• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM: How could Kelli Stavast interview Helio Castroneves post-Fontana and NOT ask him about the pit entry penalty that ended his IndyCar championship chances?

Saturday, December 01, 2012

2012

How bleeping stupid do you think the Powers-That-Be think you are?

Look no further than what runs at the bottom-screen "ticker" that is supposed to provide scores, stats and legitimate breaking news:

"You are watching college football on ABC."

Geez, thanks. I thought I was watching a High Mass from the Vatican -- in Latin.

Why didn't ABC/ESPN just put up: "You are watching television."

That, sadly, is the way it's become in America, a dumbing-down of our society, culture and standards that continued on in a high-speed reverse year in 2012.

I blame government officials more interested in political advantage than actual accomplishment. I blame business leaders concerned not with the quality of their product or service, but just the next buck. I blame parents who don't parent. I blame the educational system at-large, especially at the elementary and high school levels. I blame the greedy and egoist athletes who are no role models. I blame SportsCenter for encouraging bad behavior -- and what I've heard called a Celebration of Showbiz -- by replaying it over-and-over-and-over-and-over again and talking about it even more. Ditto the agents and lawyers and those business managers who are allowed to make PR decisions even though they're not professionally qualified to do so. I blame the media for superficial and sensational, not substantive and substancial, stories. I blame the likes of ESPN's Sarah Spain, who couldn't wait to suggest potential new boyfriends for Danica Patrick, within days of Patrick's divorce announcement. Shameful and low-class -- but oh-so typical. I blame the editors who thought it should be posted. The lack of judgment is overwhelming. As is the lack of decency.

If you don't believe me, consider our recent presidential election. Candidates were permitted to get away without laying out specific policy plans. For the media, it was all about celebrity and the horse race, not the extremely tough decisions that must be made and where the country is going. It apparently was too intellectually rigorous for them to do so.

Here's the question that needs to be asked: Is America really America any more? Are the ideals and ethics that made the U.S. the U.S. still there? In terms of a collective will to act on traditional core values and national interest, I would say no. Whatever happened to personal responsibility? The pursuit of excellence as a function of self-respect? Does anyone want to learn anymore? To a language where words actually mean things? Now, we're told by self-appointed Politically Correct activists, that "illegal" is racist. When someone breaks the law, what part of "illegal" do you not get? This is what happens when kids aren't taught to talk any more -- it's all about texting and Tweeting. Talking? Oh, that's so 20th Century.

News has morphed essentially into nonsense. It's all entertainment these days, bouncing from the latest Washington sex scandal to the most recent Hollywood outrage. I'm not kidding by much when I say Charlie Sheen might have been a better candidate to take on Barack Obama than Mitt Romney. (For the record, I didn't vote for either one.)

And that "it's all entertaiment" mindset should concern NASCAR, which has made it clear, it's in the business of showbiz. The final Chase TV numbers, at least by one authoritative estimate, were at an all-time low. What was most memorable from this Sprint Cup season? I'll wager a poll would put the Fight in Phoenix ahead of Brad Keselowski's championship.

Brian France talked mid-season about wanting more "Wow!" moments. He didn't get enough of them. Part of the Big Talk behind the 2013 car is to make the racing "better." What exactly that means, I'm not sure, but I bet France's desired "Wow!" moments factor in.

Parents, teachers and media are guilty for what has become a short national attention span and lack of historical knowledge and perspective. One moment's Big Story -- remember Danica taking her hands off the steering wheel when crashing at Daytona or the points penalty to the No. 48 that was overturned on appeal? -- is treated like ancient history five minutes later. Another example is the recent Indianapolis Business Journal report that former CART CEO Andrew Craig could be a candidate for an IndyCar executive position. Talk about lack of institutional knowledge! If that's just a guess, shame. But if even one second has been spent considering the idea, I assure you, the IC series as we've known it is over forever.

It looks to me as if NASCAR has bet the house on this more showroom-ID car. And it's Integrated Marketing Communications department -- which exists to make you believe what just happened really was a "Wow!" moment -- which in many ways symbolizes where the bar of The New Acceptability has been placed. That once was more properly referred to as the public/media relations department. But in today's NASCAR, everything --and I mean everything -- relates to marketing. (Even the issue of safety, or the lack thereof, is to be marketed.) IMC drives NASCAR's social media efforts and that's what they think it is all about. Based on the lack of actual communications from the group's leaders, I know they don't think there's anything worth learning by actually TALKING to old-fashioned journalists who they treat as random dinosaurs taking their last steps in Planet Earth. Another way to say that is: Lack of Respect. For all the manpower and resources at their fingertips, it's incredible to me how little understanding IMC has of the actual real-life human dynamics at play in the media markets where NASCAR races.

Oh, correction, where NASCAR entertains/markets.

They haven't insisted on professionalism from their front-line soldiers, the team/sponsor PR reps, most don't even know -- or bother themselves -- to actually talk to journalists. Ty Dillon's PR girl Tiffany Zielke not long ago canceled a scheduled phone interview with me -- but didn't think it necessary to actually reach out and tell me. RCR's PR management seemingly didn't even notice. Then there's the IMC guy who pumps out green/business talking points without having done one minute of homework to research what already has been published locally -- and then, having established absolutely no relationship with the local journos -- wants copies of what's written sent to him! I guess he never heard of Jayski or Google.

Oh, for the days of actual conversations with Jim Hunter!

I hope Brian France is happy with all that impersonal Tweeter aggregation  because, from this keyboard, IMC sure doesn't get that this fundamentally remains a relationship business and one where long-time dedication to the work at hand should be especially valued and appreciated. (Ditto Ford and also Merrill Cain, who in PR is the 180-degree opposite of what Roger Penske is in business, among others.) IMC has shown me it doesn't grasp -- or, at least, acknowledge -- the difference between coverage that heightens interest in a race and maybe even helps sell tickets vs. coverage that simply fills space/airtime. Quality of coverage, as opposed to quantity, isn't a measured metric. IMC's adding machine apparently calculates gross numbers only, not net effectiveness.

Could someone please factually document for me how many NEW fans were made in 2012 and where they came from?

Finally, let me add how embarrassed I am of people who want to be considered "serious professionals" but then post party-animal photos of themselves on Twitter and Facebook. And send out what should properly be private messages in quick bits for everyone to know about. Jim Chapman would disapprove from here to eternity -- and he would be right.

It's been a deeply difficult year. A disspiriting one.

I wonder: In 2013, how low will it all go?

[ more important life priorities means I'm off-the-air until sometime around mid-January, 2013 . . . ]