The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

June 4, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Creating some news with a spin

MORGANTOWN — Over in the Coliseum, John Antonik carries the title of “Director of New Media” in the West Virginia University Mountaineers sports information office, although to the public he is better known simply as an author.

Antonik most recently has penned the books “The Backyard Brawl,” which is a rich history of the now obsolete rivalry between West Virginia and Pitt, and “The West Virginia University Football Vault,” a mixture of words and special effects that traces the history of the sport at the school.

There is another book floating around inside his rather fertile mind, but that full-time job that keeps him busier than a Bob Huggins recruiter has been this offseason hasn’t allowed him time to get to it.

When Antonik entered the sports information business — and he is a good bit beyond the Clearasil age but hardly what anyone would refer to as a dinosaur — the job was mainly to write press releases, keep statistics and attend the rubber chicken circuit to hear coaches telling the same old stories over and over.

No longer.

In today’s Twitter world the job has become a 24-hour-a-day multimedia information marathon in which Antonik, and through him, the entire sports information staff, supplies an endless stream of propaganda via the written word and video.

And, yes, it is propaganda — news with a spin.

This has changed not only the sports information business, but also the media business and produced a different kind of sports fan.

“The fans today are more informed than they’ve ever been,” Antonik noted.

Indeed they are, the school now in direct contact with them via its websites and through Twitter and Facebook, all of it for free ... at least for the present.

The releases that always were put out through the media — news items such as so-and-so being named All-American — and feature stories are there, but they are written with the twist the school wants to put on it, not what the media want to emphasize.

A story on an athlete who has just signed might well ignore a prior run-in with the law in the school version while it may be featured in the media report. One suspects G. Gordon Gee’s comments about Notre Dame were handled differently by the Ohio State website and The Columbus Dispatch.

The school, through Antonik, not only gets out its own information but it can promote it and its events through social media.

In the past the school was at the mercy of an editor at a newspaper as to if a release would get into the paper and how much of it would get it.

“We used to have to be real creative how we wrote things just so it got to the news desk and they looked at it,” Antonik said. “If you got the first paragraph you wrote in the newspaper, you thought it was a pretty good achievement. Today, if the newspaper doesn’t have room for it, we can still get it out there for people to see.”

They still want the newspapers and radio and television stations to use their news, they just aren’t tied to that being the only way to get it out short of their own nightly radio show.

Being able to reach the public directly is a blessing, but it also has some dangers attached to it.

“In this day and age, as a communicator, you have to be very careful how you communicate your message, particularly with Twitter and Facebook,” Antonik said. “People do not understand sarcasm on Twitter and Facebook. If you are going to do something, you better do it clearly and concisely and leave the sarcasm out. If you think you are being funny and clever, maybe people don’t get it.

“I have to be very conscious and careful of how I present things on Twitter.”

Being in control of how sports are publicized puts Antonik on a tightrope because he has so many masters to please, even within the department.

“I have a whole list of things people want done. I have a balancing act. If I’m writing about one particular sport, I’ll have a couple of other coaches come in and say, ‘How about us?’” Antonik said.

Of course, if it is football, it comes first.

“The football page has 123,000 followers,” he noted, while pointing out that some of the other sports have only a couple of thousand. “When we streamed signing day in football, we had 35,000 people watching that.

“We have found out that if we have a picture of Oliver Luck, Dana Holgorsen, Bob Huggins, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey or Geno Smith on the website front, it will be read,” Antonik continued.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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