"Can you say that I had this first on Twitter?"
Those words—spoken by Rick Reilly to Stuart Scott in regard to Ben Roethlisberger's injury during ESPN's Monday Night Football postgame coverage—quickly spread throughout the Internet wilderness, awakening the trolls from under their bridges and causing more snark than you'd find if Mitt Romney passed out GOP door mats at a homeless shelter.
If you haven't seen the video, check it out below. Reilly snapping to attention when he realized the camera is on is pretty classic, as is Steve Young tapping his arm and basically giving him a look like, "Get your head in the game—who cares if the Internet is about to destroy you?"
But this incident touched a major nerve in the sports world, and that one little question managed to connect to a number of issues within the changing media landscape.
Which brings us to lesson No. 1: If you're going to get caught on camera speaking out of turn, make sure you just utter a few curse words or something. That's way better than shamelessly asking for a Twitter plug.
Especially when you don't deserve the plug you're asking for, as was the case for Reilly, whose "I had this first" statement was inaccurate. There were plenty of folks who had been all over the Roethlisberger injury, as Timothy Burke of Deadspin pointed out.
Okay, so Reilly reported that Roethlisberger had suffered a shoulder injury—something a Pittsburgh columnist reported more than a half hour before Reilly. Another writer from the same paper reported the Steelers QB was headed the hospital five minutes before ESPN. We're at a loss as to for what Reilly thinks he ought to be given credit, other than happening to have Roethlisberger's agent's number in his iPhone.
As you might expect, the backlash on Twitter was harsh and hilarious. Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports had my favorite tweet on the matter:
Time Machine Rick Reilly: "So, when you report that Fort Sumter thing, make sure you say that I telegraphed it first!"— SC_DougFarrar (@SC_DougFarrar) November 13, 2012
Lesson No. 2: Don't ever try to take credit for something you didn't actually do. Don't act like you've uncovered something when it's already been reported. Don't steal work. Give credit where credit is due.
That's been a major issue at ESPN, which has a habit of crediting "sources" rather than journalists from competing news agencies and media companies.
Just today, an Awful Announcing piece by Matt Yoder summarized an issue between ESPN and Jay Glazer. In essence, Glazer reported on Twitter that Roethlisberger was out this week. On SportsCenter, ESPN cited the report, but only said it came from "sources."
And an angry Glazer promptly responded:
Hey @sportscenter just to clear up confusion, my last name is not spelled S-O-U-R-C-E. Unless my mom got it wrong all these years— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) November 14, 2012
To be fair, we all share stories and information. The Internet has created a world where an original report will pop up in hundreds of articles, sometimes within minutes. Actually breaking a story is powerful, but failing to report the existence of that news is suicidal for any major media entity.
But sourcing your information properly and always giving credit to those who initially broke the news is a must. That's where Reilly's assertion that he was somehow at the forefront of any Roethlisberger information lost its credibility.
Now, I know that sports journalists have bled into sports personalities and one way to build a reputation is to break major stories. Timeliness is godliness these days.
But if you're Rick Reilly, caretaker of the warm and fuzzy redemption stories and moralizing tales that sound like they were written by an old man sucking on a Werther's Original, don't interject into the breaking news department unless you actually, you know, have breaking news.
That brings us to lesson No. 3: Know your persona. I'm not Adam Schefter or Ron Jaworski, so I don't spend my time on Twitter pretending like I'm breaking stories or analyzing game film to provide the sort of insight you could only get from a former NFL quarterback. I watch games and make corny jokes.
I don't know if that's working out for me or not, but at least it's genuine.
Reilly is already a figure who has taken a lot of heat after signing an astronomical contract with ESPN and making his way to television, a medium some would argue doesn't serve him well. Reilly always worked on the back page of Sports Illustrated—his tone and subject matter fit the magazine well.
Television and Twitter haven't been so kind, however.
And that's lesson No. 4: Make sure you're savvy when using the modern tools of the trade. This rule can't be stressed enough.
The game is changing, folks. You can't ignore the power of Twitter or SEO. You can't fall behind in a 24-hour news cycle that refreshes the page by the second.
And you can't dismiss that the new debate style of coverage means that a certain backup quarterback will always flood the news cycle if you continue to click on articles about him or watch that show with those two blowhards who constantly evoke his name.
When Reilly asked Scott for a Twitter shout-out, it just seemed so out of touch. And in an Internet culture that demands you know what "Ermahgerd" and "All Your Base Are Belong to Us" means, being out of touch is a fast way to alienate yourself.
Seriously, you never want to be out of touch. Another way you can appear to be an Internet square is to write long, pretentious articles about media practices. Avoid those snoozers.
But I digress. Let's give Reilly some credit here—he tried to have a sense of humor about the entire ordeal:
Ohhhh ... that's what the little red light means?— Rick Reilly (@ReillyRick) November 14, 2012
Lesson No. 5: Always have a sense of humor. Namely, before you look foolish on national television.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets can handle as many Hall of Fame egos as you like.