Friday, June 30, 2017

Opinion: The Alarming Disappearance of the Written Word in NASCAR

NASCAR via Getty Images

by Stephanie Stuart-Landrey


This week, Fox Sports announced a layoff of their digital content writers -- including perennial NASCAR fan favorite Tom Jensen -- in order to focus more on their on-air personalities and other content forms. Fans reading the news may think the network doesn't want to focus on written stories anymore.

This is an important time for journalism, more importantly, the written  word.

The past year and a half has been a tough one for motorsports journalists. Popular magazine NASCAR Illustrated, that can be traced back to 1977 and had a circulation of over 85,000, ceased operations in the summer of 2016.

American City Business Journals CEO Whitney Shaw was quoted as saying, "Unfortunately I did not see a pathway to profitability in an environment that is becoming increasingly digital, and where the economics of newsstand sales have changed so dramatically."

The final issue was already put to bed at the time the statement was issued.

This seems to be the trend as of late. More and more sites like NASCAR.com and FoxSports.com are leaning more toward video clips taken at press conferences and slide shows of photographs with blurbs of information underneath the photo. Digital images and clips to go along with the world's increasingly digital society.

Is this what a nation obsessed with devices has done to print media?

If so, let's go back a couple of years.

There used to be a day when magazines and newspapers ruled the world. America depended on newspapers to get its news, and turned to special interest magazines for in-depth stories on topics like fashion, sports, travel and more. As hand-held devices grew in popularity, and the internet began growing in both bandwidth and subscribers, content providers began putting their media online -- and the demise of print media began.

Today, a lot of print media content providers have either gone fully digital or offer a digital subscription service as well as a paper subscription service. This hasn't even broken the ground of digital media content. As cell phones continue to evolve, there are countless apps that offer news and video content.

Anyone can create the news now. People can record something, and post it to whichever social media outlet they choose, and hours later, it could become a viral news sensation. This leads to instant content for news outlets. Just repost the video, write a little paragraph, and boom! Story published.

Unfortunately, this seems to be what NASCAR is deciding to do now, too.

Scrolling through Twitter the other night, something caught my eye: A tweet from NASCAR about something Tony Stewart said about the "gamesmanship" the Joe Gibbs cars were displaying at Sonoma. I clicked on it, excited to read the story ahead of me. A minute and a half later I closed the tweet, deflated after watching a short video that gave me nothing but a quote.

That's the problem with replacing print media with digital content: It leaves the viewer wanting more. We have the world at our fingertips with our devices, yet more and more of the world we know keeps getting removed from the world.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good quote from Smoke, and I'm not criticizing the media folks who were at the presser. I know it's hard to get a one-on-one interview with the busy winning team owner after a race and dig a little deeper.

But I wanted to know why he felt the Gibbs cars were playing games -- the backstory behind it. What was the owner perspective behind this feeling? How did he feel like it affected his stable of cars? Kevin Harvick still won the race, so it must not have had that much of an effect on their day, so why was it such an issue? These are all questions that might have been answered in a written story on the subject. Instead, what we got was a link to a video clip.

With NASCAR teetering on the edge of so many things, it can't afford to lose more fans. If some outlets of the sport continue to practice video-driven journalism, with major media outlets laying off their talented and seasoned writers, and only posting digital content as a means of disseminating information to the fan base, a lot of fans will be disillusioned.

Let me make one thing clear. I don't hate digital media. I love my iPhone. I'm pretty active on Twitter and Facebook, and I scroll through Instagram daily. I watch a lot of videos. I'm partial to the ones of Keelan Harvick, Brexton Busch, and Cash Bowyer. They're cute kids. I found the video of Kyle Busch at the presser after the Coke 600 to be pretty funny (that's my opinion, not everyone's), and I think there's a way for the modern media to integrate everything together and for everyone to end up happy.

Let's explore that word for a minute. Integration. When things come together. Let's take the Kyle Busch Coke 600 video, for example. There was some great material in that video for written stories. I saw a few people use it to talk about how Kyle was back to the same old Kyle, or how he deserved to be upset after leading the number of laps he led that night.

But there was a lot more that could have been done with that piece of media. It could have been used as an anchor piece for a great story about Busch never being satisfied unless he wins -- a trait which has drawn many of his fans to him. It could have been used in a story about first-time Cup Series winner Austin Dillon. There were so many ways it could have been integrated into different forms of media, and turned into great stories for readers to formulate their own different opinions and stories in their own minds.

To say I was disappointed with the lack of written coverage about Busch's reaction in the media center is putting it nicely. Again, I understand the pressure of that precious time in the media center, and the small amount of time one has to get packed up and get going once the time in the media center draws to a close, but once that video came to light, there was a whole new grounds for a late-night brainstorm.

I think that everyone wins if journalism can find a balance between posting digital media content, like slideshows and videos, and written stories that leave readers with something to think about. So much of NASCAR's past has been captured in written word, and so much of our future will be captured on video. It would be a shame not to leave a written history to go along with the thousands of videos our journalists, along with our fans, are capturing daily.


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* The opinions of the writer do not necessarily reflect the views of all writers associated with this site.

5 comments :

  1. I absolutely despise having to watch a video when I could just read it for myself. The new Google news page is a perfect example. It is terrible. Can no one read anymore?

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  2. In today's world the knee jerk reaction to a video clip, without context seems to be the goal. Kyle Busch being himself sent the social media and talk radio into a frenzy for the ages. The "instant outrage" seems to be the goal. Not telling the whole story. Just get some sort of reaction. NOW! I feel many media outlets and writers feel they need to adapt or be left behind in today's competitive media world. Unfortunately, written word media may be going the way of the 4 barrel carburetor as technology takes over.

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  3. Really it was social media (Facebook specifically) that killed it for good. Once ad dollars started accelerating to Facebook, it not only killed traditional media, it killed all the mom-and-pop websites, too. Banner ads today are less than 10% of where they were in 2011. Websites can't make it either.

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  4. I think the problem is worse than the death of print media. Its the death of motorsports journalism. I generally won't watch video clips because they rarely tell me anything. The greater problem is the lack of meaningful information or analysis in motorsports journalism. Most of what is written (your column excluded) is simply a summary of a press release or a synopsis of a race. Rarely does any journalist engage in critical thinking, thoughtful analysis, or (heaven forbid) do actual research. I bet most motorsports articles are completed without doing anything more that reading the mornings press releases.

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  5. Timliness is the reason the digital media has succeeded print as the media of choice. Now I will agree that video alone is not enough to be satisfying. But that is available, and ultimately the demands of the marketplace will determine that. But the days of waiting a month to get something that you can consume in minutes is long gone.

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