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ESPN Muscles in on Staff Tweets

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One of the best things about following celebrity Twitterers is their candor -- or at least, the illusion of it -- but at ESPN, that open approach to Twitter is going away.

Last night, NBA writer and analyst Ric Bucher tweeted that he received a company memo "prohibiting tweeting info unless it serves ESPN." Bucher guessed that he could still talk about vacation and other personal matters, but "the informal NBA talk is [probably] in jeopardy."

ESPN told the New York Times that Bucher misinterpreted the memo, which The Big Lead obtained in full, but there's no denying that the sports media giant wants to wrest control over how its employees use social networking. Permission to talk about sports on sites like Twitter and Facebook must be sought beforehand, and personal blogs and Web sites about sports aren't allowed under the new policy.

"The first and only priority is to serve ESPN sanctioned efforts, including sports news, information and content ... If you wouldn't say it on the air or write it in your column, don't tweet it," the memo reads in part.

More importantly, the company doesn't want its staff talking about how a story was reported, hinting ab

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out upcoming stories or discussing internal policies. That's fair and rational -- most employers wouldn't be happy to see unauthorized tweets about the company -- but those peeks under the hood are a big part of what makes Twitter alluring.

I follow other writers and journalists on Twitter, and their thoughts on interviewees and the work that went into their stories are far more interesting than discussion of their personal lives. It's also enjoyable to see reporters and sources, or two competing publications, enjoy a little playful banter on Twitter, because it humanizes all involved. Under ESPN's new policy, I can't imagine conversations would be allowed between reporters for ESPN and Sports Illustrated, or even between Bucher and Shaq.

Along with yesterday's news that Twitter is selling out to people who want to advertise, perhaps this is the beginning of the end of open, honest communication on Twitter.

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