Jonathan Shrager has interviewed The Telegraph columnist Mark Ogden, giving a fascinating insight into Twitter usage from the perspective of a renowned UK football reporter.
JS: @SteveForbesCEO (editor-in-chief of business magazine Forbes) recently asserted that “print journos used to look down on digital hacks as “trailer park. Only hacks to survive are those who properly embrace web.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?
MO: The Internet is obviously the future in terms of people accessing their media, but there will still be a market for print newspapers, albeit much reduced in comparison to how it stands today. There was a train of thought a couple of years ago which suggested that journalists who embrace the Internet and exploit it properly could become valuable “brands” for their employers.
Basically, if a journalist builds on online following, either through Twitter or simple online content, advertisers are more likely to spend money to have their product alongside a specific journalist’s content. I can see the logic in that. I’m not sure we are there yet, but I can definitely see journalists who ignore the Internet being left behind in the future.
JS: How do you respond to @Joey7Barton tweeted remark that “Newspapers will be a thing of the past in 10yrs, yesterday’s stories today, social media is the future. I know it, u know it, they know it…”?
MO: Joey underestimates the ability of media organisations to move with the times. Turn on the radio in the morning and what dominates the headlines and the agenda? The back and front pages of that day’s newspapers.
Stories might break on Twitter, but people still want to read about it in the context of a newspaper.
JS: I recently speculated that “The luxury of savouring a live game seems like a rare commodity for the modern-day digitally-minded reporter, especially following the recent decision rendered by football’s governing bodies to permit limitless usage of social media during matches at which a reporter is present on a working capacity.” Is this true to a certain extent?
MO: Yes, but it’s not a new phenomenon. At night games, most papers want copy on the final whistle for the early editions, so you spend much of the second-half writing anyway. I don’t think many football reporters have ever had the luxury of “savouring” a live game, but then we’re not there to do. The enjoyment is for the fans who pay their money to watch it. We’re there to report on what happened.
JS: MUFC has 16 million fans on its official Facebook fanpage. Do you feel that the club would benefit from also creating an official Twitter account? What reasons could you offer for its reluctance to embrace Twitter thus far?
MO: I don’t know United’s stance on this, but Twitter is still forming an identity. In the last 12 months, it has gone from being a valuable source of information and interaction to an arena for people to post bogus rumours and abuse each other. United might be best off out of it!
JS: Does the Telegraph contractually oblige you to be on Twitter? Or rather do they strongly encourage it?
MO: We’re encouraged to participate, but there are no set requirements as to how often. For instance, we’re not told to tweet updates during games, thankfully. Most fans will know what it is going on anyway, without 10 different journos tweeting inane updates about corners and throw-ins. If a goal is scored, again, there are 101 different outlets tweeting about it, so it just looks ridiculous if everybody does it.
JS: What percentage of tweets that you receive is unadulterated/unconsidered negative criticism? Is your policy to overlook such vitriol? Have you ever considered jettisoning the micro-blogging site or do the pros outweigh the cons? Do you empathise with players such as @dgibbo28 who abandoned the site due to an inordinate amount of abuse?
MO: Probably 80 per cent of tweets I get are abusive, smart arse or belittling. It doesn’t bother me. I actually enjoy the banter and the odd sarcastic tweet back, but there are some tweeters who live in a strange little world of obsession and paranoia and you can’t get anywhere with them. Not that I particularly want to.
I have thought about closing my account a couple of times, but that’s because Twitter is becoming boring and predictable and a stage for self-publicists, many of them are footballers tweeting about anything but football. You know who I’m talking about… I don’t have sympathy for the players who are abused, though. I can take it, so I’m sure they can.
JS: How many tweets do you receive on a typical day? What percentage of tweets are you physically able to respond to? My partner is livid at the amount of time I dedicate to tweeting yet my frequency of tweets posted/received must pale into insignificance compared with you. So do people close to you grow frustrated that you’re forever tweeting?
MO: I can get 50-100 some days, so can’t reply to all. Some send me blogs to retweet, but as I don’t have time to read most of them, I can’t retweet them because I’d rather know what I was endorsing before I tweet it to my followers.
Twitter is quite invasive on personal time and space, I have to admit. Maybe I should have a word with Blackberry about that annoying flashing red light that goes off whenever somebody tweets me!
JS: Have you ever become embroiled in a Twitter dispute with any high-profile luminaries (footballers etc.)? Was this played out publicly?
MO: No. I can’t think of anything worse than a public debate, good or bad, with a footballer or celebrity. Totally pointless.
I do find it quite funny, however, that lots of the players who tweet don’t follow the journalists who cover their club. It’s a classic “them and us” thing and kind of defeats the object of social networking.
JS: Are you concerned at all with the phenomenon of players bypassing the media and connecting with fans directly via social networks such as Twitter? Will this eventually render the role of certain media members redundant?
MO: Not really. If the player has a new boot to promote or a new book, he’ll sit down with the papers and do a big interview to talk about it, which tells you a lot about the true power, or otherwise, of Twitter.
JS: Which players’ tweets do you particularly enjoy on Twitter? Rooney, Rio, Phil Neville, Owen, Savage, Barton?
MO: The only ones who are worth following are those who tell you stuff that you want to know. I don’t want to know about what they’re watching on TV or having for breakfast or how their latest magazine/radio show is doing.
If player X had an injury and explained what it was or if he explained why he had been dropped/rested etc., then it would be worthwhile, but most keep all that stuff close to their chest, so we’re not really getting the real person.
To be fair to Wayne Rooney, he often says why he isn’t playing or if he is injured, so credit to him for that.
JS: BBC’s quote that Barton “has reinvented himself on Twitter as a philosophical sportsman to rival Eric Cantona in his heyday”? Are Barton’s philosophical ponderings plausible? How do you react to Barton’s antagonism?
MO: He was worth following when he was having a public row with Newcastle, but I stopped following him once he started his transformation into Stephen Fry…
JS: Do you understand Rio’s usage of Hip-Hop pater within his tweets? If Fergie were to issue an impromptu blanket ban on social networks for playing staff, would Rio choose MUFC or Twitter?
MO: Rio knows his audience, so I don’t have a problem with how he interacts with it. He doesn’t tweet about United very often, though, so I don’t see how the club could have a problem with what he does.
JS: Rio suggested that he might send a request to the FA to have @rioferdy5 on the back of his shirt. Is Rio a social-networking visionary or fantasist?
MO: I just think he’s having a laugh with that one, but why not? Would @rioferdy5 on his shirt be any different to Chicharito on Javier Hernandez’s?
JS: Do you find Michael Owen’s betting tips useful? Have any of them ever paid dividends for you? Do you admire Owen’s willingness to candidly engage with your journalistic peers/counterparts on footballing matters?
MO: I don’t follow Owen’s betting tips, but some of his tweets are fascinating in terms of his lifestyle. Recent revelations about never having had tea or coffee, or that he hasn’t been to the cinema in over a decade were a window on his soul—a strange one, nonetheless!
JS: Your honest opinion of Piers Morgan’s appropriation of Twitter, essentially antagonising professional footballers—droll tweeter or troll tweeter?
MO: Don’t follow him, so can’t answer that one.
JS: Do you receive a lot of abuse from those opposing fans that perceive you to be a closet staunch fan of a particular club, thereby demonstrating bias? Are debates on your allegiances just the nature of your job?
MO: I get loads of it. One day earlier this season, I was called a rag, bitter blue, Scouser and a Leeds fan within the space of an hour. Quite an achievement that!
Again, this gets back to the paranoia of Twitter. Lots of fans think that you are either with them or against them, but it’s all harmless enough.
JS: Anyone else within (or outside of) football you suggest that we should be following?
MO: There’s a great Twitter feed of Mark Twain quotes and pronouncements. I think it’s called @TheMarkTwain. They usually say something that cuts through all the Twitter bullshit and brings perspective to a lot of things.
JS: Does Twitter have genuine longevity as a social network? Do you believe that in a decade’s time you’ll still be utilising the medium?
MO: I think Twitter will crash and burn within the next 18 months. The lunatics are in danger of taking over the asylum and that will just lead to the sane and sensible casting it adrift.
JS: OK Mark, well many thanks for taking the time to answer the questions, and I look forward to Part 2 of this interview in which we will discuss your role as the Northern football correspondent for highbrow broadsheet the Telegraph.
MO: No worries at all, cheers.
Jonathan’s interview with Henry Winter on the same topic is in this month’s United We Stand