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Buffalo Wins Media Round Up – Sports and Politics with @JaySkurski, @ByTimGraham, @SalSports and @ByMHarrington

In the months leading up to any election, commentary and discussion of a political nature are always expected. However, this year, not only has the conversation in day to day life persisted, it has thrived in places like Twitter – where commentary can be dropped with the flick of a finger.

As most of you know – Joe keeps our feed fairly active politically, and on my personal account, I’m not afraid to hop into the fray on an issue that matters to me. However, Buffalo Wins for both of us and The Bills Wire or anything I do with the PWTorch are fun side activities, not gigs that we depend on to pay the bills. So, we as a team wanted to reach out to some of the local Buffalo media, in an effort to pick their brains on when they feel comfortable (if at all) doing the same – given that sports is their milieu.

We would truly like to thank Jay Skurski, Tim Graham and Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News and Sal Capaccio  of WGR for taking the time to answer our questions and give insight into how professional media members balance this brave new world.

1. What is your own policy when it comes to tweeting about politics?

Jay S. – Simple – Don’t do it. I may have slipped up once or twice, but I try to keep my political views to myself.

Tim G. –  My general philosophy when it comes to Twitter is to post whatever I find amusing or interesting. If the idea makes me laugh to myself or pause to think, then I figure others will find it worthwhile. When it comes to politics, I’m prone to post anything, but I find myself commenting or tweeting more on journalism issues as they pertain to politics than straight politics, and I try to avoid anything that can be taken the wrong way. I try. My feed tends to lean left, but that’s because the material simply is funnier. There’s a reason “Doonesbury” is more popular than “Mallard Fillmore.”

Mike H. – I’ve decided not to. The couple times I did it, it just completely overwhelmed my feed and that’s not what people want. People were acting irrationally. It wasn’t worth the hassle.

Sal C. – I try never to tweet anything pro or con about a political party, elected official, or candidate.  I rarely even venture into any political issue at all.  My Twitter handle is “SalSports,” not “SalPolitics” or “SalSocial.”  So when people add me as a follow or go to my timeline, I think there’s an expectation for sports tweets, not tweets about politics. I don’t “stick to sports” because I’m not intelligent enough to understand or have an opinion about what’s going on in the world.  Quite the opposite.  I was a HS American and World History and US Government and Economics teacher for ten years.  I stick to sports because of what I believe my followers want from my feed.  I’ll bet at least 95% of my followers have no idea which way I lean politically, how I’ve voted, or what beliefs I have on most issues.  Sometimes I will make a political joke but try to be non-partisan in doing so.

2. How do you feel about other sports media members who tweet about politics?  Do you think they should stick to sports or do you think being a private citizen should allow you to voice your opinions about it like everyone else?

Sal C. – I have no problem with anyone ever tweeting about whatever they want.  It’s their feed and their right and their opinion.  I actually find it quite interesting when any of them do because I learn more about them and their own beliefs.  I’m also entertained by responses they get.  But if you don’t like what someone is tweeting, simply unfollow them.

Mike H. – It’s ridiculous we get the stick-to-sports cliche spewed back. I tweet about food across the country. I tweet about sports I don’t cover. Movie quotes. Airports. The media. All sorts of stuff. I don’t get stick to sports about any of that. And how come political writers talking about the Bills or Sabres aren’t told to stick to Trump?

Tim G. –  I personally have zero problems with media members posting whatever they please as they see fit. Some will drop F-bombs and pitch fits about things I find downright trivial. Some will go heavy left-wing politics. Some tweet about their families. Some are boldly religious. Whatever they want; it’s their feed. Now, that said, I do understand if a media outlet would prefer their reporters — whether they work in metro or business or sports — refrain from posting about politics at all or even posting campaign signs in their front yards. A newspaper or a television station needs to maintain neutrality. But we’re also living in times that are making us hyper-aware what we as individuals deem important and just. Remaining mute doesn’t always seem reasonable, but it’s the line each of us must locate.

Jay S. – Absolutely they should be allowed to voice their opinions. I feel like the thinking used to be that journalists needed to be totally impartial about everything, but when it comes to something outside a person’s beat, I don’t see the problem in sharing your point of view on your social-media platforms.

3. When it comes to sports media members tweeting about politics, what do you think is their goal by tweeting about it?

Mike H. – I don’t think there’s any goal to it at all. When did sports media members forfeit their First Amendment rights to free speech or their citizenship like every other citizen has?

Jay S. – That’s hard to answer, since I don’t do it myself. It could be for entertainment, enlightenment, to point out policies they agree or disagree with. There are a lot of possible reasons, but that answer has to come from those who do it.

Sal C. – Most of us have a big platform to say what we want on radio, TV, or in print.  But it’s a sports platform.  So, sometimes I think they just want to get something off their chest they don’t usually have the opportunity to within the normal confines of their sports media job.  It can feel good to do that.  Other times I think they are truly trying to use their broader social media platform to help, to change, to unite. Some just do it to complain and/or argue like most people on Facebook who post about politics 🙂

Tim G. –  I’m sure it’s different for every reporter. We get into this business because we have a passion to inform, provoke thought and hopefully entertain along the way. Maybe some writers feel tweeting about politics is a way to change the world just a little bit. My sense, though, is that Twitter has become an echo chamber. People who would follow you — or continue to follow after you’ve tweeted about politics — probably already think the same way you do.

4. Would you be ever be worried about backlash from your employers or from followers on Twitter for showing your political point of views?

Tim G. – Not especially. A lot of my followers probably think they have my political or religious views pegged, but they don’t know. And I’m not particularly interested in getting into what my beliefs are with the types of people who like to argue such things.

Mike H. – This is where it gets dicey. I guarantee you every newspaper in America has reminded its staff about this. My views on Donald Trump in no way represent The Buffalo News. They represent me. But too many of the people get all conspiratorial and go on and on about the “liberal media” blah-blah-blah. The editorial board determines a paper’s endorsements and beliefs and it’s probably to everyone’s advantage that others at the paper don’t go rogue. So I’ve zipped it. I got enough to say about Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma.  I don’t think people give a damn what Bob McCarthy thinks about Bylsma but they sure care what I think. I don’t think people give a damn what I think about Trump or Clinton but they sure care what McCarthy thinks.

Sal C. – Followers, yes.  Again, I think there’s an expectation that goes along with “SalSports,” and being the Bills beat reporter that I’m going to primarily focus on sports.  I believe that if I stared Tweeting about politics I may not lose a lot of followers (would lose some but also gain some), but I’d certainly alienate many of them – and then those followers would automatically form judgements about my sports opinions based upon what they’ve read of my political opinions.  Plus, and I’ve seen this happen, they’d turn a lot of the sports tweets into something political via their response.  I don’t feel like engaging in that.

From my employers, no.  They give me the freedom to Tweet about what I want and I know I’m not going to put stuff out there that embarrasses them.  I’ve never been told what I can or can’t tweet about from any media employer.  And they’d have no right to do so even if they wanted.

Jay S. – Yes, of course. Even though it’s my Twitter account, I am an employee of The Buffalo News, and try to carry myself in a way that won’t embarrass the company, or worse, put my employment at risk. Regarding people on Twitter, based on some of the backlash I get for having sports opinions, I have no desire — at all — to get into political discussions with people who are mad online.

5. Do you have anything else you’d like to add about [this]?

Mike H. – My biggest complaint about stick-to-sports is this: This is really the LAST president anyone should be telling a journalist not to tweet about. One of the biggest issues around his entire presidency is his attacks of Freedom of the Press and basic lack of understanding of the media. And he’s clearly trying to whip the masses around him. The concept of “fake news” is the most appalling thing I’ve ever heard from a political candidate — if it were coming from someone running for highway supervisor. Not the President of the United States!

So I really feel just about every journalist — no matter what they cover — should be tweeting about Trump vis a vis the media. That recent press briefing when Spicer hand picked who got in was as un-American as anything I’ve every heard of out of the White House.
 
How about a Bills or Sabres presser where all you get are Bills.com and Sabres.com in the room? It’s virtually the same thing. No dissenting views. The White House just did it. What’s stopping an NFL or NHL team from rampaging all over the written media rules of their league? The White House Correspondents Association needs to be better. NO ONE should have gone in Spicer’s room that day.
Sal C. – I don’t want it to seem that I’m unwilling to take public stands about issues I care about.  Of course I am, if the opportunity presents itself and in the right way.  But with the position and the number of followers I have, I think there’s a responsibility to understand my audience and their expectations.  There are also other ways to take those stands or be a part of those issues other than social media.
Jay S. – Like anything else on social media, if something is objectionable to someone, they can simply unfriend or unfollow so they don’t see it. The mute function on Twitter works very well in that regard. The only political view I’m comfortable sharing is that I hope someday in our country we can get over the partisanship that seems to so often stunt progress, and find a way to do what is best for everyone.