Wednesday, June 25, 2008
There certainly is a very big difference between what ESPN's NASCAR reporters post on ESPN.com as "stories" and what other NASCAR writers choose to publish as news.
This is David Newton's latest offering, which you will be hearing more about on NASCAR Now and NASCAR Countdown this week. The key words in the article are "sources" and "speculation."
When ESPN first stepped into NASCAR back in 2007, the new NASCAR writers and reporters were a combination of television veterans and print journalists appearing on TV for the first time. It was a good mix that kept NASCAR Now somewhat viable despite the poor hosts and awful features.
This season, The Daly Planet has already written several stories about the "crew" of David Newton and Terry Blount. It seems that when gossip, innuendo or speculation are going to be the central theme of a story, these two are enlisted to present it.
This column from February talked about another big story put on-the-air by NASCAR Now despite the fact it contained no shred of truth and was ultimately denied by top officials from the International Speedway Corp. as ridiculous.
Regardless of the reporter involved, ESPN presents the various media companies owned by the corporation as being upright and proper. The suits and ties on NASCAR Now seven days a week might give fans a hint of just how proper.
This season, ESPN's NASCAR reporters flow seamlessly through the infrastructure of ESPN like never before. NASCAR Now, ESPNEWS, SportsCenter and First Take are ESPN TV outlets that may feature the NASCAR reporters at any time.
Over in Internet land, both ESPN.com and Jayski.com have text, audio and video links posted to direct NASCAR fans to the most up-to-date "content." Therein lies the problem. The "content machine" needs to eat a big meal every single day.
Have you noticed how these murky ESPN stories often appear on a Tuesday or Wednesday? Are you puzzled by how this information has magically appeared on a slow news day for both NASCAR Now and ESPN.com?
Suddenly, in the middle of the week, a controversial story with no sources and loaded with nothing more than innuendo is fed to TV, audio and Internet outlets for distribution. What an amazing coincidence.
Newton's story has already gone viral all over the place. Blogs, other websites, forums and chat rooms are all talking about the fact that "ESPN said" Tony is shopping for sponsors and leaving Gibbs. My only question is, how fair is this to the people involved?
If there is no comment from Gibbs, none from the Haas-CNC team, none from the sponsors and only sly suggestions from the media-savvy Stewart...is this a national news story for ESPN.com, NASCAR Now and the Internet world?
What is your opinion on whether ESPN is reporting the news or creating it where NASCAR is concerned this season? Last year, the clashes between Stewart and ESPN reporter David Amber were memorable. This year, Amber is back to stick-and-ball land, but what really has changed?
Creating "content" to feed the machine on a slow Wednesday for NASCAR news is not what ESPN and its award-winning news division are normally about. This "news story" is now all over the Internet as fact.
As a NASCAR fan who took the time to check the Internet or perhaps NASCAR Now for news, were you really served by ESPN and David Newton reporting speculation and using unnamed sources?
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Each season about this time there seems to be several balls in-the-air when it comes to NASCAR and big news stories.
Even as the elation of Dale Earnhardt Junior finally winning mixes with the sadness of Richard Petty selling-out, there is a feeling that perhaps something else is about to happen.
It is not going to be at the track, it is not going to be about the COT and it is not going to involve driver changes or cheating. What it is going to involve is a group of people who rarely visit the NASCAR world. When they do, things seem to get turned upside-down in a hurry. The mainstream news media is about to invade NASCAR.
NASCAR has a traveling press corp that everyone knows all too well. Some of the writers have even bigger profiles because of their TV and radio appearances. On the whole, they are a well-behaved bunch who know the rules and play by them. None of that can be said for the mainstream media that Americans watch tear people apart each and every day.
The cable news networks have 24 hours-a-day to fill and they will be happy to exploit every issue to the maximum. Tabloid shows will use any means necessary to embarrass and expose every seedy detail of a story. Even local TV stations will be happy to play a video on-the-air if it is sensational enough.
In today's world, the tail truly wags the dog where news is concerned. The Internet is finishing the process of killing-off newspapers as we know them and is about to do the same to local TV news before setting its sights on the cable TV news networks.
Who among us does not turn to the Internet first for news and video? It lurks there with no time constraints and no censorship, just waiting to be viewed. Regardless of the category, everything that can be captured on video or written about in a sensational manner is at the fingertips of every computer user.
Since Mauricia Grant filed her civil lawsuit against NASCAR, we have seen the coverage reflected in the industry publications, Internet sites and TV programs. All of these NASCAR-related companies have been diplomatic in their tone and the TV networks have gone out of their way to speak in factual terms about this issue.
In just a short time, all that will change. The sound you hear is the wave that is forming just outside the NASCAR community and is about to hit the beach with a force that will change the sport forever. Just how much damage will be done and how long it takes the sport to recover is going to depend on one thing. That is the NASCAR TV partners.
While the reporters in the Infield Media Center are busy pounding on their laptops, it is SPEED, TNT and ESPN that now directly invade the homes of Americans on a regular basis where NASCAR is concerned. In this case, the focus is going to be on ESPN and SPEED.
While TNT has a couple of Sprint Cup races, that network's agenda is to promote their Turner-related products and TV shows and then go away. Since the network does not televise qualifying or practice, the impact of TNT is felt on race days only.
It is going to up to SPEED and ESPN to handle the Grant lawsuit and deal directly with NASCAR as it goes forward. Originally, the idea was for Brian France to make his recent comments and then close the news door. As most of us know, that philosophy is not going to work.
The public now has Internet access to Grant's voice on the phone talking about the issue (video link on right). There is also an interview with her lawyer that takes direct aim at the credibility of the sanctioning body in no uncertain terms. On Wednesday, it was Grant herself finally giving an exclusive interview to Sports Illustrated.
Can you see how this release of information is slowly ramping-up in the media? Nicole Manske on Wednesday's NASCAR Now said once again that Grant and her attorney had turned-down another interview request from ESPN. SPEED read the official statements involved from both parties, but does not offer a true NASCAR news program of any type.
When we next see Mauricia Grant, it may well be on 60 Minutes or Larry King Live or Dateline. She should be appearing on ESPN's Outside the Lines or sitting down with SPEED's Wendy Venturini on her Real Deal segment for RaceDay.
If the NASCAR TV partners work to put the reality of this story into perspective, the wave will hit the beach with much less force. This lawsuit is about the Nationwide Series alone. There is no connection to or allegations about the Cup or Truck Series officials. In the mainstream media, this lawsuit has been sold to the public as a blanket condemnation of the sport as a whole.
ESPN has prided itself on having top reporters like Ryan McGee, Marty Smith and David Newton who have handled tough stories about the sport before. McGee's interview of Aaron Fike threw the sport into a tempest and caused NASCAR to appoint a commission to consider a new drug testing policy.
Where is the Worldwide Leader in Sports where this lawsuit is concerned? How many times since NASCAR Now began have we seen a reporter who tells us that ESPN has exclusive breaking news? Wednesday, the Grant lawsuit was not even on the NASCAR front page at the ESPN website.
Sooner or later, Grant will be doing a television interview. Her single print and Internet interview was with Sports Illustrated, a company whose SI.com website is a CNN partner. If Grant and her attorney show-up on Larry King Live and offer the same racial and sexist allegations already seen in print, it will change the media focus and public perception of the sport forever.
Hopefully, both ESPN and SPEED are working hard behind the scenes to bring NASCAR fans more information than "no comment" or "she declined our invitation for an interview." There is no doubt that this single issue is about to put both of these TV networks in a situation they have not encountered in their recent NASCAR history.
Like it or not, all of us are about to watch it play-out over the next several months.
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It certainly is an interesting time to be an executive with NASCAR. Suddenly, the public's attention has turned from fascination with the drivers to scrutiny of the management team.
Here at The Daly Planet, we talk NASCAR TV and have done so every day since February of 2007. Lots of diverse topics, both good and bad, have passed through our website and been discussed by our readers.
The Internet is our direct access to NASCAR fans around the world. This Google blog site was free of charge and took about one hour to set-up.
Meanwhile, NASCAR is standing at a true communications crossroad. The company is struggling with new media issues and is years behind in its approach to Media Relations. There was no better example of that than Mike Helton's recent driver meeting.
In this day and age, who assembles professional athletes to take them to task about speaking-out in the media and then allows them to exit directly into that same media who have been waiting outside the door?
The results were predictable. Immediate reporting of the private meeting and anger at Helton for trying to curb free speech. Regardless of his intentions, mismanagement of both the media and the message caused the results.
The second recent problem occurred on a much grander scale. It was NASCAR Chairman Brian France slouched at a table with no necktie and mussed hair talking in circles about an issue he clearly did not understand.
That was the official NASCAR video sent around the world in response to a racially-charged discrimination lawsuit against the sanctioning body. Incredibly, NASCAR itself had arranged France's appearance in the Media Center in Michigan.
Immediately after he was done, the video was posted on websites from YouTube to ESPN.com. France instantly had gone "viral." That night, on both local TV stations and cable TV networks that footage was the face of the sport that bills itself as the most popular auto racing series in North America.
How is it possible that no one took the time to prepare the Chairman in both content and appearance for this crucial moment?
Does anyone believe that David Stern from the NBA would appear like this on-camera? Have you seen the new NFL Commissioner speak? These two buttoned-up professionals deal with a variety of issues from cheating scandals to steroid abuse. Yet, neither of them has ever looked or sounded like Brian France in Michigan.
Where were the professionals from The NASCAR Media Group? The division between the old-school NASCAR "PR guys" and the TV pro's at NMG needs to close very quickly as the sport goes through this period of unrest. Images are now everything.
NASCAR's Public Relations staff continually fails to realize that what is said on-camera by NASCAR executives is now distributed globally and archived online in minutes. This is the reality of the new media environment in which we live. The days of the deadline press and the "print boys" are long gone.
At a time when NASCAR desperately needs a direct portal to the fans, they are reminded of one big reality. Not only did NASCAR generate billions by selling the TV rights to the races, but they also sold the right to actually operate the NASCAR.com website.
It is the Turner Interactive group in Atlanta, GA that operates NASCAR.com and all the things that go along with it. Their offices remain in Atlanta, part of a bigger group of Turner-operated websites. This company paid a lot to get control of NASCAR.com, and they have sole control of it until 2014.
What that essentially means is that almost everybody on the planet has direct access to the Internet except NASCAR's own management team. When the sport itself tries to send a message directly to the fans, it has to be delivered through a third party. Think about that for a moment.
The NASCAR.com folks in Atlanta are Turner employees, with the same kind of loyalty to their paychecks that any of us have to an employer. Their agenda is to grow the business for Turner, and use NASCAR as the content of their operation.
Where does that leave NASCAR? They cannot originate their own Internet site to offer official video and media releases. The top-secret one they do have is closed to the public with a log-in for approved media members. There is no MySpace page, no Facebook site and no YouTube postings from NASCAR for content they want fans to see.
NMG uses SPEED to show most of the TV programs they produce, but even with many thousands of hours of archive and exclusive footage NMG cannot create an Internet site for fans. Remember the Turner deal?
Daly Planet readers like to watch NMG uplink live post-race interviews from the Media Centers at every track, yet it is up to the fans to record and post that exact same content on the Internet. In a way, the fans are handling the direct Internet distribution of true NASCAR content.
Ultimately, the fans are the real new media partners of NASCAR. Just go to YouTube and search for "NASCAR." Often, highlights of races and re-posts of TV network NASCAR shows are online minutes after they have actually ended. Fans are making a statment about the online availability of good NASCAR video content. They are doing it themselves.
This is the perfect time for NASCAR to shake-up things where public relations and technology are concerned. This huge sport needs to acknowledge that it has an information and technology gap and it is growing.
One of the most frequent emails received at The Daly Planet is from fans who have emailed NASCAR repeatedly and not gotten a response. In fact, who fans really emailed is the Turner Interactive bunch in Atlanta.
Only by finding and then clicking the "about NASCAR" button at the bottom of NASCAR.com can fans get information about NASCAR itself.
The best part is that this is also the location of the direct contact information for the multi-billion dollar NASCAR corporation. Then, the reality of NASCAR's communication philosophy with the fans hits.
There are seven sentences about the fifty-plus years of NASCAR. The fan contact information is next. It is the address of a Post Office Box in Daytona Beach, FL. That raises one good question for many fans.
"I would like to contact NASCAR, does anyone have a stamp?"
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Here we go. This will be the expanding post that will watch the development of the TV and Internet treatment of the Grant lawsuit. This has nothing to do with the merit or lack of merit of the allegations. We watch the media and this is going to be a critical time for the sport.
In her own words: Before you begin reading, hear Ms. Grant's comments on a phone call at Foxsports.com. Here is the link, the video is on the right side of the page. Click on "Grant talks lawsuit" under the video links. She speaks about the situation in the Nationwide Series as a whole.
Comment from her lawyer: This is the link to the SI.com story that interviews Grant's lawyer who offers his view of Grant's experiences in the sport. Here is a short excerpt:
"This (NASCAR) isn't a sophisticated operation; this is a bunch of nudniks hanging around together who just happen to be onto something because they were enterprising what is now a billion-dollar business. And they haven't caught up with the fact that America actually has laws protecting women, people of color, people over 40 years old, etcetera."
From an HR professional: This is the link to an HR professional's view of the issue at hand. It contains another non-racing opinion that may help to put things in a new light.
Read the lawsuit: Yahoo! Sports has the lawsuit available in a pdf file format to view or download. Just click on this link. There is no better way to understand the situation than to read the actual documents filed in this civil matter.
Now the first print interview: Grant wound-up at SI.com and that might be with good reason. There is no overt connection with the SI.com folks and NASCAR other than reporting the news. Click here to read the interview she gave to Tom Bowles.
8PM EDT - NASCAR has suspended and sent home from Kentucky two Nationwide Series officials (both named in the lawsuit) for violating unspecified company policy. Here are the SI and ESPN.com story links.
8:25PM - Here is Marty Smith on ESPNEWS Hot List talking about the issue.
8:30PM - Extended story of the suspensions from the Associated Press. Mentions investigators interviewing Nationwide Series officials in Kentucky. Speaks to no incidents reported by Grant.
9PM - No mention of the entire Grant lawsuit issue on Trackside on SPEED. Focus on Cup Series, driver interviews and Father's Day.
10PM - Very nice job by NASCAR Now of stepping into the issue in an informed manner and presenting a lot of different views and personalities. The only real problem was Brad Daugherty. According to NASCAR.com it was Daugherty and Brian France who co-founded NASCAR's Diversity Council several years ago.
So, the person speaking with host Ryan Burr about this situation was the original head of NASCAR's diversity efforts. Daugherty never disclosed this, never talked about his personal views on the lawsuit, and never offered any real content.
What he did do was follow the corporate line of NASCAR, with whom he is no longer employed or associated in an official capacity. Daugherty is now an ESPN NASCAR commentator, and has struggled to define his role.
Like it or not, this one issue may dominate Daugherty's on-air life as the story grows out of the niche shows like NASCAR Now and migrates over to SportsCenter and Outside The Lines.
11PM - Tradin' Paint on SPEED chose to begin the show with the Petty Merger and ignore the lawsuit topic completely. The media guest with Kyle Petty was Joe Menzer from the NASCAR.com website. The Grant issue was not even acknowledged on-the-air.
Here is the Yahoo link folks have been emailing and asking about. Here is the link to the actual lawsuit itself.
8PM - Topic handled nicely by Allen Bestwick and Brad Daugherty in the final minutes of NASCAR Countdown before the Nationwide Series race on ESPN2. Also now in rotation on ESPNEWS is the specifics of the suspensions of the two officials.
10AM - NASCAR Now did a very good job with this topic. Nicole Manske presented the known facts and let Marty Smith introduce comments from Brian France played earlier on ESPN. Manske stressed that neither Grant or her attorney would speak to ESPN on this issue.
10:30AM - Wendy Venturini handled the lawsuit issue right at the top of RaceDay and summed up the known facts and then played the same Brian France soundbites. She did it live with no script and then advised viewers SPEED would keep them posted.
12:30PM - Marc Fein at first called the Petty merger the biggest story of the week on NASCAR on TNT Live! At 1PM, TNT used Fein to update the facts of the story and followed the pattern of not involving any commentary from former drivers or crew chiefs. The facts were correct, and TNT moved-on.
1:30PM - New story published on Foxsports.com from a non-NASCAR writer takes Mr. France's comments to task. Interesting perspective on the issue overall from a person not involved in sports TV or the media regularly.
Monday/Tuesday: No stories on TV. NASCAR Now and TWIN avoided the topic totally.
This thread will continue as the location to comment on the TV and Internet coverage of this single issue. Please do not post a comment on the lawsuit itself, as it will be deleted. What we are comparing is the various TV shows and websites as they struggle with a topic very unfamiliar to most of these writers and reporters. You are certainly welcome to comment on that topic.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. We are watching the media coverage on TV and the Internet of the Grant lawsuit. Do not post your comments about the lawsuit, only the media issues surrounding it. Click on the COMMENTS button below to post. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page.