It has become a sports fan’s dream toy, offering a window and connection into an athlete’s previously closed world. But Twitter will never be a substitute for good journalism, argues Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM


By tweeting, you're taking power away from the journalist.
I read this quote in an article about Shane Warne in last weekend's Sydney Morning Herald, titled 'The King of Spin'.

Clifford,
considered the best-known publicist in the United Kingdom, continued
his train of thought by saying: "The biggest bugbear to [celebrities]
are stories which are damaging and possibly false. But this way [by
tweeting], you eliminate that."

This remark is pretty rich, even
from someone in the business of spin doctoring. Mostly because it works
on the (false) assumption that whatever a celebrity tweets is the gospel
truth.

As we know, celebrities – high profile athletes included –
don't always tell the gospel truth, just as some less than scrupulous
journalists fabricate or embellish stories to suit their needs. The
biggest bugbear to celebrities, I believe, are not stories which are
damaging and false, but damaging and true. Tiger Woods is a modern day case in point.

Don't
get me wrong: I think Twitter's a wonderful communication tool, and in
the time-poor, information rich zeitgeist most of us First World folk
now live in, instant communication, collaboration and aggregation of
thoughts and ideas via social networking is no better represented than
via Twitter.

For the maniacal sports fan whose fervour – Tiger's
spate of indiscretions aside – rarely atrophies (infidelity? alcoholism?
no problem!) there is nothing better than having an instant and
personal connection to your idols.

However, bypassing the press and communicating solely with your legion of followers only gets you so far.

I
remember at the 2009 Giro d'Italia, Lance Armstrong decided he'd had
enough of us hacks after a few days and decided to stop communicating
with the press – period. (At least till the Tour de France, anyway.) I
felt a particular empathy towards my colleague Juliet Macur from the New York Times,
who had ostensibly been sent to Italy to cover the Armstrong beat (and
who by the end of the Giro, probably wanted to beat Lance, literally).

Armstrong
used Twitter instead and took videos of himself with various team-mates
in the back of his team bus, which by my estimation were pretty lame.
His lockdown against the media backfired – it only augmented his
controlling nature, and made him look like a spoilt brat who wanted only
reams of sycophantic sludge written about him by those so-called
journalists he allowed into his inner circle.

The trouble with Twitter is that for the celebrity Рor faux c̩l̬bres
– it heightens their narcissism and perceived sense of worth. The more
followers, the greater one's popularity – or so a vain-as-Shane person
is led to believe (in case you're wondering, as of 9.30 p.m. Monday,
Warne had 564,336 followers).

And if one were so self-absorbed, why wouldn't you think that?

In Spun Out,
Paul Barry's biography of the compulsive texter-tweeter, he asks you to
close your eyes and imagine life in Warne's shoes in his bowling
heyday: "You're the best in the world in the one thing that matters to
you. You're cheered by the crowd… feted by team-mates. You're mobbed by
women wherever you go. Is it any wonder you think the world revolves
around you?"

At least at one point, Warne was celebrated for something other than his new look, which the Guardian
newspaper described as "slimmed, buffed, tweaked, styled and waxed into
a marginally hairier clone of Ming the Merciless". Vying for fourth
spot and with more than 10.5 million Twitter acolytes is the
self-confessed – and obsessed – queen of self-promotion, Kim Kardashian,
who readily admits she has no perceptible talent and has become famous
for nothing, yet appears set to take US president Barack Obama's mantle
before too long.

First to third is Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and
Katy Perry. Lance Armstrong is currently 81st with 3.1 million
followers; Cadel Evans is ranked 4,377 with 120,000 followers.

I am nowhere with somewhere around 2,500 followers. Not that anyone was asking.

At
an event as unwieldy for the reporter as the Tour de France, no matter
how many people you have on the ground, you cannot be at all places at
all times. Twitter comes into its own as an invaluable resource,
providing real-time updates of what transpired only seconds before, or
post-stage, supply a stream of sentiments from riders and team staff
that tweet pithy remarks from the massage or dining table.

But
all of this hardly replaces journalism, or at least what good journalism
should be: holding stakeholders to account, scrutinising their actions,
and sometimes if necessary, attacking them.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_tan