Author's Twitter search for #nhl upon the cancellation of games through December 30th, showing a mixture of news, speculation, vitriol, and jokes.

How Twitter is changing the coverage of the NHL lockout

Published On December 11, 2012 | By Zoë Hayden

Twitter should certainly not be held as a measure of dedication or passion for a team or sport, but the modern and tech-savvy sports fan stays in the loop with Twitter. Sure, there are a lot of disreputable news sources out there, but it has been a few years since it became commonplace for big-name journalists to have their own, verified Twitter accounts. If you’re going to actually break a big story, if you want tens of thousands of people hanging on your words the minute it happens, you’re going to hit “tweet” before you do anything else. It’s the promise that your local morning news crew makes about “up to the minute coverage,” except that we can take it literally.

Twitter has affected every aspect of being a sports follower, from celebrating major victories to tracking trade rumors to turning every moderately interested fan into an armchair scout. So it’s no surprise, then, that Twitter drummed up the most recent glimmer of hope in NHL labor talks, and turned it into the kind of make-or-break story that it could have never been before.

The last NHL lockout of 2004-2005 provides a stark contrast. The only Internet news source that seemed to be consistently reporting on the lockout was, a rumor site now widely regarded as not only dubious, but often just plain fiction. People who were trying to track the lockout’s progress on the web back then distinctly remember rumors of handshakes being seen through windows. Archived forum posts show fans having credibility debates that, these days, could be solved in a matter of minutes.  We all know that there was no season in 2004-2005, and yet someone, out there, on the Internet, felt free to proclaim that it was “over.”

What happened this Thursday, then, is thrown into surreal relief. After the NHL and NHLPA meeting for around 20 combined hours between Tuesday, Dec. 4th and Wednesday, Dec. 5th, a press conference was scheduled in New York, and a podium was brought into the media room. The hashtag #podiumwatch exploded, including matter-of-fact updates on the location and status of the podium as well as mere situational disbelief. Everyone knew that news of some kind, good or bad, would be released in the coming moments; however, that didn’t stop the fever pitch of speculation.

It is the existence of Twitter and the changing pace of the news that necessitates these types of press conferences, coming late at night the way they would for a national disaster. Otherwise, things like #podiumwatch quickly grow unchecked, into monsters. The immediacy of news with our new Internet doesn’t inspire caution or delicacy–it just makes the warpath of the beast more widespread, and yet less permanent.

But the emotions are no less intense. And, so, where are we after #podiumwatch? In short, nowhere special.

The NHLPA made a proposal on Thursday in a short meeting that was officially rejected by the owners. A proposal by the owners that supposedly many members of the union wanted to put to a vote was taken off of the table. Despite many strides forward on key mathematical and logistical issues, the talks have completely fallen apart. While they may regroup this week, there’s no telling for sure.

One has to wonder if the olden days of forum posts and waiting for the morning paper to get the latest would have been better in this situation. It at least ensured that no one got their hopes up until something was truly official. But since “official” can now be viewed in real time, it’s likely that the same dramatic, public emotional reactions to NHL speculation will continue until the end.

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About The Author

Zoë Hayden is a 22-year-old writer from Hopwood, Pennsylvania currently living in Boston. She is a graduate of Emerson College and enjoys covering hockey, international sports tournaments, technology, history, science, and gender issues. You can find her on Twitter: @zoeclaire_