Back in August, I profiled basketball scribe and social media star Peter Robert Casey's bold new endeavor: He'd been invited by the St. John's athletic department to a spot on press row, covering home men's basketball games.
The twist? His coverage of the team would be done through his Twitter account, and his Twitter account alone.
Eighteen games into the season (and 11 contests for Casey) the Red Storm sit at 12-6. I checked in with him Tuesday, a day before St. John's lost 75-59 to Connecticut, to see how his distinctive media role has gone so far.
Jock-O-Sphere: First thing I want to ask: How have other media members on press row reacted to the guy covering the team in 140 characters or less? Are you the red-headed stepchild?
Casey: Overall, the concept has been well-received. There's the occasional look of bewilderment and curiosity, or a newspaper veteran uttering, "I wish this would all go away" (true story), but most reactions have been positive -- particularly after I explain it.
Media members are a curious bunch. I recently taught a Cincinnati-based journalist how to outpost his blog's RSS feed to Twitter -- this being the same guy who wished social media would disappear. Eye-rolling turned into question-asking when he realized he could gain value from the tool. I could not get him to buy into interaction, but at least it's a start.
If you really want to get the red-headed stepchild reaction, just keep a 3-by-3 TweetGrid matrix up on the screen for a minute. That's a guaranteed double-take from adjacent reporters.
Jock-O-Sphere: Since you had never covered a team before from press row, was there an adjustment period for learning the ins and outs? Or were you familiar enough with Twitter and how it works to get into the flow right away this season and not have to worry about traditional media deadlines or column inches?
Casey: Absolutely, and I'm still learning. My comfort level with Twitter has made the process easier, but since I lacked formal journalism education and experience, it was an adjustment.
I treat the opportunity and fellow media members with the utmost respect, and I'm always asking questions to enhance my learning curve. But I still leave traditional media deadlines and column inches to their expertise.
Jock-O-Sphere: Any facets of the job, or something you've encountered, that surprised you, or that you weren't expecting?
Casey: Honestly, I expected much more resistance from traditional media, but that has not been the case at all. St. John's credentials a great group of reporters and photographers. They treat me as an equal.
Other than that, I've been surprised by how many people will tweet while watching a game, inside and outside of the arena. It's evident that fans want to share their excitement, disappointment, analysis and opinions with media members and other fans. Twitter's the perfect platform to do it in real-time.
Jock-O-Sphere: When we first talked back in August, one of your goals was to give fans the experience of the stadium, crowd and atmosphere, and try to shy away from play-by-play and score updates a bit. There's been some of the former in your coverage, but also a good amount of the latter. Have you found it challenging to bring in unique coverage? Or have you found score updates and quotes after the game, mixed in with some photos and fun stuff, is the best way to give fans a little of both worlds?
Casey: I quickly realized there's only so much you can talk about the atmosphere before getting to the meat of the game. It's definitely a challenge, but I mix it up with videos, photos, game updates and quotes.
The uniqueness still lies in the ability to go behind the scenes and get direct access to the players and coaches.
In the end, however, today's social Web makes it a nearly level playing field for fans and veteran journalists alike, which pretty much sums up how I got to press row.
Jock-O-Sphere: What's the reaction been amongst St. John's fans on Twitter? Do you find yourself picking up new followers or conversing with fans during the game?
Casey: The response has been great, and there's definitely a direct relationship between games being televised nationally and the volume and scope of interactions that take place. I've connected with many fans, writers, alumni and personnel from St. John's and opposing teams. It's a great way to engage in a dialogue or debate, before, during and after the game. My follower numbers have increased, but I don't get caught up in that. I focus on the quality of conversation, and making sure that I'm tweeting useful information.
Jock-O-Sphere: I'm pretty sure your role covering St. John's on Twitter has also led to a recent opportunity with the NBA. What was it exactly, and what was that like?
Casey: Yes, I did get the call-up on Dec. 18 to cover the Knicks-Clippers contest at Madison Square Garden. Unlike the St. John's gig where I'm in press row residency for the year, the NBA marketing initiative, dubbed "Instant Amazing," was a guest Twitter reporting opportunity presented by the NBA's director of marketing, Dan Opallo. Opallo embraces the social Web and does a great job communicating league news and activating marketing plans on various social channels.
Covering an NBA game was another great experience. I tweeted from my account, and the league account retweeted pretty much all of my broadcasts (not @ replies). It's a filter for quality control. It was a big honor for me to be asked to get involved. CNN's Wolf Blitzer was the first to cover a game for the NBA -- a Dec. 10 Wizards-Celtics game. I followed his footsteps a week later.
Jock-O-Sphere: Predictions for the rest of St John's season? What's it going to take for them to get into the NCAA Tournament?
Casey: St. John's embarks on a very tough stretch starting today at UConn before facing two other Top 25 conference opponents in Villanova and Pitt. To be in the conversation on Selection Sunday, St. John's will need to place in the top seven or eight teams in the Big East at the end of the season, which means beating several of the top-tier programs in the conference. The Johnnies will have to fine-tune their rotation, limit turnovers, play consistently on the offensive end, and have a few strokes of good luck. It's a deep conference again, and going dancing will be no easy task.
Ryan Corazza is a freelance writer and Web designer based in Chicago.