As anyone who follows The Stony Brook Press (@sbpress) on Twitter knows, on Saturday Sept. 22, one of our writers decided to put a comedic twist on the homecoming football game. His objective was to live-tweet the game, while making references to any sport but football (example: “Stony Brook gets a yellow card, but still makes it to second base”). I’d like to preface this by saying that in no way did we intend to anger or offend the Athletics Department, nor mock the football team itself. If anything, we were poking fun at our lack of knowledge when it comes to sports.
Because of the incorrect sports references we were making in our tweets, Stony Brook Athletics messaged us and requested that we send our writer to the press box so that they could “discuss [The Press’] inability to tweet in the correct way.” Seeing as the reporter we had sent to the game was tweeting from the stands, and was in no way impeding any other journalist’s job, we deemed that unnecessary. When the tweeting continued, a Press photographer on the field was approached by a Stony Brook Athletics official and told that if we didn’t stop our tweeting, our press credentials would be revoked for the remainder of the year.
In many ways, the Athletics Department was overstepping their boundaries by doing this. First of all, under the First Amendment, we have the right to publish anything we want, even tweets. In no way are we directly affiliated with the athletics department, and we act as a third party covering their events. Because the reporter tweeting during the event was not using press credentials issued by the athletics department, the threat to revoke our credentials seems a little out of line.
In no way were the tweets trackable on Twitter; no hashtags were used and in no tweet was there mention of a football game. There were no obscene references made and no vulgarity used. The crime, according to the athletics department’s message, was that the tweets during the football game were not written using the appropriate terminology for a football game.
At the time, we had another reporter there working on writing a factual story about the game, and had a photographer there documenting the game, as well. The tweeting aspect was just a way to put a comic spin on an often very serious event.
I can understand that, from the Athletics Department’s point of view, there may have been some confusion. If the person live-tweeting had been in the press box, preventing another reporter from factually covering the game, their request to stop would have been justified. If any directly offensive references had been made in the tweets, their distress would have been understood. But the fact is, the person live-tweeting the game was simply a student sitting in the stands, which is in no way violating any rules.
As an organization that issues credentials to reporters, the department must understand that not every member of the media is going to cover the event to the specifications of that organization. Would it be right for the White House to revoke a press pass because a reporter wrote something negative about the President, or about government policies? It’s a slippery slope to fall down, and it’d be a shame if an organization at Stony Brook University would start down that path.
The question at the end of the day is this: Did the Athletics Department have a right to threaten revocation of our press credentials? Simply put, yes. Technically, if we don’t cover a sporting event in a manner that the Athletics Department deems appropriate, it has the right to take back the press credentials they issued to us. But that doesn’t make it right.
To read the tweets from this weekend’s Homecoming game, click here.