If the last week on #SunsTwitter has proven anything it’s that rumors, no matter how uncredible the source is, spread faster than a case of lice at a daycare. It also taught us, present company included, that there is a power to Twitter and, no matter how ridiculous it is, a sense of responsibility that comes with it as well.
It got me thinking. What does it take for some of the biggest and most credible names that cover or have covered the Suns to build sources, get a story and make sure said story is true before hitting send on a tweet or publishing a story and what happens if they get it wrong?
John Gambadoro has been in the Valley for over two decades providing analysis and inside information like none other. He’s earned a reputation for being one of the most trusted sources for breaking Suns news. Think of him as the Bill Nye The Science Guy of Phoenix sports. He knows everything and is here to explain it to you.
So how did he get the inside track on info?
“It’s going to the games. It’s being accountable. It’s being there,” Gambadoro said. “You know, I’m not a beat writer who’s required to be at every game. I’m a talk show host that has the ability to go home and watch every game on T.V., but I don’t. I go to the games, because I want the people in the organization to know I’m going above and beyond to cover their team.
“If it means I get home at 11 o’clock at night a couple days a week, then I get home at 11 o’clock at night. I just want them to know that I’m there. And then when you’re there, you develop relationships with players and coaches and GMs and owners and everybody in the organization.”
Ed.Note (Dave): Gambo doesn’t just hang out at games. He talks to people. He makes connections with folks up and down the food chain. There are a handful of guys and gals who cover every game too, including myself, who don’t make nearly the connections that Gambo does. He deserves credit for more than just being there.
Scott Bordow, the current Suns beat writer for the Arizona Republic, is no stranger to the Valley either having been a columnist and reporter for decades. Despite only having been on the hometown basketball beat for a season, he’s already a trusted and reliable source on the team. He credits that to hard work and getting to know those he covers.
“Building relationships is a key. Players, coaches and GMs aren’t going to confide in you or provide information if you haven’t worked to establish a base level of trust and fairness,” Bordow shared. “Second, I think it’s important to be around as much as possible. The only way to develop those relationships is to be at practices, to be at games. No GM is going to give out information to somebody he sees three times a year or rarely, if ever, talks to.”
Doug Haller found himself in an interesting position a few seasons ago. He had to take over the Suns beat midway through the season and wasn’t afforded the time it takes to cultivate sources like Bordow and Gambadoro.
“It definitely wasn’t ideal,” Haller said. “First day I met coach Earl Watson and GM Ryan McDonough. I talked with each for about 30 second then I was off and running. The good thing about the NBA is it’s a daily beat, so after a few weeks I think everyone felt more comfortable with me. Problem is: a lot of times you can break news through sources from around the league, and this is where I struggled. Those relationships are harder to build, and you can’t really do it in a few weeks, or even half a season.”
It’s one thing to build relationships and cultivate sources but how do you ensure that the information you are given is correct? There is a level of trust and a healthy dose of skepticism that helps.
For Bordow, it’s all about understanding who is giving you the information and finding a second source when necessary.
“A lot of that depends on the source, if it’s somebody who I know has knowledge of what he’s telling me about. For example, a GM is going to know if a trade is about to go down,” Bordow shared about his process. “A reporter in another city, no matter how well intentioned, might not have all the details. That’s why, in some cases, it’s always a good idea to get confirmation. Second, trust is imperative. If I trust the source to give me accurate information based on our dealings in the past, I’ll go with it.”
Each person handles their sources differently though. For Gambo, if he fully trusts the source providing the information he’ll tweet or go on air with the story without any additional confirmation.
“Many times, many times, you only need one source, because the source is so good,” Gambadoro said.
Haller’s process is all about digging deeper to understand if people really know what they’re saying or if it’s hearsay.
“I have to trust the source. I ask them, “How do you know this?” A lot of times people say they know something but the more you ask them about it, you realize they’re just repeating second- or third-hand information,” Haller shared. “I’ve had people contact me and tell me they saw the ASU quarterback getting handcuffed on Mill Avenue. I’ve had people tell me Vontaze Burfict was arrested after getting into a bar fight. In those cases, I checked with local police agencies and they had nothing. When something does check out, I write the story, then contact the team/school and let them know that I’m about to post a story and give them a chance to respond.”
Even with the best intentions and multiple sources, things can go sideways. Miscommunications can happen, things can change and information can turn out to just be flat out wrong. It’s all about keeping a healthy perspective if it does happen.
“When I have run something that didn’t turn out to be true – in this business, if you’re honest with yourself, that’s something that’s inevitable over the years – I’ve first chastised myself, agonized over it and then tried to make sure it never happened again,” Bordow said. ”It’s a cliché, but it’s true. I’d rather be right than first, especially today when scoops last for about 45 seconds on Twitter.”
To Bordow’s point, social media has drastically changed things for fans and media members alike. With more false or misconstrued information available at all hours of the day and night it’s made things confusing for the reader/listener and harder for those covering the teams.
“it’s frustrating because there’s so many people putting out so much information that is I think just incorrect,” Gambadoro said with frustration in his voice. “And Twitter can ruin your life. You know, unfortunately we have to chase a lot of that stuff that we think might have a snowball’s chance.”
Bordow understands the realities of the current media landscape and has adjusted his approach accordingly.
“Twenty years ago, getting “Scoops” was a big deal,” Bordow said. “Today, I’m much less worried about who gets what first. My job is to provide context and perspective, to write stories that you won’t see elsewhere – for example, the Devin Booker piece on the tribute he does for his godfather and grandmother when he steps onto the floor – and to do the dirty work, to be around the team every day reporting. I know scoops are “sexy” to some, but there are far more important responsibilities of my job.”
Ed. Note: Scott does a great job making sure what he shares is in proper context, as do Gambo and Doug Haller. Scott doesn’t try to beat the competition, though he does love that “breaking news” intro almost as much as Evan likes the word “alongside”. But when Scott shares it, you can bet he’s confirmed it for sure.
So the next time a Suns Twitter storm begins and the ensuing downpour may ruin your day, first consider the source of the information and the process that it takes to actually break a story the right way. If the original post seems suspect, go to your trusted sources, see what they’re tweeting and move on with your life.
There’s nothing worse than trusting a Cleveland business man and prepping for Kevin Love’s arrival only to find out you’ve been duped after you’ve order the jersey.