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I had several ideas for column topics this week, but when midnight Wednesday rolled around, I knew I had to abandon those options and focus on the painfully obvious: the coaching search at UT.

That’s because at just past midnight Wednesday morning, yet another seemingly unbelievable rumor surfaced, this time being reported by a Memphis TV station.

Twitter exploded. Tweet after tweet echoed the outrageous claim:

This report alleged UT had offered Jon Gruden the head coaching job, and that part of the offer would give Gruden “a piece of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, who were recently bought by Jimmy Haslam III, one of UT’s biggest boosters.”

Later Wednesday, the report was denied by the Browns and by Gruden on the Mike and Mike in the Morning podcast.

But despite a denial, the rumors continued to swirl; in fact, they swelled.

We posted a story on knoxnews.com about that rumor and the denials, but regardless, that story became our most popular story. In fact, it became the most popular story on all of the Scripps newspaper sites around the country for a solid 6 hours.

It was a non-story, but it trumped actual newsworthy articles. It was more read than the story about the Powerball increase to $550 million — which online producer Dave Goddard found surprising.

"It’s like people care more about Tennessee football than $550 million," he said.


(Photo by Amy Smotherman-Burgess/KNS)

But why SO MUCH hype?

OK, listen. As I say in my column, which I realize is bound to offend at least some people, I wish I could stage an intervention. With Tennessee fans.

The continuous hype and never-ending rumors have gotten to me, and to many others, I’m sure. Frankly, I just don’t understand it.

As if the bogus Memphis report wasn’t bad enough, here are some of the other “Grumors” circulating:

  • Jon Gruden sightings: Name a place in Knoxville, and I’m certain someone has claimed to have spotted Gruden there in the last 2 weeks
  • High school tours: Tons of message board posts claim that Gruden and his sons have been touring local schools. There was even an undated, typo-ridden acceptance letter circulating on Twitter.
  • Building an all-Vol staff: Many people have claimed that “sources” have told them Gruden is building an all-Vol dream team comprising former assistant coaches from across the county.

Trying to understand the mania

My reasoning is that no matter what fans say or do, or know or don’t know, it’s not going to change the decision making. Dave Hart will decide what and when he wants — and then we’ll all know. So what’s the obsession really about?

Granted, I’m not a Knoxville native. I’ve lived here for just shy of 2 years, so I’ve got a lot to learn. So, in an effort to understand this mania, I reached out to a couple of colleagues and a good friend to help.

  • It’s the escapism of it. SEC football is such a huge part of Southern culture. And people here grew up either without a pro team or without a real attachment to pro team, so the Vols were it. The Vols were theirs. The obsession with all things Vols, and with the coaching search, comes down to pride. They want to be wanted, and they really don’t want to be rejected, especially by a guy like Gruden. The hype, though intense, is bonding and widespread, a kind of “regional glue.” - Dave Goddard, News Sentinel

  • A coaching change is seen as a fresh start, and Gruden is seen as the savior who can get Tennessee back to the golden days. He’s so hugely popular. And the Gruden possibility seems real this time; last time it was rumored but never really taken seriously. Now, it’s in sight — and fans think “the magical, golden boy Gruden” will come to save the day. - Mike Strange, News Sentinel

  • With no bowl game and no real recruiting happening until the regime change, the football team that these fans think about every minute of every day of the year is now ground to a halt. The radio silence is making everybody exceptionally crazy. And Gruden is really famous, and has a Super Bowl ring, and is heavily sought after every year. I think Tennessee fans are looking for a sign that we’re still “good enough.” We haven’t had a reason to feel worthy in a long time. - Wil Wright


(Jon Gruden in 2002. AP photo)

A very real downside

Well, some might ask, what’s wrong with a little hysteria? It may be annoying, but is it really hurting anyone?

The truth is, the hype really could come with some consequences.

Strange and Wright both made the same point: By continuing to make such a huge deal, especially surrounding Gruden, fans are setting themselves up for a monumental disappointment if he doesn’t come.

"The coaching announcement is going to come like a surprise hammer to the face if it isn’t Jon Gruden, because it reads like one more loss. Even if we get a Jimbo Fisher or Charlie Strong or some other totally capable and exciting coach,” Wright said.

My plea to Tennessee (fans)

Passion is great, but this obsession is a bit much. I wish we would all do a few things.

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Take a few steps back.
  3. Take a grain of salt with every single thing you hear, ESPECIALLY on social media.

Social media as a game changer

As my friend Wil Wright put it, “This is our second coaching change in the golden age of social media, and it changes the conversation entirely.”

Now, with Twitter and Facebook as ubiquitous as they are, the rumors spread father, wider and much faster. Instead of the rumor mill being mostly contained to message boards, which are frequented by the usual suspects, the ceaseless speculation is open for all to see. And see. And see.

But so often, the speculation is nothing but completely fabricated wishes. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve seen random people tweet about Coach So-and-So and UT a “done deal.” “It’s official.” “Will be announced today.”

No. It won’t. Because it’s not true.

And even if something might have a shred of truth to it, you would never know because it’s drowned out by myriad falsehoods.

It’s never been easier to perpetuate rumors. Because for every credible information leak there are 50 believable but totally fabricated rumors and they all look the same on a cell phone,” Wright said.

Want to weigh in? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at WiseR at knoxnews dot com or on Twitter @rkwise.

At the time of my last Sandy post, I had no idea the storm would be as catastrophic as it turned out to be.

As I say in my column for this week, I’m no stranger to hurricanes as a Florida native. I’m also no stranger to the Northeast, as I lived in NYC for several years before moving to Knoxville. But when the two were forced together, and Sandy began to mercilessly batter the region, I didn’t quite know how to react.

What was really striking to me was the incredible stream of posts on social media that kept me abreast of what was happening, minute by minute. Twitter proved to be the most valuable source — between its special #Sandy hashtag page and individual updates from users.

The Wall Street Journal wrote about the phenomenon — reporting that “the word ‘Sandy’ was mentioned 4.8 million times on various social-media sites Monday, up from 1.9 million times Sunday.” Instagram and Facebook saw a lot of activity, too, with “10 pictures per second being posted with the hashtag #sandy.”

After the hurricane finally left the region, the updates continued. Still, I’m riveted by the kinds of details I’m finding through social media, days after the storm has left. Tons of incredibly powerful photos and videos; firsthand accounts of things I wouldn’t otherwise know. It’s seemingly never-ending, and it’s so heartbreaking.

(Here is an interesting look at how to best use Twitter to track a story or event.)

Here are some of the most interesting Sandy-related things I’ve seen on Twitter, just today:

  • Time lapse video of the 48 hours when Sandy was hitting NYC 
  • Incredible photos of the devastation from TIME
  • NYTimes: Homeland Security Sec. Napolitano says area devastated by storm is “roughly the size of Europe.” 
  • Striking before-and-after photos of the horrible aftermath
  • ConEd's tweet: “We expect to have lower/mid Manhattan back by tomorrow evening and the vast majority of all customers back by Nov. 1”

—-

Some of the photos that have come from this storm have been truly remarkable. I’m not sure if it’s affected me more than the average person outside of the area, but when I see those images, it really gets to me. I think about my time living there, and I can actually visualize exactly where the devastation is. My empathy is through the roof for the people affected.

But one of the most frustrating things has been the misinformation that has spread in the wake of this disaster.

I first noticed it Monday, as the storm was approaching the U.S., and I was not alone. Photos started cropping up that seemed a little too outrageous to be true — and that’s because some were, which I touch on in my last #trending post. (The fakes were outed fairly quickly, like here and here.)

But what later happened was even more egregious. Twitter user @ComfortablySmug began tweeting false information about conditions in New York City as the storm began to impact the city. 

He tweeted that Con Edison had begun to shut down power to all of Manhattan; that Gov. Cuomo was trapped; that the MTA was shutting down the subways for the entire week. 

People caught wind of this and, rightfully so, were rattled. The misinformation spread fast, and even though it was disputed by the people and agencies themselves, it was too late. Unnecessary panic set it, and an already chaotic situation was made worse.

BuzzFeed in an effort to unveil the ‘Twitter villain,’ unmasked the formerly anonymous user. The man, they found, was “Shashank Tripathi the campaign manager of Christopher R. Wight, this year’s Republican candidate for the U.S. House from New York’s 12th Congressional District.”

He later apologized for what he had done and resigned as campaign manager.

—-

Last year, at the annual Online News Association conference (which I regularly attend), there was a session called “B.S. Detection for Digital Journalists,” aimed at showing some of the best practices for verifying user-submitted information found online.

While many of these tips were industry specific, here are some that could be used to help the average user better detect if something’s real or fake.

  1. Check someone’s credibility: If someone tweets something you’re skeptical of, check how long they’ve been tweeting. A brand new account could signal trouble.
  2. Also, how often does that person tweet, and what else do they tweet about? Who are they following and vice versa? Use your best judgment to see if someone seems like a reliable source.
  3. Check substantiated accounts for big news to see if it’s being reported elsewhere. If you just see it on one person’s feed, hold off on believing it.
  4. Google the person’s handle with “spam/spammer/scam” etc., to see if others have voiced complaints.
  5. For images, you can check the exif data to see if a photo has been manipulated. You can also check for edits made to a photo.

Those are just some simple and quick ways to verify info, but if you’re looking for more, here are two good resources, here and here.

(Photo above: The remains of a house destroyed by a storm surge due to Superstorm Sandy rests submerged in a flooded depression, Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, in the Staten Island borough of New York. AP)

The Tennessean published an interesting story today looking at the social media trends from last weekend’s two major music festivals in the state, Bonnaroo and the CMA Music Festival.

Not surprisingly, Twitter topped Facebook in terms of participation during the events:

Nearly 95 percent of all CMA Music Festival social media were in 140-character Tweets. At Bonnaroo, Twitter accounted for 91 percent of all mentions.

Using data analysis from Zehnder Communications, the story tracks the social media habits of concertgoers to show what they think and may buy. Having previously covered six Bonnaroos myself, these keywords didn’t shock me:

Bonnaroo’s most mentioned subjects, for instance: crowd, hippies, shower, sleep, beer, camping, mud.

Compare that to the CMA Music Festival. Top slang there: y’all, followed by ain’t, honey, ma’am, sugar, yonder and fixin’.

You can continue reading here.

Relive Bonnaroo 2012 here with our photos, videos and stories.

The 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee kicked off this morning, with its youngest competitor ever - Lori Anne Madison, 6, of Lake Ridge, Va. - and Hannah Jackson, 11, from Kingsport, Tenn.

You can follow the live updates from the Bee on these social media accounts:

Some of the brightest minds in social media in the country are coming to Knoxville Friday, April 27, 2012 for the second annual Social Slam!  - soslam.com


Social media professionals from around the world are arriving in Knoxville today for the second annual Social Slam social media conference, taking place at the Knoxville Convention Center downtown. 

Earlier this month, I spoke with SoSlam founder, keynote speaker and Knoxvillian, Mark Schaefer, for a brief conference preview you can read here.

The Twitter stream is already heating up in anticipation of the VIP party tonight and conference kickoff in the morning. You can follow the #SoSlam hashtag for updates from SoSlam tweeps.

In other thoughts, we’re wondering if the TBI will redact its tweets and close them to the public.

As the 2012 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival fast approaches, here are a few ways to follow our updates of the event:

@bonnaroonews
Knoxville.com
Bonnaroo board on Pinterest

No, it wasn’t a literal smackdown Tuesday night at Calhoun’s, but the verbal back-and-forth was plenty to feast on.

The Social Media Club Knoxville hosted its first “social media smackdown,” an event that promised to air out the differences among four of the most popular social networking sites: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+.

The panelists, from left to right, are Katie Granju, backing Facebook; Nicole Denton, supporting Pinterest; Rick Laney, advocating for Twitter; and Shane Rhyne, plugging Google+.

(The panelists, from left to right, are Katie Granju, backing Facebook; Nicole Denton, supporting Pinterest; Rick Laney, advocating for Twitter; and Shane Rhyne, plugging Google+.)

This week’s #trending column, which will appear in Sunday’s News Sentinel, talks about the smackdown and highlights each panelist presented in defending his/her site.

But for those of you who can’t wait to hear the details, I’ll outline some right here.

Facebook: Granju argued that Facebook is almost ubiquitous, “like the telephone now.” And in many ways, I agree. Facebook messaging, for example, has taken over as my primary way of contacting people I don’t talk to regularly.

If I want to share photos or links with the majority of my friends, I go to Facebook. Party invitations? Nope. Just invite people through Facebook. You can announce big life changes to all your contacts at once; you can group message; or you can even share info with a private group you’re a part of.

Moderator Chad Parizman, who’s the director of social and mobile for Scripps Networks Interactive, pointed out how “Facebook is the underpinning of access to other sites.” And that’s totally true. So many sites ask you to sign in via Facebook.

In a world where it’s easier than ever to lose touch with friends and family, I truly think Facebook helps bridge that gap in many cases.

(Find knoxnews on Facebook.)

Twitter: Laney started off by telling the crowd why Twitter is better than Facebook. “It’s faster … and concise,” he said. And with tweets 140 characters or less, it’s less content to “wade through,” he argues.

And that’s true. I think of Twitter, and often use it in this way, as a more developed RSS feed. I visit the site, where I’m following people whose feeds I find interesting, and I’m met with a stream of useful links, funny banter and interactions with followers.

I can send someone a private message, or a DM, and that’s great, too. I do find the 140-character limit in messages slightly more challenging, but it’s a good challenge. How often are we more verbose than necessary?

(Find knoxnews on Twitter.)

Pinterest: Pinterest, according to Denton, is “drastically different” from other SM sites. It “helps build a lifestyle,” she said.

It’s simple, so it doesn’t feel like you’re joining another social network. And it’s niche, so users are looking for specific things and following people who share those same interests.

Yes, it is most poplar with women 18-34, but it’s still early. On my account, for instance, I see more and more men cropping up.

One metaphor I liked came from Katie Granju, who said: Pinterest is like the iPad, mostly for consuming content and some content creation, whereas other sites are like a laptop, more about creating content and some consumption.

(Find knoxnews on Pinterest.)

Google+: Oh, Google+. The least visited of these four sites, and the newest, it’s still a work in progress.

Rhyne insisted Google+ is the best because he can filter content and mix business and personal with no problems. And it’s got a killer spam-blocking mechanism, he said, because a company/brand on G+ can’t follow a user unless that user follows it.

One important factor he noted was making sure your profile is filled out well. He said that’s key in determining the value of what you’re posting when users consider adding you to their circles.

(Find knoxnews on Google+.)

The verdict: While there was no official winner announced, the 40 or so attendees were polled after all was said and done. If you were to choose only one site to use from now on, they were asked, which would you most want?

Pinterest? No takers.

Google+? Three opted for it.

Twitter? Four hands rose.

And Facebook? An overwhelming number indicated Facebook would take the cake as the only network they’d need.

So, all things considered, it seemed to me that Facebook took top honors as MVS — most valuable site.