Millions hear Adam Schefter almost every day on ESPN and follow him on twitter as he talks and tweets all things NFL, but few times do fans ever get to hear the Long Island native talk about his thoughts not on the NFL, but on media in general, and his amazing growth in using the social space to communicate with a global fan base on a daily basis.
For those who don’t follow the NFL that closely, Schefter joined ESPN as an NFL Insider in August 2009 and appears on a variety of programs, including NFL Insiders, NFL Insiders: Sunday Edition, NFL Live, Sunday NFL Countdown, Monday Night Countdown, SportsCenter and more throughout the year. He also contributes regularly to other platforms, such as ESPN.com and ESPN Radio, and is part of the company’s annual NFL Draft and Super Bowl week coverage.
Before joining ESPN, the man many regard as one of the top reporters in the industry, especially when it comes to breaking news, was a reporter/analyst for NFL Network (2004-08) and a sportswriter for the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News for more than 15 years, where he covered the NFL and the Denver Broncos. A former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, he has authored four books.
However his biggest influence today is in the social space, especially when it comes to breaking news. Sports Illustrated’s NFL site, The MMQB, named him the 2014 Media Person of the Year and in February 2014, he was named “the most influential New Yorker on Twitter,” according to data from social media company PeerIndex. This past week Cynopsis named him their 2015 Sports Media Personality of the Year, and that’s where we got to glean a few tidbits from the University of Michigan grad on his relationship with the fans, his use of twitter and where he places the most importance in his reporting.
-Be first and accurate: During his talk at the New York Athletic Club, Schefter repeated talk about the value of being both first on news, and more importantly being accurate when being first, even with the pressures of social media to beat others to the punch. The news he breaks is his own, and he cited an early-on example of following the lead of another long-time reporter, retweeting what he believed without checking to be accurate information on the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year selection. A retweet had him telling his millions of followers (it is now over 4.4 million) that Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers was winning the award, when in fact moments later the official announcement came and it was Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Schefter said it was a lesson learned that even the best in a rush to be first can take a misstep, and his accuracy in NOT retweeting others and forming his own opinion with his own sources s what makes the difference for him now.
-Outwork others to the news: While his work needs to be his own, Schefter was clear in pointing out that his passion, and his success, is in building relationships, personal and fair relationships, that will get him news fast and first in addition to being accurate. The social space has turned his business into a 24/7 platform, and his constant contact with influencers in football, be that by phone, text or in person, is what has made him so successful. He takes pride in not relying on others and hiding behind the wall of email and social media to forge his own opinions, relationships and trusted sources, and that network helps him build a daily, and sometimes hourly, narrative of success.
-Adapt to the platform of growth: A veteran newspaper reporter, Schefter has a full grasp of the power of social media, and his transition in effectively using the space to break news has been impressive. He has mastered the mix of broadcast and the social space and understands where fans can get their news first these days; in short accurate bursts that tell the story quickly and succinctly. The media landscape will continue to adapt into a mobile environment, and he had a cautionary tale for broadcast platforms slow to adapt to TV everywhere “TV today is where newspapers were 15 years ago.” He has helped lead his current employer ESPN, into a social-first world, and that work has helped move “The Worldwide Leader” into better grasping the notion of being a “360 degree communicators,” namely offering news to their followers on whatever platform they consume news on.
-Appreciate the value of the fans: While he was careful to point out that he didn’t focus too much about having a successful relationship with followers/viewers, he did say that the engagement in the social space with his followers can sometimes be therapeutic. He cited a recent example of his fantasy play falling apart, like many others, with the Baltimore Ravens improbably last second win over the Cleveland Browns two weeks ago, and he took to twitter to bemoan his point’s loss. The response from Browns fans, and others, was humorous and unique and reminded him that the value of being authentic can be very valuable, even in the most trivial of moments for many. His biggest value to his followers is to be as fair and productive in my job as possible. If the followers and viewers appreciate that, that’s justification to continue what you are doing. That, ultimately, is all you can really do.
-Be well read, be able to express in writing: Once again a key to success that Schefter brought up is depth of knowledge and the ability to communicate news in the written word. No matter how many advances there are in technology, the ability to understand the business side of sports and where the media business is evolving keeps him ahead of the curve and focused. Taking that focus and transforming it into a written declarative, even a tweet that is effective, is also his key to success. Clarity, and well versed accuracy remain simple but very effective tools when cutting through the clutter and gaining an edge in any hyper-competitive business.
Be fair, be accurate and be able to adapt to the medium. Smart and simple advice from one of ESPN’s brightest stars.