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ESPN slams the door on Tweeting

On Monday, Peter King of demonstrated one of the new realities of a media landscape dominated by the immediacy and simplicity of Twitter with the following paragraph regarding the Friday frenzy that emerged linking Mike Vick to the Patriots.

“It’s a weird media world we’re in right now,” King wrote. “My allegiance, obviously, is to, but I know if I take 10 minutes right now to dictate the item to someone on the news desk, the story will get up in 20 minutes, and we’ll probably be too late. So I decide to throw a couple of Tweets up, the first at 4:59 saying Vick wasn’t in Foxboro, and the second that the Pats don’t want Vick and like O’Connell. Sure enough, at 5:01 p.m., Adam Schefter Tweeted that Vick wasn’t in New England either. It’s a crazy media world. Forgive me, Time Warner.”

Though it’s unknown whether the folks at the Sports Illustrated parent company granted King a papal dispensation for his decision to choose speed and Twitter over page views and, employees at ESPN are officially on notice.

Thou shalt not Tweet regarding professional matters.

ESPN basketball analyst (for now) Ric Bucher made the disclosure today -- where else? -- on his Twitter page.

“The hammer just came down, tweeps: ESPN memo prohibiting tweeting info unless it serves ESPN,” Bucher wrote, capping it with a choice of words that conjures memories of a certain Twilight Zone cookbook. “Kinda figured this was coming.”

And then Bucher acknowledged the distinct possibility that he has stepped into a pile of, um, trouble. “I’m probably violating some sort of policy just by telling you,” Bucher wrote. “In any case, stay tuned.”

Bucher also explained his understanding of the contours of the policy. “My guess is I can still tweet about my vacation/car shopping, etc. Which I will do, if I can. But the informal NBA talk is prob in jeopardy.”

This policy demonstrates the concern that big media companies have regarding the extent to which their products will become undermined by Twitter feeds that cannot now -- and likely never will be -- monetized. With ESPN employees like Chris Mortensen and (as of August 17) Adam Schefter posting regular NFL updates on their Twitter feeds, people might decide simply to follow them on Twitter, and to never visit ESPN’s on-air or online properties.

Frankly, we think that the different forms of media can be harmonized. We use Twitter as different type of RSS feed, with a headline and a link sent out to anyone who chooses to follow the PFT updates. And while we supplement the stream of story links by from time to time adding Twitter-only observations and other stuff (such as last week’s “debate” with Chad Ochocinco), the main purpose of our Twitter page is to get our links to every story onto the computer screens of as many readers as possible.

The danger for companies like ESPN is that there are more writers and personalities than there is content to push. So, as a practical matter, the Twitter page of each ESPN on-air and/or dot-com personality can become something that a reader chooses to follow as an alternative to the stuff for which ESPN gets paid.

Thus, the new ESPN policy seems to compel ESPN employees who are posting substantive sports-related information to do so in a manner that advances the ESPN agenda of getting as many people as possible to visit and/or tune in to one of the many ESPN television networks, which in turn allows ESPN to make as much money as possible.

(Since I’ve owned Disney stock for ten years and counting, I fully support the new policy.)

Still, this means that there will no longer be breaking news from ESPN talent on Twitter, and that at most we’ll get teasers with links to stories and/or an invitation to tune in to SportsCenter for more information.

UPDATE: Though the specific details aren’t clear, a Tuesday night tweet from Schefter confirms that things will be changing. “Have seen ESPN’s new Twitter guidelines,” Schefter says. “And I now have no choice. Before I start there Aug. 17, I must check myself into Twitter rehab.”

SECOND UPDATE: Here are the official ESPN social network guidelines.

THIRD AND FINAL UPDATE: Kenny Mayne of ESPN apparently has signed off from Twitter in the wake of the policy. “Was informed 2nd hand of Taliban-like decree against further Twitter,” Mayne said. “I leave noting that I am a fan of Fiona Apple.”