ST. BONAVENTURE, NY -- A touch-screen watch on the slim wrist of a panelist lit up, notifying him of a text message, or a tweet, or perhaps a breaking news story.
At the same time, audience members typed away, the sounds of their finger pads hitting keyboards muffled against the playful banter and thoughtful discussion happening onstage. With smartphones grasped firmly in their hands, they tweeted questions and observations using the hashtag #factsmatter.
And for anyone unable to attend, a man with a knack for video streamed the entire event live from the back of the auditorium.
A person didn't have to miss a second of the action if they didn't want to, but this hasn't always been the case. And with great technology comes great responsibility.
"Sometimes what's true on Monday at 10 o'clock in the morning is not true on Monday at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and that's the difficult part of our job," said Donna Ditota, a sports writer for the Syracuse Media Group. "You kind of have to always keep up with everything that's going on."
Ditota was one of four St. Bonaventure University journalism graduates who took part in a panel discussion titled "Facts Matter – A Look at the State of the Modern Sports Media" at Tuesday's biennial Dick Joyce Sports Symposium in the Rigas Theater of the Quick Center for the Arts at St. Bonaventure. One non-SBU graduate -- Bobby Marks, NBA Front Office Insider for Yahoo! Sports’ The Vertical – rounded out the panel, which addressed the challenges that accompany this new world of communication and how, with a now constant stream of information available, it can be difficult to discern fact from fiction.
Ditota, a native of Syracuse, spoke of the struggles that plague beat writers in today's age. From spotting rumors on Twitter to receiving frantic phone calls from misinformed fans, Ditota said she respects her profession and her duty to present the facts in their most truthful form by exercising a great amount of restraint.
"I think the way that you continue to be respected is that you write stuff when there's news," Ditota said. "You write when there's something happening. You don't chase—you don't write about rumors and you don't try to do too many speculative pieces."
Tim Bontemps, the NBA writer for The Washington Post, shared similar sentiments.
"The way the media environment is now, with the amount of fake news and inaccurate stuff that's out there in all walks of our profession, there still is value in being someone that's trusted and respected to do the job right," Bontemps said.
Moderator Adrian Wojnarowski, editor of The Vertical, noted that in spite of the plethora of fake news often spread by the misguided, sometimes it is the avid fan or observant passerby who gets it right.
"Our competition went from being each other and entities like Yahoo!, ESPN, The New York Post, The Washington Post, to somebody with a camera phone in a parking lot," Wojnarowski said. "The landscape has changed so much for all of us."
Denny Wilkins, professor of journalism, suggested the landscape has changed so much that it is threatening the job stability of sports reporters.
"Given that professional teams, college teams, and their players, and the leagues, and the conferences have so many independent ways to reach their audiences, why do you people still have jobs?" Wilkins asked.
His question was met with laughter from the panelists.
"It's a challenge every day," Wojnarowski said.
The other panelists, Mike Vaccaro, New York Post lead sports columnist, and Marks offered similar insights into their experiences in the ever-changing world of journalism and encouraged the Bonaventure students in the audience to have hope despite the challenges they will face in today’s job market.
"I had a pretty anxious summer following my senior year and collected rejection notices by the dozen," Vaccaro said. "But of all the ‘No’s’ you receive, it only takes one 'Yes,' and then you're started and you're on your way."
The Joyce Symposium honors the memory of the late Dick Joyce, a 1960 SBU graduate who had been a sports writer for The Associated Press.
As part of the symposium, the John Domino Award was presented to Ditota at a dinner Monday evening. The award honors a St. Bonaventure graduate who has excelled in his or her sports journalism position. It is named for Domino, who graduated from St. Bonaventure in 1984 and worked for NBC Sports, ESPN and the Empire Sports Network before losing his battle with cancer in 1994.