Most of the time, the Twitter feed of a local news station is just headlines and stories from their website. That’s also the case for WMAQ-TV in Chicago, a NBC owned-and-operated local station (channel 5) that uses the @NBCChicago Twitter handle. But that Twitter handle has now produced two odd things in a week. Last week, it was a “Tom Brady Cut His Retirement Short. If Other Workers Take His Cue, It May Reduce the Labor Shortage” tweet, a tweet that got so much blowback it was eventually deleted. We’ll talk about that more below, but let’s get to their latest and greatest hit, “White Sox Releasing Tim Anderson Documentary.”
Putting “release” or “releasing” in a headline about a documentary is dangerous in sports, as that’s usually used for when a team cuts a player. And the particular phrasing here went exactly like it would if they had cut the player. In the case of Anderson, the star 28-year-old shortstop who hit .309/.338/.469 last year and produced 4.3 wins above replacement (by Fangraphs’ calculation), a release would have been outrageous; it makes much more sense that they’re putting out a documentary on him. But the phrasing of this headline got many to think the other way for a moment, and as shown in the screenshot at top, that looked particularly bad on Twitter’s mobile app, with “documentary” orphaned on an additional line. And this got some good reactions:
— Erik Malinowski (@erikmal) March 21, 2022
— alex (@alexnichols11) March 21, 2022
— CubFanMike (@Cams322Mike) March 21, 2022
The first line of this tweet about made me shit, glad there was a second.
— JB (@BearsFan5186) March 21, 2022
On one level, this can be pointed at as just “That’s what happens when your Twitter feed just autotweets story headlines.” But the real issue here is the headline. There were plenty of ways to relay this news about the documentary series (TA7: The Story of Tim Anderson, a five-part series airing on the club’s YouTube channel) that couldn’t possibly be read as the team releasing the player. In fact, the story on the NBC Chicago site references that it originated with their linked RSN NBC Sports Chicago, which ran it under a much less confusing headline of “‘He’s traveled a long road’: Sox produce Anderson doc.” (NBC Sports Chicago has had their own recent autotweet headline issues, though.) But even the NBC Chicago headline would have been fine with plenty of other wording options: “White Sox Premiering Tim Anderson Documentary,” “White Sox Debuting Tim Anderson Documentary,” or even “White Sox Releasing Documentary On Tim Anderson.”
And, interestingly enough, last week’s “Tom Brady Cut His Retirement Short. If Other Workers Take His Cue, It May Reduce the Labor Shortage” tweet kerfuffle was also an issue of a headline. That was for a syndicated CNBC story tying Brady’s decision to return to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to larger trends of people leaving retirement to return to the workforce. The story remains on the NBC Chicago website with an unaltered headline, and it remains on the CNBC website with that headline as well.
But the still-up CNBC tweet of that story used a different text of “Other retirees could take Tom Brady’s cue and return to the workforce,” which is also the page URL/title of that story at CNBC. That doesn’t improve the already-not-great story (no one really needed an attempt to relate a millionaire NFL player deciding to come back for another year to retirement trends of vastly-dissimilar people), but it sparked less critical reaction. A week later, their tweet has four retweets, 24 quote tweets, 18 likes and a bunch of replies, but nowhere near the volume of critical reactions the NBC Chicago tweet saw before it was deleted. So it’s interesting that both CNBC and NBC Chicago used the same headline, but CNBC’s social media team went with a less-inflammatory alternate headline for the tweet, while NBC Chicago’s feed ran the main headline and got a lot of criticism as a result.
Anyway, these sorts of things certainly happen, especially with feeds that just tweet out headlines. But that is a reminder of the importance of being careful with headlines, especially if you know they get autotweeted. (And there, with so many people looking at it on mobile, it’s worth considering if a shortened version of your headline that appears on the first line in mobile might drastically change its meaning.) And it’s certainly interesting to see NBC Chicago wind up with two tweets like this in the span of a week.
[Screenshot taken by author]