This post originally appeared in my blog, Trackside, on the website of The Herald newspaper, www.heraldnet.com. I’ve been gone from the paper for a while now, and my old articles are harder and harder to dig up out of the archives. Therefore, I’ve pulled this one out. It was originally published on Monday, July 20, 2009
Last Friday NASCAR announced the members of the Citizens Media Journalist Corpswith these words: “This group of new media consists of a range of professional and amateur experience covering NASCAR. One common theme is that each site is dedicated to providing information about NASCAR to a growing readership.”When I got this press release I was sitting in the media trailer at Pacific Raceways covering the NHRA Northwest Nationals. There were several sportswriters, including a few who also cover NASCAR, and NHRA team media relations reps in the trailer so there was some discussion about the merits of this plan.The consensus from the assembled group was that giving media credentials to “fan Web sites or publications,” run by people with no journalism training was a bad move, a mistake of epic proportions, a decision that NASCAR shouldn’t have made and will soon regret.
Having no journalism training myself, I decided to sit quietly in the corner chair that I had been assigned as clearly the least important member of that august delegation.
But then one of them said something that really caught my attention – “We argued with NASCAR against it…” Now, I’m not sure if the “we” was meant to encompass a loose grouping of NASCAR beat writers or just that particular writer’s publication, but the implied arrogance of that statement saddened me.
And once again, I realized that the problem with the so-called professional media today isn’t that people don’t read anymore, or that TV, the Internet and video games have made everyone instant-gratification junkies.
It’s that folks inside “traditional media” have for too long determined what’s important by deciding what people should see, read or hear. That may have worked before the Internet, but once the average person discovered the Web they also discovered there was a world of information that they weren’t getting from the “traditional” media sources.
Auto racing is a good example, but not the only one. There are thousands of sport and team-related Web sites and blogs. I have often joked with people that “I live on the Web” because my writing rarely gets into the actual paper, but the truth is the audience I’m trying to reach gave up a long ago trying to find local auto racing news in the printed newspaper.
In one breath, these grizzled sportswriters I was stuck with decried the concept of the Citizen’s Media Corps, in the next they bemoaned the fact that for this year’s Daytona 500 two-thirds of the press room was empty because of cutbacks in the “traditional media.”
Rather than accept the fact that what they’re doing isn’t working — covering races by watching from the press room the same network TV feed that people are getting at home — this group decided it is the media consumers who must be wrong.
Wrong to not realize that what they really wanted was what this group of professional journalists was serving up, and not something different or fresh.
I knew NASCAR races were covered from the press room by watching the TV feed — let’s face it, the tracks are generally too large and the action too spread out for the eyeball coverage I love with local short-track racing —but I was surprised that the NHRA, with all the action in one place at one time, was covered the same way.
Even more surprising was the role of the team and industry PR reps who constantly flitted around the sportswriters, pitching ideas for stories and offering interview chances. They all introduced themselves, but quickly realized that as a local guy with a set story length, there wasn’t much point in investing a lot of time on me.
Tired of sitting in the air-conditioned trailer, having results and food brought in (I suspect the NHRA wanted to keep the sportswriters full and sluggish), I made several trips outside into the heat and noise of Pacific Raceways. I wandered through Nitro Alley and the pits of some of the local and regional racers, and bluffed my way into a reserved viewing area to watch the pros make some qualifying runs.
That got me to wondering when was the last time one of these grizzled veteran journalists had wandered into the grandstands or under them, to see what fans were doing or talking about.
Or, better yet, when was the last time one of these highly-paid, greatly experienced professionals had ventured out to a local track to see grass-roots racing — sprints, legends, late-models, motocross, drifting, demo derby, figure-8s, midgets, car club drags, asphalt, dirt or whatever.
There is no cheering in the press box, but that doesn’t mean sportswriters should go out of their way to isolate themselves from the sport or its fans. Everyone has a story to tell, and I can tell you from experience not every story would make great reading, but finding those that do can be great.
I’m not sure whether NASCAR’s Citizens Media Corps idea is good or bad, or will work or not. I do know that there is a lot of information out there, and even before the size of newspapers shrunk it wasn’t all going to fit. I applaud NASCAR for bowing to the inevitable and for trying something different.
I welcome my fellow non-professional journalists because I think the boat is big enough for all of us. I would only remind them that their enthusiasm and interest for the sport got them here — so don’t start slacking now
As for those salty, grizzled and pessimistic veterans from the media trailer, let me just pass on a quote that one of my Navy commanding officers was very fond of: Lead, follow or get out of the way.