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Twitter drives traffic to sports stories

July 6, 2012

From left, pictured are Jeff Gordon with the St. Louis Dispatch, Dustin Dopirak of the Bloomington (Ind.) Herald-Times and Paul Klee of the Champaign (Ill.) News-Gazette, giving a talk entitled “Sports writers in the digital age.” Photo by Alex McCarthy

By Joe Popely
Indiana University

Major newspapers may be playing catch-up in the Twitter universe, but a multitude of online tools can help sports desks get back in the game.

Today, the name of that game is driving traffic to a variety of online content.

“You have to have a plan for all of this,” said Jeff Gordon, Rams beat reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “How do you integrate everything on your newspaper to your website and use all of the tools at your disposal?”

Gordon, Dustin Dopirak of the Bloomington (Ind.) Herald-Times and Paul Klee of the Champaign (Ill.) News-Gazette spoke to a group of sports journalists at their presentation, “Sports writers in the digital age”, as part of the Mid-America Press Institute’s June 2012 conference, “Sports Journalism: Staying on top in the digital age.”

Among the hottest topics was how to best use Twitter. All three believe Twitter is essential to increasing reader interest.

“I’m not tweeting just to tweet,” Klee, who reports on Fighting Illini basketball for IlliniHQ.com, a stand-alone website tied to the News-Gazette, said. “Basically everything I tweet directs you to Illini HQ.”

Even more important that tweeting, Klee said, are live game reports that provide viewers with observations of an Illini basketball game not apparent on a television broadcast.

“I really like the live report,” Klee said. “I would suggest it to anyone.  Twitter is great, but it’s not making us any money.”

Still, it’s important to get breaking news out quickly and accurately.

“Twitter is like a time stamp on a scoop,” Dopirak said. “If you get it on Twitter first, that’s what a lot of people are going to recognize at this point.”

–Other topics and interesting notes:

  • Klee said IlliniHQ.com is successful because it has the New-Gazette’s name attached to it and Illini Board, a major fan message board, merged with the upstart website.
  • Gordon noted that search engines often list “citizen journalist” style websites, such as The Bleacher Report and SBnation, are listed before major newspaper stories on the same topic. He said search engines pick up robotic-sounding headlines and ledes, which is counterproductive to the Post-Dispatch’s mission.  Nonetheless, he said newspapers are “woefully behind” in maximizing search engine hits.
  • Dopirak said he struggles with what should be behind his website’s paywall. The Herald-Times sports blog is free, so he hopes by tweeting, blogging and live chatting effectively, people will like his approach and want to subscribe to the Herald-Times online.
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