NMPA
c/o Bridget Holloman, Exec. Secretary
P.O. Box 500
Darlington, SC 29540
Phone: (843) 395-8811

Columns
Fifth Place
Greg Engle, Examiner.com

What Will The NASCAR Media Look Like In 10 Years?

The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway wrapped up last week. For the uninitiated the media tour is held in January each year during a time when NASCAR news is usually pretty scarce. It’s a whirlwind four days with lots of writing, very little sleep and more pictures than a high school prom.

It’s an opportunity for drivers old and new as well as teams to show off their season colors and announce new sponsors. There’s very little real news; every driver and team is ‘excited’ for the new season and everyone will win all the races and take the title in the upcoming season. The tour however is an important part of NASCAR and has been for a while. It gives those who cover the sport an opportunity to gather material for the new season ahead and gives those in the sport a chance to see the faces that will be sticking microphones in their face for 36 weeks.

This year the theme for the media tour was the celebration of 30 years. Since 1983 the media have gathered in Charlotte prior to the season. But while the basic premise has stayed the same; meet the drivers and teams with everyone ‘excited’, NASCAR and the media that cover it has changed quite a bit.

In the early days of the media tour newspapers dominated the mix. At that time of course, newspapers were king and those early tours were attended by some great young newspaper reporters with names such as, Pope, Waid, Martin, Moore, Williams and Pierce. Many of those names have appeared in newspapers around the country and all of them were a part of this year’s tour. In fact an entire hour was devoted to a group of reporters who have attended every media tour. Stories were swapped and memories relived. But this in no longer a group of young people, most are now nearing, or well over the age of 50.

The media has changed quite a bit since 1983; no longer are newspapers king, the Internet is the dominate force today. And as the stories were being swapped on the stage last week I looked around and one fact struck me; someday the old guard will be gone and it seems there might not be anyone to replace them
There are still some relatively young people involved in NASCAR media, yet few under the age of 30. Today more and more the world of NASCAR media is being filled with fans that have turned into bloggers and what’s becoming known as ‘citizen journalists’. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Fans who have decided to write about the sport have given fresh voice to what was becoming stale. Not many years ago the core media around NASCAR was starting to shrink; many were laid off from dying newspapers, still others retired. What was left was a group that had been trained as journalists and still worked for established news outlets. But as that number dwindled the ranks began to swell again with fans who decided to start a blog or pick up a camera. The biggest difference however is that none had formal training to be a journalist.

The ‘citizen journalists’ had no constraints, no editors and some had no idea. NASCAR related sites began to pop up seemingly overnight. Many did a good job of giving other fans a view inside the sport or an opinion that they had never seen. Many others however did not. Those sites though soon fell by the wayside and what remains today, for the most part, is a voice unlike what a fan would hear anywhere else.

But they are not journalists. They’ve never gone to college to be trained as a journalist, they’ve never worked in a news room, on a city desk, worked on deadline, been yelled at by an editor. It’s those types that are falling by the wayside. And looking around the room last week there didn’t seem to be any young ones ready to take their place.

As the journalists who cover NASCAR for a living or have been formally trained as journalists fall by the wayside there doesn’t appear to be anyone willing to take their place. What we may be left with in a few years are citizen journalists at the core of NASCAR’s media. But just as entire group of hard core reporters can’t serve every fan of the sport, neither can an entire group of unrestrained bloggers. Right now there seems to be a good balance, reporters reporting the hard news and citizen journalists lending their opinions to the mix. But what will happen when all the reporters are gone?

NASCAR is positioning itself for the wave of new media. The Integrated Marketing arm of NASCAR has hired former reporters and others who have experience in the sport; they have diverse backgrounds as well as the training and knowledge to serve all the media outlets, the old and the emerging. Streaming video and audio, photos, stats and other information is readily available to the media from NASCAR. Combine that with the extensive TV coverage and streams available on the Internet and anyone who wants to report on a race can do so without ever being there. Maybe that’s a problem.

Professional news outlets can save a ton of money on travel expenses and file reports on a race without a dateline without too much trouble. Perhaps that’s where the young journalists are; sitting at home or in a newsroom staring at a TV screen and a computer ready to file on deadline. And that’s a shame. A journalist, a true reporter, needs to be there, needs to interact with the people they are reporting on, feel the emotion that comes with winning, or losing. The young reporters may not be there but reporting from afar and maybe that’s why I didn’t see them on the media tour. But I doubt it.

Ten years from now, if the media tour is still going, it could be filled with people who were just fans not all that long ago. Without any formally trained journalists however, what NASCAR and those looking for coverage will be left with is a chorus of voices trying to be heard all at once with very little news escaping the mix. And that would be a shame. NASCAR needs to take steps to attract young journalists to the sport. They have started programs at colleges around the country designed to attract young people to the sport as fans and they do offer internships, but none of the programs are meant for a journalism student and despite what some might think those do still exist.

The National Motorsports Press Association does offer scholarships for journalism students but so do many other organizations, and while putting money towards someone’s education is a great incentive it’s a far cry from trying to attract them to a sport.

The sport of NASCAR had one of the most exciting seasons on record last year. This season should be a great one as well. But ten years from now if there is a season that tops them all, will anyone be there to report on it.