting it outright: Brad Stevens to Illinois. And besides, he tweeted it twice. Once just the tweet, but the second time he included several “@” mentions, including the Indy Star and his own station, @WISH_TV. He didn’t just want to tweet this – he wanted to make sure whoever ran WISH-TV’s twitter account saw it as well. Do we have our first real report?
No. Not long after, the tweets were deleted. And then his twitter profile was changed to take out the “WISH-TV” part of his bio. And then the account was deleted entirely. The lesson for that dude: don’t tweet stuff that shows up in everyone’s “Stevens Illinois” twitter searches. And if you’re just quoting a rumor, don’t, under any circumstance, include “@” mentions to your own TV station. It simply appears that you’re trying to alert your own television station to the news.
So we’re back to square one. I keep asking on Twitter for something of substance, and everyone keeps responding to me with things like “Rabjohns said it, right?” and “Supinie tweeted it a couple hours ago, didn’t he”, but when I researched those tweets, all they were saying was the same thing: “reports” out there that Illinois wants Stevens. Are there really reports? Was he contacted? Or was this just one big game of telephone?
It wasn’t long before the hammer dropped. Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com did this crazy thing that reporters do and she talked to Brad Stevens. And here’s what he had to say:
“There is absolutely no truth to it,” he said. “I have not been contacted.”
Aaaand we’re done. The literal “nothing to see here – please disperse”.
There’s this tiny voice inside telling me “there’s too much smoke”. My desire for a face-saving hire is greater than my desire to be rational. Even as I sit here typing this, my brain is going through this “but what if his denial was just a non-denial and there’s really third party negotiations…”
I’ll never learn.
But there is one lesson here. As a blogger, I should probably never choose media sides, but I believe someone deserves credit here: Paul Klee. In both the Shaka Smart rumors and the Stevens rumors, Klee stayed mostly silent. And when he did speak, it was real, credible information. This is not to say that the other reporters should all report nothing – it’s their discretion as to how credible their sources are. But Paul Klee’s silence here, much like Bob Asmussen’s slow trigger finger during the football search, has earned my ears. As a reporter, it has to kill him to see everyone else getting the Twitter attention while he sits on the sidelines. Nobody wants to be that guy. Especially in a Twitter world where you can just claim your sources were misinformed and everyone forgets in a couple days. But he’s had the least itchy trigger finger, and I think that should be applauded. Especially after today. Kudos, Klee. (It’s so fun to be a blogger. I can switch from “quasi-media member” to “media critic” like that.)
So what now? Now, we wait (again). The great benefit of something like this vanishing into thin air is that it’s not eliminated. Brad Stevens is still my number one choice now that Shaka is gone (as I rambled on about earlier today before all of this exploded). Hopefully, if he hasn’t talked to us, he will soon.
Because after all, nothing happened.