Social Media Insights: Twitter Aides in Exchange

The last seven days have certainly been memorable for everyone in State College. Last Sunday, we lost a coach, a mentor, and a legend. In the following days, we reminisced, we shed tears, and we comforted each other in our time of grief. As Penn Staters, we all know of the incredibly positive impact that Joe Paterno has had on our school and on our lives.

With this in mind, though, it is sometimes difficult to remember the permanent stain that the media placed on Paterno’s legacy. There aren’t many people who don’t know at least something about what happened at Penn State this past November. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has unfriended someone on Facebook because of a crude comment, or unfollowed someone on Twitter because of an inappropriate joke.

Some have said that the students of Penn State and other members of the State College community have a biased perspective and refuse to see the truth. But have these people ever thought that they might be doing the same thing from the other direction? Maybe they are only looking at the bad without including the good. I have tried to make the “outsiders” see my point of view as a Penn Stater, and I was recently helped by the dearly beloved website that we all know as Twitter.

Every Tuesday, Angie Taylor (@AngieTaylorSTL), a public relations professional located in St. Louis, hosts a Twitter chat called #SportsPRChat. She asks questions to guide discussion and participants discuss their opinions. This past week, her second question read, “In wake of Penn State scandal and Paterno’s death, how do you feel about the tone of media coverage of JoePa’s passing?”

After putting in my two cents as a PSU student, I read what everyone else had to say and, in the end, was pleasantly surprised. The angles discussed by different SportsPRChat participants varied from the amount the scandal was referenced in the media coverage of Paterno’s death to the way media outlets handled the initial reporting of the news.

Some participants criticized modern media, like Kim Lakner (@KimLakner24) from Akron, Ohio, who was “extremely sad to see how far journalism ethics have fallen in the recent past.” Andrew Phillips (@andrewophillips), also from Akron, also expressed his opinion that “the race to be first is getting ridiculous.” Most of the chat participants tended to agree with these sentiments.

Other participants believed that including the scandal was an absolute necessity in the reporting of Paterno’s death, but that it should not take away from the good that he did.  Corey Smith (@Core0Smith), a recent Drexel grad, said that “those saying put aside everything form the past few months are denying paterno’s new legacy.” A few participants, like “Big Dave” (@BigDavidMullins) from Auburn, added that “you often see media being respectful early on, but after a few weeks it gets back to the dark spots and scandals.”

Aside from the discussions about the inclusion of the scandal, though, many responses seemed to convey the idea that Paterno did, in fact, leave a positive impact on more than just Penn Staters. Brandon Franz (@bmitchelf), a student at Lehigh University, said he thought the “coverage has been just about right. He was a great coach that made a big mistake. Imagine if he died a few months ago.” Chris Kosmala(@ChrisKosmala), an account executive for LSU Sports Properties, expressed that he was “glad most are focusing on his whole career and life and not last few months” and called Paterno a great leader who “was very good to PSU.”

SportsPRChat participant Pam Chvotkin (@reddusfoximus) summed it up best, “Regardless [sic], any major public figure will have lovers and haters.” There never really will be a way for us to see Joe Paterno through the eyes of others, but there is a way to gain an insight into the perspectives of others. I must admit that I thought that most of the participants of this twitter chat would have negative opinions of Joe Paterno, simply because that’s what I am used to. I can also assume (and only assume) that they probably expected me to be a die-hard Penn Stater who hated all national media for vilifying the figure that most of us affectionately call JoePa.

I waa glad and fascinated all at once by the fact that Twitter can help us understand the true opinions of real people, rather than grouping them together with broad strokes as “Penn Staters” and “JoePa Haters.” I feel like I could have helped to change their opinion about us, and they definitely helped change mine. I no longer feel that everyone outside of Penn State views Paterno as a villain. In fact, more people seemed to see him as a good man than as a monster.

In today’s world, social media sites like Twitter truly change the way we view things and interact with others. Before making assumptions, take advantage of these tools that we have never had in the past to connect with people whom we may never have heard from. Don’t just follow your friends, and create an echo chamber. Seek out other opinions and respectful dialogue, and we can learn quite a bit.

SportsPRChat takes places on Tuesday nights at 9pm. Use the hashtag to check it out!

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