Coverage of Big 12 breakup critiqued


Midwest fans rejoiced earlier this year when the press announced that the Big 12 Conference would not break up. Instead, Nebraska and Colorado would be leaving and the rest of the conference would remain untouched.

But throughout the summer, the media’s speculations on the state of the Big 12 varied from total collapse to complete preservation. Steve Smethers, associate professor of journalism and associate director for graduate studies, invited three journalists to talk about how social media affected the Big 12 story in his Mass Communication in Society class.

Tim Fitzgerald, editor of Powercat Illustrated and; Austin Meek, reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal; and Tye Burger, editor of, offered a different perspective on the Big 12 story.

The speakers, all alumni of K-State and the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications, agreed Twitter and the public’s need for information put a tremendous demand on reporters to advance the story.

Fitzgerald said Chip Brown, reporter at, put every new fact he heard on Twitter, and that his ability to keep putting new updates on Twitter was “driving the story nationally; it was being cited on CNN and ESPN.”

Fitzgerald also said he felt Twitter was a place where most journalists do not feel accountable for what they are posting because they are trying to keep the public informed on every new detail they learn.

“The news cycle with Twitter is now literally every second. I would put something on the website, and people would ask 10 minutes later what was the update,” Fitzgerald said. “It was a lot of pressure on reporters to give new stories and keep reporting.”

Burger said fans wanted information, but the decision makers had little contact with reporters beyond press releases. As a result, Burger said reporters had to “go to somebody else who doesn’t really know what’s going on.”

Reporters were comfortable with posting information from less credible sources on Twitter, and Burger said readers believed what was posted because they trusted the reporters’ judgment.

“Some of them were in such a rush to be first, they forgot about being right,” Burger said.

Meek said many good stories were getting “drowned out” because of the scope of the story and the frenzy for more information. All the speakers thought that media reports on this story had foregone accuracy and included anonymous sources because of the demand for Twitter updates.

Meek said Twitter itself is a problem because it is not the most conducive place to post news updates due to the space limitations.

“It’s hard to accurately report news in 140 characters. It can be misleading,” Meek said about tweeting. “I didn’t take the time or have the space to include all the information.”

Kyle Mathews, senior in mass communications and student in Smethers’ class, said he enjoyed hearing about sportswriting from such experienced lecturers.

“I thought it was awesome, just getting a good group of panelists who have been reporting on sports a long time, and definitely K-State,” Mathews said. “Especially covering the Big 12 realignment story like they did, it’s just really cool to have that personal interaction with those kind of people.”

After the speakers gave their perspective on the Big 12 story, they answered questions about how being in the new conference would affect K-State and whether this type of news cycle would continue. The speakers said they were optimistic about K-State’s place in the new conference and thought some websites had learned to be more cautious.

Smethers said bringing in the speakers allowed students to see how journalists deal with real-world issues that affect K-State.

“I wanted to be able to bring this issue to the forefront because it’s an excellent way to be able to illustrate the current impact of social media on news reporting,” Smethers said. “I want my students to understand some of the real issues that media people are dealing with today.”