Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cheering at the 500 gives a reason to put all motorsports media on the same page for unbiased NASCAR coverage

The current debate over journalistic ethics and conduct in NASCAR media centers and press boxes is long overdue. With the introduction of Citizen Journalists into the NASCAR media corps, it's time that the reset button is hit and everyone is brought onto the same page, both professional journalists, broadcasters, and bloggers alike.

As an avid news and blog reader, I believe all viewpoints of the sport should be welcome. It's a stroke of genius by NASCAR to welcome bloggers into the media corps as it broadens the coverage of the sport in a time when traditional media outlets are cutting staff and space devoted to motorsports.

But just because a blogger doesn't have the training of a traditional journo, that doesn't mean he or she shouldn't be held to the same standards of behavior of the rest of the media circus. And that goes double for those broadcasting the races on Fox, TNT, and ESPN - in fact, it should be doubled or even tripled since they have the largest audience and therefore a bigger responsibility.

As part of my New Year's resolution, I've been to the gym five to six times a week trying to slim down and get in better shape. I spend long periods on cardio machines and it gives me pause to think, and I've spent some time this week thinking of this situation and then learned of the termination of Tom Bowles by Sports Illustrated for admitting that he cheered as Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500.

Bowles is a fantastic writer, which is augmented by a strong passion for the subject matter. However, he did break - even for an instant - one of the cardinal rules of sitting in the press box: no cheering. Was termination warranted? Probably not, but a warning from both the sanctioning body's media relations department and his former employer would have both been warranted.

But how is what Tom Bowles did different than what Darrell Waltrip did during the Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona? Waltrip openly cheered for, and even gave his best redneck hoot, for his brother as he crossed the line to win the race. Is that appropriate?

Okay, so the next comparison then is if Waltrip can't do it, why was Ned Jarrett allowed to when Dale Jarrett won at Daytona in 1993?

What's the difference?

It's a huge difference. Jarrett did it reluctantly; remember, Ken Squier was told to lay back and Ned was told to bring him home on the last lap. Furthermore, he never used his position as a broadcaster with CBS and ESPN to get his son a ride. The younger Jarrett spent many years toiling in virtual anonymity on the North Carolina short tracks and in the Busch Series before earning a shot at the big time based on talent alone, not because his father would give his team or sponsors additional coverage if he was hired. In fact, he never went out of his way to promote any of Dale Jarrett's sponsors. Can Waltrip honestly say that? Can Larry McReynolds say it? No, neither can. They both promote their own agendas, which includes Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota, Brandon McReynolds, and any other company or entity that offers them cash for an endorsement.

How many other television broadcasters have a conflict of interest? The question would be better answered if you asked which broadcasters do NOT have a conflict of interest within the garage area.

The NASCAR audience deserves unbiased coverage and commentary from broadcasters. Bloggers, who may only be covering the sport from a narrow perspective, say they're covering a certain driver, team, or manufacturer, should still adhere to the same professional standards of behavior as their professional brethren. Dress professionally, act professionally and courteously, and check your fan card at the door to the press box or media center.

Now that the gates are open, maybe NASCAR should offer some sort of Citizen Journalist orientation at each event, or at the very least send along a sheet of guidelines with each credential confirmation. It could be very simple: here is what you can do (go into the garage area, sit in on press conferences, ask questions, take pictures, etc.), here is how you should dress (business casual), here are some tips to get an interview (be polite, work with public relations reps, ask for a scheduled appointment, or join in one of the media availabilies), and here is what NOT to do (wear a driver t-shirt, cheer in the press box, interfere with a one-on-one interview, etc.).

And with that, NASCAR and its broadcast partners should set similar guidelines. No cheering for anyone. No wearing of sponsor logos on your apparel. No emceeing media or hospitality events for teams and/or drivers involved in the series you cover. No active team owners on the air (imagine Jerry Jones in the booth calling the Super Bowl!). If you have a relative on a team or on the track, check emotions at the door - and if that repeatedly proves to be a problem then you're out. The viewers at home expect - and they deserve - unbiased commentary and analysis.


  1. Charles, As a citizen journalist who has covered several races for a website, I agree with you. However, whenever I attended a race, I was treated like a non-person-almost invisible. No information was offered to me, I had to learn by observation and asking questions. The other journalists could not have been less friendly. The one reporter who was even civil to me was a reporter from Germany and the NASCAR weatherman. Sad.

  2. I like what you are saying but Nascar is being paid by the sponsors and teams to have their agenda promoted by the booth people. nascar will not give up a penny to do something in the background that is needed. they still believe we are fools.
    Don't quit preachin it until the bar you at the gates of the tracks. JMHO

  3. Brenda:

    Well, I can say this: NASCAR journalists are competitive, just like the drivers. They are trying to gather info that no one else has, and some feel that speaking to others about the topic at hand increases the chances someone else will get that story before them.

    I have it on authority from NASCAR that there are people there assigned to help Citizen Journalists assimilate, with some helpful hints on what the expect in the media center and press box. Also, any PR person who wouldn't help get you the info you were looking for should be very ashamed for not offering assistance; it's what they're there for!

    I worked in the CWTS, and although my face was very familiar in the media centers there were lots of "Cup" reporters that really didn't go out of their way to talk to me. It didn't hurt my feelings at all - we're there to work, anything other than that (ie. fun) is just a bonus. :-)

  4. Tom:

    NASCAR is paid by the networks, who are paid by the sponsors. The sponsors are hoping to reach the audience, that's us. I for one have transformed my buying habits - I go out of my way NOT to support the companies that search out endorsements from on-air personalities or those that openly welcome these conflicts of interest.

    I'd love to support Discount Tire because I've been close to the Keselowski family since I was a kid. But since Jeff Hammond is involved in that program and wears their logo when he's on the air, I can't bring myself to buy tires from them when needed. It's things like that that need to come to an end. Being on the air and talking about NASCAR should be the reward; you shouldn't need to do the money grab so many of them are. JMO

  5. The horse ran out of the barn along time ago with Nascar. I listen to NASCAR sirius everyday and read the blogs and articles on the web and have never seen a corp of repoters more in the tank. The fact that a writer cheered at the end of the 500 and was admonished for it is hypocrisy at its higest level. The media shills everyday for NASCAR. Every driver is a superstar, every race is the greatest, every track is wonderful, the fans are the best,You would think that NASCAR is the greatest thing since man walking on the moon the way the media covers it. Im not saying that the media can't cover the sport in the best light, but don't put down a guy for letting the cat out of the bag when everyone knows the truth already.

  6. Bullcrap! As a reader I can't see what clothes you are wearing, why should that matter? Who really cares other than "professional" journalist that show an air of superiority over the (in their eyes)less educated? What is wrong with showing apprecation for the conclusion of an event? What is the difference in clapping at the end of a race and clapping at the end of a play?

    I guess I am a different breed. I would prefer to read a story written with emotion than one where everything is in general. I think these above mentioned "professional" people need to wake up and see the future. Those that believe they are lowering their standards by writing for anything other than printed media will in the near future be unemployed. Every magazine I subscribe to offers an on line version that I can read and accesse at any time. Wake up! Why are blogs and websites reaching more and more people? I just can not see myself enjoying an event if I have to sit on my hands, tape my mouth shut, and pray daily that I didn't in some way offend someone. If you can't enjoy your job than I pity you!

  7. Anon 9:18 -

    To the end reader, it doesn't matter at all what someone is wearing, how they behave, or if they cheer or clap in the press box. But to the other people there doing their jobs, it means a lot.

    I wrote almost exclusively for on-line outlets, but I took my job as seriously as if everyone in the country were waiting for every word. There are many other on-line only writers that take their jobs very seriously, even more seriously than the goofballs we are forced to see on TV ever week.

    As for enjoying the event...that's what opened this can of worms. I enjoyed every race I ever covered. Every one. But I was there with a media credential, not a ticket. When I went to the Nationwide race last summer at Michigan and Brad K. won, you better believe I stood and cheered - I was there as a fan. Had I been in the press box, I would have smiled, sure, but not cheered. Would I have talked about how cool it was to see the hometown kid win with others who knew how great a story it was? Oh yeah, but you can't cross the line. You just can't.

    Put that emotion into a column. As readers, we want opinion and analysis as much as we want the facts. How did Tom Bowles feel about the Daytona 500? Put it in a column and we can all comment about it along with him. But the open cheering was not the way to "celebrate." Like I said, if you want to cheer, then step outside, hand your credential over, and sit in the stands.

  8. To the end reader, it doesn't matter at all what someone is wearing, how they behave, or if they cheer or clap in the press box. But to the other people there doing their jobs, it means a lot.


    Please explain to a fan why it matters? Are you telling me you can't write objectively and still let your apprecation for a job well done be shown? I am a professional at what I do, but if a student does not have grades good enough to pass, he doesn't. That means I can't congratulate him when he does do a good job?

    Like I said earlier That's bull! I don't believe that and I defenitly don't feel it warrents what happened to Mr. Bowels. DO NOT ask me to support that or the company.

    To be honest about it I don't read SI anyway except in the doctors office.

  9. A journalist claps in an area where only other journalists can see him (not the public) and then writes an unbiased story for all of the world to see.
    A 2nd journalist doesn't clap in the pressbox but then releases a highly biased article for all of the world to see.
    The 1st journalist is fired.

    cuckoo! cuckoo! cuckoo!

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