Baltimore is known for its sports, from the Orioles to the Ravens. I got a golden opportunity to interview the man behind all the great sports articles written in the Baltimore Sun, sports reporter Jeff Zrebiec.
1Q: What is the biggest advantage of using social media as a journalist and why?
1A: It just allows for immediacy, that’s probably the biggest thing. It takes no time whatsoever to sign on Twitter and break news or send out information. We’re talking seconds. When I started in this business, you broke stories in the morning paper. Then, it reached a point where pretty much every story came out on the Internet and the various newspaper web sites. Now, unless you’re on Twitter, you’re probably not going to get credit for having the story first. I fought joining Twitter for a long time and I still refuse to be on Facebook. But it got to the point where I realized that you really can’t fulfill the job requirements without being on Twitter.
2Q: What is the best way to get the news to your audience as quick as possible?
Twitter. As I said above, it takes seconds. And then there’s text alerts as well which our newspaper sends out to subscribers. When you are reporting a story and ready to go with it, it pretty much goes like this and in this order: You tweet it, an editor texts it out to subscribers, you blog the story and then you write it for the next day’s paper.
3Q: What was the first big news story you used social media to break the coverage on?
Wow, not sure I can remember that far back. I don’t remember anything specific, other than the first time I was on Twitter during the baseball winter meetings. That’s a stressful time for a baseball beat guy, because reporters, agents and top baseball decision makers are all under the same roof. There are things being reported every second and I sort of just remember constantly refreshing Twitter as my head was spinning. I used it extensively that week as well and learned how valuable it can be to get things out quickly and promote your own work. One example that I do remember well was the whole Chris Davis trade in July 2011. The Orioles acquired Davis, who became their all-time single-season home run leader this year, and Tommy Hunter from the Texas Rangers for reliever Koji Uehara. The Orioles were in New York playing the Yankees at the time but one of my colleagues was covering the series because I was in one of my good friend’s wedding. Anyway, I got a text message from a source informing me of the trade as I was about to get in a limo bound for the wedding ceremony. I was nowhere near a laptop. I was in a tuxedo in a hotel parking lot actually. But through Twitter on my phone, I was able to get out the information and help The Baltimore Sun get credit for the story.
4Q: What kind of advice would you give to an aspiring journalist on the topic of social media?
Proceed with caution and be smart about it. There’s no question that social media is valuable and essential for journalists. But I think people don’t understand sometimes how far reaching it is. You put something on Twitter or Facebook and people see it. So be careful what you post or what you re-tweet. You’re representing not just yourself but your employer. I think it’s important to use it in a way where it helps promote your work and your employer. However, you start using it in other ways and I think you’re asking for trouble from a professional standpoint.
5Q: Do you think that the impact of social and digital media in society today, could possibly make printed newspapers obsolete?
I’ve been getting this question for years now and I feel less confident about my response every time. I grew up reading newspapers and always wanting to write for a newspaper. I’ve always believed that there will always be people who want to have the actual newspaper in front of them with their morning coffee. I think there is some truth to that still but sadly, those people who buy the paper or subscribe to the printed edition are fewer and fewer. Perhaps, I’m naive but I refuse to believe that printed newspapers will be obsolete. But I have no doubt that they’ll become less and less popular and there will be a ton of papers that become Internet-only and will no longer have the printed edition. Newspapers have to adapt to the times and nowadays, people are consumed by social and digital media. That’s the reality.