Social Media
Nov 13, 2012

Defending UW: The Rationale For Twitter Restrictions On Live Sporting Events For Credentialed Media [Op-Ed]

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University of Wisconsin's live-tweet cap explained

The University of Washington caused a stir this week when it was revealed by Todd Dybas, a journalist for the Tacoma News Tribune, that the school had implemented a strict live-tweeting cap for the coverage of their sporting events. Though we judged the university with hesitancy in a previous post, we saw more to the story, and reached out to university officials for their side.

The Twitter restrictions policy observed by the University of Washington was put into effect prior to football season, with Dybas in unknowing violation last Sunday of the new cap set on live-tweeting coverage for credentialed media members. After receiving a reprimand for violating the policy, Dybas set out to find some precedent for the policy, discovering that most other universities have either very relaxed social media limitations or completely non-existent concern regarding the media’s live-tweeting of sporting events.

“Tweet away,” said Oregon State University.

Here’s the University of Washington’s Twitter restriction policy for credentialed media members, via UW’s website):

“Periodic updates of scores, statistics or other brief descriptions of the competition throughout the event are acceptable, as long as they do not exceed the recommended frequency (20 total in-game updates for basketball, 45 total in-game updates for football).

“Credential Holder agrees that the determination of whether an outlet is posting a real-time description shall be in UW’s sole discretion. If UW deems that a Credential Holder is producing a real-time description of the contest, UW reserves all actions against Credential Holder, including but not limited to the revocation of the credential.”

Seems kind of harsh, right? Why would the University of Washington shut out the media, and to some extent, their fans? What gives the University of Washington the right to impose such strict Twitter restrictions on media members?

My conversation with a University of Washington departmental source on the issue of Twitter restrictions (specifically live-tweeting during games) was not only informative, but surprising. I came to find out that UW not only reserves a sort of “creative protection” right over their sporting events, but that the policy is actually of benefit to their fans. Further, in a surprising twist, it seems that UW’s Twitter restrictions policy constitutes a step forward in social engagement … not backwards, the way it seems on its face.

In Defense Of Live-Tweeting Restrictions For Credentialed Journalists

My source explained that during the discussions preceding the policy’s implementation, UW understood that they would look like the bad guy for the strict measure. Indeed, that has proven to be case, as some media outlets covering this story have done so un-flatteringly, without a proper defense for the policy’s merits to be had.

Sure, UW doesn’t provide a rationale for their policy on the description page (not that they need to), but there has to be a good reason for the Twitter restriction, right?

There is. In fact, there are several.

My concerns throughout my conversation with the UW source were as follows: Why would the university implement the policy, what are they trying to protect, and are they risking the alienation of their nationwide fan base?

Sporting events put on by the University of Washington can be considered the school’s “creative property” in a way. They’re paying for the promotion, the venue, all of it. From a business perspective, they’re taking the greatest investment risk regarding their events, and they’re gambling on your fan-ship of their sport teams. It’s not unreasonable to want (and deserve) some control over the accuracy of the flow of information.

The source explained it to me this way: the Twitter restrictions policy is exclusive to credentialed members of the press. Fans? Feel free to live-tweet all you like. But press members who must seek accreditation from the university to cover their sporting events must abide by a set of rules, whether they show up with a film crew to shoot a live report or with recording equipment to do a live radio show.

Those mediums have long been covered by similar policies. A DJ can’t just come in off the street and hold a radio show in the middle of the game without the proper permissions, and this is never questioned.

UW sees social media as no different.

Credentialed reporters aren’t entitled to unilateral and unfettered coverage, whether it’s a college-level sporting event, a professional sporting event, a political rally, a fashion show, you name it. It’s not about content so much as it’s about “creative license,” to borrow the metaphor yet again. A journalist live-tweeting at a sporting event as a credentialed member of the media isn’t doing UW a favor by being there; rather, it works the other way around in some ways. Journalists are the university’s guests, whether they’re radio hosts, TV anchors, or beat reporters using social media to record an event.

Lastly, UW doesn’t want its own social engagement trumped. Their social media directory is incredibly dense: Instead of shutting out the media, UW has already beaten them to the punch with regard to social, live coverage, in-game tweeting, etc. etc. ad nauseam. Further, their fans already know where togo to get these live updates and usually turn there first, making any credentialed media coverage kind of redundant in the end.

My source says that the university takes social very seriously, and implementing journalistic policy for Twitter like the kind that exists already for radio and TV is a sign that UW takes the power of social media as a journalistic tool incredibly seriously. From this perspective, the University of Washington is ahead of the curve, not behind.

My source laughed and said that he wouldn’t be surprised to see more universities taking UW’s lead on social media policy regarding credentialed journalists. The reason the policy seems off to us is because social, and policy regarding social, is such uncharted territory. UW is being progressive. They’re experimenting. They’re taking social more seriously, and recognize its power and importance.

And hey, it’s just for us in the stuffy press corps. If you’re a fan, they want you to engage. We can’t blame them for wanting to engage with you directly. In fact, they ought to be applauded for it.

Oh, by the way, there’s a game tonight: