Notre Dame coaching search + social media = cyclical chaos

Since Charlie Weis was let go and made more money in getting fired than I will ever make doing work, I've been following Notre Dame's coaching search with a furor. With the tools available today, this isn't that difficult. A colossal time-suck? Definitely. But all that laborious? Certainly not.

I can say that I've seen almost every rumor. How? As simple—and regrettable—as creating a search column on Tweetdeck. This one line, "'Notre Dame' OR 'Brian Kelly' OR Stoops" has thrown me all over the web and given me a little bit of insight on how the general populous tracks a news story, how it moves from outlet to outlet and most importantly, who to trust.

Notre Dame blog The Blue-Gray Sky has a phenomenal look—nay, social experiment—on how rumors started on the web can get out of hand very, very quickly. Paraphrasing their great blog post, here's how things went down:

  • Anonymous person emails supposedly credible site Footballscoop.com claiming "I used to work in the athletic department at Notre Dame (a lie), and I have heard that Jack Swarbrick is interested in Bret Bielema, the head coach at the University of Wisconsin. This was at 6:56pm last evening."
  • The site doesn't ask any follow-up questions and runs the rumor almost verbatim the following day.
  • An author on The Examiner, which allows anyone with an email address to register as a "reporter", pens a story on the rumor. From there, the report that can then be spit out across Google News alongside credible news stories.
  • The story is [temporarily] picked up by a few outlets, including NBC Sports and an ESPN Blog.
  • The rumor reaches its crescendo when a Madison.com reporter contacts Brett Bielema in Hawaii and gave Barry Alvarez a call. Both had no idea what was going on.

I've seen a similar track of absurdity take place multiple times during this coaching search. While the Bob Stoops rumor got a bit of traction from ESPN's Adam Schefter, Bleacher Report ran with a random message board posting claiming he had a contract in place with Notre Dame. Meanwhile, The Examiner wrote their story on Schefter's tweets. 

From there, the rumors fly around the web, bouncing off each other and then as soon as they are about to die, someone picks it up and throws it around again. The Tweetdeck search column allowed me to watch these rumors sprout up, be shot down only to have them rise up again.

The Stoops rumor was the perfect example. There were already continued rumblings over Stoops being interested and all the non-denial denials, then Wednesday morning this tweet came across the wire.

Immediately after that, tweet after tweet came in about buzz across the Notre Dame message boards, caused by the same rumor. As the morning went on, the rumor was shot down and said to be a hoax. But alas, that's when Bleacher Report ran their story on the related message board rumor. From there it gets retweeted all over again. And as momentum builds, mainstream media outlets are even running the report. This creates the illusion of multiple sources reporting on a story when in reality it started as the hoax of one single anonymous message board poster without an ounce of credibility.

As sports fans and media consumers, we live in a dangerous middle-ground. A few years ago, this rumor would've been confined to the message boards, where the diehards could ultimately argue it out and shoot it down. Now the rumor explodes across the web in a matter of hours and reaches a point where the subject of the story is asked for a comment.

However, we're moving to a time when it's easy to see this type of thing. With the right tools, or that single line of text in Tweetdeck, it was easy to see this was one single rumor with no credibility behind it. It is crucial that today's journalist utilize the tools available as oppsed to jumping on the latest rumor and then falling back on the fact that they were just relaying information. If the journalism profession is to regain it's 'swagger', its professional needs to feel a sense of accountability.

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