February 14, 2014

Note: This post is a spoiler-free zone.

UPDATE: The U.S.-Russia hockey game Saturday provided more examples of the good and the ugly. Here’s one from WGAL in Pennsylvania:

See @WSJbreakingnews and @washingtonpost tweets if spoilers don’t bother you.


I jumped into a Twitter discussion this afternoon about how the Chicago Sun-Times (where I used to work) is live-tweeting Winter Olympics results from Sochi hours before events air on prime-time in the U.S. on NBC.

Some people aren’t happy about what they consider spoilers:


Remember the #NBCFail hashtag two years ago? NBC apologized for spoiling a swimming competition result in a “Today” show promo before the event aired, which definitely seemed to cross a line. But what should news organizations do about the more free-wheeling Twitter, where expectations are very different?

In a 2012 Poynter chat, Ad Age’s Simon Dumenco called the inability to avoid spoilers online “sort of the pain of modern life.” Fair enough. It’s easy to find something more important to complain about. But it’s also easy to point Twitter users to a spoilerific story without including the spoilers in the tweet itself, as the NBC affiliate in Chicago — which probably has its own reasons for wanting to keep potential prime-time viewers happy — is doing:


Does news about the Olympics, shy of a terrorist attack or maybe a major injury to a prominent athlete, require breaking-news treatment? As New York Magazine’s Adam Martin writes, it “comes down to the issue of whether sports are news or entertainment.” It seems to me sports results have more in common with “Downton Abbey,” a TV shows news organizations would never haphazardly spoil, than information about a shooting. Democracy isn’t at stake here.


But whether Olympics results should be treated strictly as news or not, this seems to be an opportunity for news organizations to revel in being Twitter teases without getting pushback from readers. When else does click-bait serve the reader and not the news organization? Click-bait that withholds information usually acts as a frustrating barrier between readers and what they want to know. But withholding some information actually seems more attentive to reader needs when it comes to entertainment that most people can’t watch until later (NBC is live-streaming events during the U.S. workday online).

Besides, an irony is that readers might actually be more inclined to click a link if you’re coy about the results. And even if they don’t, at least you’re providing a choice and lowering the risk of engendering bad will.

Breaking News has been touting its own efforts to keep Sochi spoiler-free for its users. Three times as many users have activated the app’s mute function as have activated the app’s alert function, according to a blog post. That means they’ll remain blissfully clueless and won’t stumble across spoilers, provided they don’t visit Twitter, subscribe to alerts from other news outlets, or check out NBCNews.com itself before prime-time.


While Breaking News — which is owned by NBC, it must be said — is doing its part, plenty of other news organizations and individuals you follow will keep tweeting spoilers. So here’s an option besides going Twitter-dark until the Olympics end Feb. 23: Try a spoiler-blocking app like Spoiler Shield or Bloko, which were highlighted by The New York Times for viewers who don’t want to be spoiled by news outlets like, y’know, The New York Times.

And while you’re at it, you can block House of Cards spoilers, too.

Related: Breaking News app’s alerts can shout all day or stay out of your way

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Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor,…
Sam Kirkland

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