by Payton Petersen
Social media is hard for a journalist to avoid, especially a well-established one. Sportswriter, blogger and media personality Ryan Divish uses social media not only to promote his work, but also to post accurate news.
Divish, who studied at the University of Montana, first began covering the Seattle Mariners in 2006 for the Tacoma News Tribune. He now covers the Mariners as a beat writer for the Seattle Times. In an email interview with UM student Payton Petersen, Divish explained how social media affects his job and how he has succeeded as a journalist. Below is a transcript of the conversation, edited lightly for clarity and length.
Q: How do you deal with negative comments on social media?
A: My thinking on this has evolved over the years. When I first got on social media, I would try to respond to everyone. I was using it as an avenue to build up readership and establish myself in the Seattle-Tacoma market. I felt that if I responded to all good and bad, it would give readers the sense that I’m truly interested in interacting and trying to provide information to their specific desires.
I would also use humor and self-deprecation as a method to defuse really angry responses. Nobody likes a preening, condescending schmo. And I wanted to make it very clear that I wasn’t trying to play any level of superiority.
I would also snipe back when I felt it was people being stupid or cruel or ignorant. I would use the quote tweet and fire back with better snark or sarcasm than they tried to use. It probably wasn’t very mature at times. But I’m also not a very mature person. Often those negative commenters would be taken aback or be upset. I would simply tell them. I was a smart-ass prick long before social media and I’m better at it than them.
But now, I find it too exhausting to respond. I will try to clarify if I feel it’s necessary. But usually I just let them yell into the raindrops of the Twittersphere. I don’t block many people because I would never give them the satisfaction of knowing or saying that I blocked them, but I will mute the hell out of them.
Q: What decisions go into your social media posts? How do you decide what gets posted?
A: I wish I could say that cogent or critical thought goes into my social media posts. But usually, it’s reactionary stuff to what’s happening in games or with the team. I won’t tweet complete play by play to games, but I try to provide updates during games. I will try to post up interesting stats or information that is useful. For example, if a bunch of fans are complaining that the Mariners can’t hit with runners in scoring position, I will go and pull the stats from baseball reference, post a screenshot of them and provide it to show that they are right or wrong (more often the case).
When it comes to breaking news, I only do that if I know there is a time constraint. If I know I have a scoop and nobody else does. I try to have an online post written before I break it so people can click on the link. Of course, that is nerve-wracking.
If it’s breaking news and I know that others will have it, I just tweet it. When it comes to other peoples’ report, I try to hit my sources up as fast as possible before I go too crazy. If it’s someone I trust, I will retweet them or quote them. And then try to follow up with confirmation.
I try to tweet out my story each morning and then retweet it in the afternoon. I am not one of those people that will keep dropping the story out there all the time. If the news is worthy, it will generate traffic on its own. I try to have a little pride.
Q: How do you decide what voice to use in your social media posts?
A: I use the same voice always. I don’t really feel the need to change it up. I am who I am. I have a belief in the way I handle things. I will add more of my personality into tweets at times. But those usually don’t have to do directly with my beat coverage. I want to stay consistent with coverage and how I do things. There’s no reason to act like someone you aren’t when you are working or on social media.
Q: How do you use social media to promote your work?
A: I will use Twitter and my work Facebook to post stories. As I said earlier, I hate people that are rampant self-promoters. I will post my stories and perhaps add a few thoughts or notes, but I’m not going to retweet them or post them multiple times a day.
Q: Which social media platform do you use the most or which do you prefer?
A: I would prefer that all social media was destroyed by a massive computer virus and could never be rectified again. Though I would miss the Labrador puppy videos on Instagram.
But I use Twitter the most. What’s annoying is I know that it provides very little real retention to our website. You post a link to a story and it’s clear that the people that respond with questions haven’t bothered to read it because they ask questions that are answered in the first four grafs of the story.
Q: How has your work in journalism evolved as social media has become more relevant?
A: I can’t say it’s made it better. It does provide readers with an idea of a relationship with me based on my posts that show my personal side. But I’m careful not to share too much in that respect. You want them to understand that you are just a normal person doing what they think is a really cool job.
Q: As social media develops more every year, what do you think that means for sports journalism?
Well, I hope it doesn’t mean that they will be asking me to do Tik Tok videos to promote our work. There was some thought that social media would give players a voice directly to fans, which would bypass the need for media. But what these athletes have found out, having direct access to fans and fans having direct access to them isn’t necessarily a good thing.
It has made us more cognizant of what athletes post on Twitter or Instagram and, unfortunately, it is sometimes newsworthy. I thank God every day that I don’t cover the Seahawks and have to follow Russell Wilson’s Twitter or Instagram account and his blatant brand-building attempts. Editors who worship clicks and have never done a real beat think these things are news. They most certainly are not. And every time a writer has to do a story based on something like that, it pushes us a little closer to resignation, makes us pour one more drink late at night and removes a little piece of our soul.
Q: What issues do you see in journalism used on social media platforms?
A: I see lots of journalists wanting to use social media as their reporting outlet. They want to break news for Twitter and not for stories. I would rather clean the grill of the Mo Club every night than live my life trying to break transactions as a national reporter. I do the job for the writing, rather than reporting.
Q: Do you have multiple accounts per platform?
A: Two Facebook profiles, unfortunately.
Q: In your Twitter bio, you explain your love for sports and Crown Royal. How do you stay professional, but still get to have fun with social media?
A: Well, I would like to think I’m a pretty fun person and I try to translate that to Twitter. I try to provide some personality and offer some insight into who I am and what I care about. I try to be relatable to readers and followers. I kind of live the idea of: “take the job seriously, don’t take yourself too seriously.” I can’t be somebody that I’m not. I have a hard enough time just trying to be myself.
Q: How do you set aside personal beliefs while writing a story?
A: It gets easier with time and, really, it doesn’t matter what I believe. It matters what the people generating the news believe. I can be critical of a situation or a person regardless of my personal feelings or beliefs. Part of it is understanding what people in the story or readers would take personally and doing the reporting to provide enough information for both sides.
I try to have minimal emotional attachment to my beat. But, obviously, I’m human. So, when I wrote a recent story on Kyle Seager or several stories on Felix Hernandez, there was some emotion because I have known them for a long time. But really, my emotion is minimal next to their emotions or fans’ emotions so I make sure that their emotions are evident in the writing or reporting. It’s not wrong to feel personal emotion in a situation or a story. It’s just wrong to let it overwhelm you or cloud your thinking, reporting or writing.
Q: What is your biggest concern when posting something on social media?
A: It used to be the idea of saying something I’d regret and having it cost me my job. I have a Signal thread with some other media types and we’ve discussed the idea that you don’t need to comment or provide opinion on everything, particularly on stuff that everyone is tweeting about. The Times has a no-tweeting about politics policy that makes it pretty simple.
Q: What kinds of posts do you see as your most popular?
A: Breaking news posts about trades or roster transactions, unfortunately. Also, sometimes quotes with audio or video of something funny/controversial or interesting from players will generate stuff.
Q: How do you measure success on social media?
A: Being right, not first. Not cursing too much. Trying not to screw up the score. Avoiding a grammatical mistake or leaving a word out that ruins my joke.
Q: With almost 54,000 followers on Twitter, do you have any issues keeping your audience?
A: Unfortunately, it continues to grow.
Q: How has social media changed the way you write a story?
A: It doesn’t anymore. There was a time where I’d be too reactionary to the lunatic fringe in my mentions or what other Mariners fans were tweeting and saying. I needed to learn that Twitter is still a very small percentage of the fanbase. And what that group seems to believe is the most important thing in the world on your beat isn’t important to many other fans. I’ve learned to trust myself and my judgment. There will be times I might test out some ideas on Twitter, like seeing responses to stats or observations. And there a few really smart Mariners’ fans or baseball fans out there that I do trust.
Q: What are the biggest mistakes that journalists can make on social media and how can they avoid them?
A: Over-tweeting. Don’t share your whole life. You are going to find out that people think you lead a really boring life and they don’t need updates on every little thing.
Don’t feel the need to comment on everything.
Don’t chase likes or retweets. There are some grown-ass reporters that crave personal validation so much that they tweet out things knowing they will get likes and retweets or told how great they are. If you need that from strangers on social media, you are going to be crushed when they turn on you. And they will turn on you.
Q: What topic or what story that you have covered had the most traction or impact on social media?
A: I covered Marshawn Lynch not talking to the media at the Super Bowl. That was my entire beat at the Super Bowl was to follow Marshawn around and cover all that he didn’t say.
The one thing I’ve learned: if the story is big enough or the news is that interesting, you don’t need to oversell it on social media. You don’t need to add yourself or opinions into it. Just post the stuff you are reporting and let it carry itself.
Payton Petersen is a student in the UM School of Journalism’s Social Media and Engagement class, which conducted Q&As this semester with more than 20 journalists as part of a research project on best practices for journalists on social media.