Conor McGregor, 66 characters and the media

BY ELPIN KESHISHZADEH @ELPIN_KZ

MANAGING EDITOR, SPORTSPR.COM

Update: As of a few hours ago, Conor McGregor released an official statement on his Facebook page explaining the motives behind his infamous tweet. In summary, he ends his statement with “I AM NOT RETIRED.”

The takeaway? Check your sources. Do your research. Wait for the facts. As many speculated, there was much more to McGregor’s tweet than a quick and simple retirement. There is always more to the story. Especially more than 66 characters. 

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The way we create and consume media has changed. Citizen journalism is taking over in the digital age and traditional publications are trying to keep up, altering the way they release, write and research stories. Big news stories like the Boston Marathon bombing were first reported with pictures and live commentary on social media long before anything official was put out.

This new reality is forcing larger publications to go to new lengths to keep their competitive edge. At times, the rush to be first can compromise quality, ethics and even the basic factual elements in a story. In the long run, it’s better to publish quality stories than to rush with the hype, but this doesn’t always translate well to clicks and shares.

The confusion over how and when to report news was in full effect yesterday, after Conor McGregor ignited a media storm with one short Twitter post.

The UFC featherweight champion tweeted: “I have decided to retire young. Thanks for the cheese. Catch ya’s later.”

Naturally, this unleashed reaction from fans, officials and journalists. Given McGregor’s recent drama with UFC, it didn’t take long for speculation to pour in about this being a power play, while others believed it to be a publicity stunt with the participation of UFC.

Whatever the meaning behind McGregor’s tweet, speculation and opinion should remain just that: speculation and opinion. Yet, numerous headlines about McGregor’s “retirement” could be found, including:

“Conor McGregor: UFC star has ‘decided to retire young.’”

“Conor McGregor Retires: Latest News, Rumors And Analysis on UFC Star’s Shocking Tweet.”

“Conor McGregor’s Last Night in the Octagon.”

Similar misleading headlines began to fill the twittersphere, opening the floodgates to commentary from fans, officials and even his former opponent, Nate Diaz. Meanwhile, not a single official source could confirm his retirement.

McGregor’s “apparent retirement” news isn’t a singular occurrence.

It’s not to say traditional outlets shouldn’t report his tweet -- he did say it, but with zero confirmation on his retirement, we shouldn’t get news mixed up with social commentary.

There are so many holes in McGregor’s tweet: When is “young?” When is his last fight? Is he serious?

A few publications did do it right, however, and those are important to note:

ESPN made things crystal clear for its readers in two simple sentences:

UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor will not fight Nate Diaz at UFC 200 on July 9 in Las Vegas. Whether he will fight again period remains a question.

And USA Today covered its bases with an official commentary from Martin Rogers in a headline that read “Rogers: What to make of Conor McGregor’s apparent retirement and drama with UFC.”

Since social media is shaping how we consume news, we often see sensational headlines in a thinly-veiled effort to generate more clicks, shares and views.  Unfortunately, this phenomenon also contributes to a growing media landscape overrun with misinformation, rumors and outright untruths.

Twenty-four hours later, McGregor’s left-field tweet generated more than 150,000 retweets and 120,000 likes — an outcome sensational and newsworthy on its own. So, before drawing definite conclusions, let’s ask more questions instead of pretending to know what something as vague as a tweet means.