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Monday, July 10, 2017

THE 11th ANNIVERSARY BLOG

AT THE MIKE: Making introductory remarks before presenting 2017 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations to ESPN's Andy Hall in IMS Media Center last May. (Photo: Dan R. Boyd).

I certainly wasn't smart enough to have fully imagined the extent of the communications revolution on its way when this blog debuted 11 years ago today, July 10, 2006. The whole thing has been "The Great Adventure" I described, in ways good and bad.

At least, back then, facts were generally accepted as just that -- FACTS -- and while it was fair to disagree with a story, nobody was calling it "FAKE news." In IndyCar and Champ Car, which had not yet reunified, the specialist media writers had taken sides and mostly wrote what was good about "their" series or blasting the other with negatives. Nobody was truly happy with this approach to "journalism" -- most especially, the few non-partisan reader fans still around. Reminds me of the way CNN "reports" on President Trump.

As for there being such a thing as an alternative set of facts, well, NASCAR has been doing that for decades!

Seriously, a Big Problem is the elimination of layers of editors and fact-checkers, combined with too many front-line biased reporters feeling pressure they must have the news first, has led to more-and-more mistakes. With strong opinion having all-but overtaken solid factual reporting as the media's Coin of the Realm, it's understandable so many news consumers have trouble making out the difference between the two. 

Perhaps the most shocking new media business reality these days is the sanctioning bodies outright paying for coverage. That, for the unknowing, is what NASCAR.com is and it certainly isn't alone. Since, in the wake of FoxSports.com firing its writers and editors and turning the site into a promotional video catalog to promote its on-air personalities (in an unrelated move, Fox Sports President Jamie Horowitz was himself fired soon thereafter, leaving the whole division a smoldering mess), it has been implied to me that change is coming to NASCAR.com, I'd like to see the Charlotte and Daytona Beach Powers-That-Be take a page from MLB.com, which is the gold standard location for baseball news. Credit goes to the generally unloved former commissioner, Bud Selig, who enjoyed reading the baseball writers on a daily basis and considered it free promotion for his sport. Here's a praise-worthy disclaimer routinely found at the end of MLB.com articles, which are penned with editorial independence, and I'd like a NASCAR version of this applied to that sanction's site. Although, no doubt, it would be a tough sell with Brian France:

"This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs." 

Every public opinion survey I've seen rates trust and confidence in the media very low. The narrow motorsports media, as well as the sports media community at-large, seriously err when they think this doesn't apply to them. I was in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center for 10 days leading up to what was my 39th Indy 500, and I can say some of the nonsense that went on there was unacceptable. Well, I guess acceptable given what sadly are apparently the new standards, but I can also say it wasn't that many years ago when the attitude and antics of the self-anointed Media Biggies would have been more than unacceptable. It simply would not have been tolerated. The qualifications to be issued an I500 press pass would have been adjudged to be absent. Journalists have given way to Big Ego Personalities . . . Sigh, I fear it will only get worse . . . 

The most damaging negative to the whole social media whirlwind was spot-on explained by San Jose Mercury-News columnist Mark Purdy, in writing why he is about to leave the profession. This is straight from that column:

"I won’t lie. The changes in my profession, given the advent of 24/7 online journalism, have also been a challenge to manage. It’s become pretty weird out there. There seems to be a diminishing demand for step-back perspective and primarily an appetite for whatever has been hot in the past five minutes or what might be hot in the next five minutes — with all of it downloaded instantly onto mobile apps.

"Nothing wrong with that. But it’s been an adjustment and I’m not sure for the better. A good example was my recent strange experience after a Warriors’ playoff victory.

"During a televised post-game news conference, I engaged in a back-and-forth with Draymond Green that I regarded as a productive professional exchange. I asked Green how he was keeping his temper under control against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Green somehow took the question as an insult. and chastised me. I responded by politely pressing him for an answer. Green finally offered a sincere one with insight. It allowed me to write a better column. That has happened to me and other writers many, many times over the years with various players in various sports.

"The difference was, because this is 2017, the exchange with Green was broadcast live and subsequently shared online in a video clip, accompanied by blog posts or Twitter memes about Green 'getting into it with a reporter.' The clip suddenly became the story. It drew more internet traffic than my eventual piece about how Green was not allowing any tantrums to sidetrack the Warriors’ championship path as had occurred a year earlier. In other words, the process of reporting to help form a perspective . . . had actually superseded the perspective itself."


In other words, too many people cared more about the heat than the light. And that's more than sad. It's a very poor reflection of where we are as a culture and as a society. This worries me more than I can convey in this spec of cyberspace.

On this 11th anniversary, and with great appreciation and thanks to those who have used their valuable time over these years to read what is posted here, a few words of explanation are owed to you: Personal and health issues have led to higher priorities for me and, thus, fewer blogs. And, especially with so much content already available, I simply refuse to write when I don't have something of substance to say and can't put what I consider to be the imperative of a full and proper effort into presenting that information to you. Going forward, I will provide new offerings here as I can, using the above as my guide.

This isn't to say I'm not still following the industry closely. So, here are a few quick observations:

* NHRA and it's TV boss, Ken Adelson, owe an apology for opening last Sunday's Route 66 Nationals with this: "Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration, don't fail me now." Using a religious icon to hype your race is nothing less than outrageous. Count me among the offended.

* It's a Gimmicks' World. Often, stupid gimmicks. Like NBC interviewing the NASCAR winner once on the track, second in victory lane, third on its post-race show set. Ridiculous and accomplishes nothing other than feeding an ego or two. The same questions are asked and nothing new is learned. And then there's Larry Mac: "America's Crew Chief." Oh, please . . . 

* Political Correctness has taken over the broadcast booth. They can't even be honest enough to say track action has been delayed by rain. No, the delay is because of "weather." Note to the microphone holders: Bright sunshine and 80 degrees is ALSO weather! And when a driver makes a mistake, it's just that -- a MISTAKE -- not a "tough break."  A legitimate tough break is when someone spins right in front of another driver and the second one has no time or space to avoid a crash.

* How important are sponsors? NBCSN waited all of FOUR MINUTES on its Iowa Speedway IndyCar qualifying show before a puff interview with the head of the race sponsor corn growers association. The producer gave real news the backseat.

* This is so obvious and yet it continues: People with ZERO media experience, usually marketing or sales executives, being placed in overall charge and supervision of PR/media relations departments. The fact these people don't know anything about PR and media is apparent by the frequent lack-of-successful results from the staff they hire or retain. One such series exec, who has never thanked me for my extensive and high-profile coverage, hassled me not long ago about something I was doing but which he knew nothing about -- something that was fully approved by his boss, who actually wrote me a thank you note for what I did. Still waiting for an apology . . . 

* With corporate pressure for maximum Return on Investment, it's incredible the lack of attention sponsor managers pay to how they are being represented with the media. Too often, very poorly. The days of the great sponsor managers I worked with -- Jim Melvin, Ron Winter, Barry Bronson, Mike Hargrave -- seem to be gone.

That said, and in conclusion, the overall state of PR/media relations continues to decline. For every bright spot that comes along, like Amy Walsh at Hendrick Motorsports, there seems to be multiple setbacks. I was especially distressed to hear this regarding departure interviews with Dale Earnhardt Jr., that requests "even (from) all of the media members who regularly cover our sport and with whom we have great relationships" won't be honored.

That's exactly how you turn friends into, well, something else. Junior won't be the loser here. The NASCAR Industry will be the loser. And I say that as the person who ran PR for the Mario Andretti, Arie Luyendyk and Joe Amato retirements and (Nigel) Mansell Mania. I have the hands-on experience to know of what I write.

Thank you for reading this and what else I've offered here the last 11 years. As for the future, as many of us believe, it's God Willing . . .