Why Whitlock and Twhitlock Shouldn’t Share a Twitter Account

March 28, 2011

Shortly before 10pm eastern time on Monday, as word began circulating that Matt Painter was considering leaving Purdue men’s basketball for a similarly situated Missouri team, FoxSports.com writer Jason Whitlock began tweeting some silliness:

Though even remotely sophisticated fans of the NCAA basketball scene recognized the lunacy of such a possibility. Whitlock himself pointed one of his victims out and kept the rouse going:

Finally, he took it a step further and incorporated one of the nation’s most famous and controversial coaches, Bob Knight:

I’ve followed Whitlock for at least a year now, and I get it. This is his brand, and he reminds readers (and ridicules them for missing) that there are two personalities: “Twhitlock and Whitlock,” – the journalist, and the entertainer/reactionary/regular guy.

The strategy has paid dividends. With more followers than five of my hometowns combined, in large part because of jokes like these, he’s driving clicks to his column, and legitimizing the FoxSports.com investment in him. For these reasons, plus a sprinkle of ego, Jason Whitlock won’t alter the way he does his thing.

But he should.

Fact is that Whitlock is a journalist, writing serious columns about serious issues like race and class in the gagillion dollar business that is professional and collegiate sports. In his industry, facts are sacred and credibility is all a good writer has. It is popular and it is successful, but Whitlock’s existence in the space between sarcasm and willful misdirection is unethical. Just because it’s a joke, that doesn’t mean people will get it, including your editors. Just ask Mike Wise.

Perhaps more importantly, Twitter isn’t context friendly. Tweet streams come to phones and computer screens fragmented. Streams of consciousness do not flow nicely together. A joke can be separated from its clarification substantially enough by other followed tweets that the truth is never seen. Knowing the medium is as important as knowing how the audience consumes via that medium, and Whitlock fails to recognize his responsibility to do either. Worse, he ridicules people who don’t take the time to understand what it all means.

Dude, it’s Twitter. It’s 140 characters. It’s not about taking time. It’s the opposite.

If it’s so important for Jason Whitlock to have a public Twitter account where the responsibilities that come with being a member of the media don’t apply, follow the model of Slate’s John Dickerson. For personal information, opinion and humor, you can follow John the person, or you can follow John the journalist for his job side. Like it or not, you can’t have it both ways on Twitter. A journalist in one public sphere is a journalist in every sphere unless there are CLEAR demarcations set forth.

I’m not going to stop following Whitlock, even if there is all the “Twhitlock” crap from time to time. He’s an important voice in sports media and he is often capable of providing a different approach to tired topics, but it’s time to draw the line. Fake news stories coming from real writers are unacceptable. End of story.