Working social media at an NCAA championship: Humans still come first.

Through all the action of the rollercoaster ride of being an official social media correspondent at an NCAA championship for the first time, the men’s hockey Frozen Four in Lake Placid, what I’ll remember most are the eyes.

I saw them first when Norwich came into their news conference after losing to Oswego, and more acutely the next night when Oswego entered after losing 5-3 to UW-Eau Claire in the NCAA Division III men’s hockey championship game.

The Lakers and Coach Ed Gosek meet the press after their loss. With the emotion so raw, I opted not to tweet this image.

The Lakers and Coach Ed Gosek meet the press after their loss. With the emotion so raw, I opted not to tweet this image.

The windows to the soul, the eyes told of tears shed. They appeared shellshocked, as happens when great seasons coming to a screeching halts. Young men who would chat amiably and look you in the eyes earlier that day now looked up, at the table or into space, still grasping the biggest defeat of their lives.

It’s a reminder that social media is, more than anything else, about human beings, about telling their stories. In DIII, student-athletes receive no scholarships and play for the love of the game, so the thrill of victory and agony of defeat are the strongest currencies. It’s the job of anyone doing social media or other coverage to tell these stories, and to remember that a loss does not automatically diminish school pride.

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>> On Monday when our sparkplug SID Adele Burk suggested I apply for media credentials if I wanted to do social media for Oswego’s Facebook and Twitter accounts during the games at Lake Placid’s Herb Brooks Arena (home of the Olympic Miracle on Ice), a part of me dreaded an onerous process. But to their infinite credit, the NCAA championship guidelines are reasonable in their social media policies (pdf).

Their main concerns involve practices that would encroach on their rights to live coverage. They request official representatives of institutions and media not do real-time coverage via video, audio or blog — although we could provide “periodic updates ofscores, statistics or other brief descriptions ofthe Event” (according to their Terms and Conditions pdf). While they retained exclusive video rights, they happily supported radio stations (including Oswego’s WNYO-FM) broadcasting from the game.

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I tried to get around to tweet pregame and behind-the-scenes photos, from warm-ups to event staff briefings.

The NCAA media center at the Frozen Four was run by the perpetually helpful Jon Lundin, a genial, generous gentleman who made members of all media and colleges feel right at home. I’m sure he and his team deal with their share of difficult requests, but they were always pleasant and positive people. The media center was where you could pick up credentials, statistics and handouts, as well as where postgame news conferences took place.

Lundin finally convinced me to take a seat in the press box (I had a hard time feeling official), and I was happy he did. Various media reps and communicators traded quips and also helped each other get details of things like who scored, who assisted and what penalties were called on whom as we usually tweeted out details (almost everyone there was providing Twitter coverage) before the PA announcer filled in those details.

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Members of the media in the press box high above the action. We acted much less competitors than people who worked together to ensure everyone could do their jobs.

Media members are not allowed access to locker rooms and other areas where student-athletes gather for these high-pressure situations. Before the end of the game, we could request which players we wanted to speak two after the contest, and three players and the coach of each team come out. The NCAA works with a pool of photographers to minimize chaos while ensuring images are available to working media and partner schools. And no, you can’t great great photos from the press box with an iPhone, but I snapped some then quickly edited to post to Facebook during the updates I provided there at the end of each period. I updated Twitter much more frequently, but far short of the real-time play-by-play the NCAA prohibits.

The responses — especially on Facebook — far exceeded what I expected in terms of comments rooting on the team, liking and sharing. I was happy to be in a position to provide that content as well as to keep anyone unable to otherwise follow the action updated. It confirmed what I’ve always thought: Never underestimate the ability of social media channels to provide information and bolster/build community.

>> After falling in the finals, the Lakers we saw in the press conference, crestfallen though they were, came through like champions. Coach Ed Gosek made sure to talk about what these 14 seniors — who have made four straight Frozen Fours — mean to him. In doing so, he provided some very tweet-worthy quotes that resonate with what the players, the program mean to our college community. This is a key part of the narrative, so Gosek’s praise and support merited tweeting:

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But observation, looking at what players do as well as what they say, is part of reporting too, whatever your media. I noticed Oswego’s players, even though they had just suffered a heart-rendering defeat, walked over to the media members who covered them (even me?) to shake hands and thank them. Since the anecdote speaks to the character of the players and the program, it was well worth sharing:

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Our fans rose to the occasion to congratulate and thank the Lakers.

Our fans rose to the occasion to congratulate and thank the Lakers.

For their part, Laker fans on social media tended to find the silver lining. Shortly after the unfortunate conclusion, alumni and students, rather than dwelling on the loss, congratulated the Lakers for their unprecedented success, praised their never-say-die attitude and thanked them for making everyone proud. Since our Twitter philosophy is to emphasize the voices of the Oswego family, I was happy to retweet and amplify this Laker pride.

>> So as you watch March Madness and as you follow the social media accounts from member schools and media outlets, think about all the people on both sides behind the stories. Young men and women will compete hard and almost all of them will lose, and I hope their fans are just as supportive and proud as ours are. Remember that athletics, even at the highest level, are about people and their stories first.

As for me, I’ll never forget the fabulous experience, even if it didn’t culminate in an Oswego championship. And, of course, I’ll always remember the eyes.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Working social media at an NCAA championship: Humans still come first.

  1. Well done. Tim – social media coverage of championship events is now a requirement with additional enhancements and innovations as allowed by the rights holders. It does provide the fan base a window to things they don’t normally have access to with traditional television coverage – similar to Scott Glickman’s 24/7 project. Sports fans have Super-Sized appetites when it comes to anything about their favorite teams – with digital technology and social media distribution platforms, they won’t be going on a diet anytime soon. Don’t even try, Mayor Bloomberg!

    Go Lakers!

  2. Tim

    Thanks, Lou! I enjoy the opportunity for the behind-the-scenes glimpses that say much more than what happens on the ice (the players shaking hands and thanking the media members after the news conference, for example). We’re in a 24/7 360-degree world now, so the more we can transmit that to audiences, the better.

  3. Lou Borrelli

    Technology has elevated the visual impact of game coverage dramatically, but not always in a way that enhances the storytelling….I believe the introduction of integrated social media platforms enables multiple storylines to be richer, deeper and complimentary to broadcast coverage. Perhaps a joint project with athletics, student media groups and your office can elevate the individual efforts now being produced? Might be a good thing….

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