Monday, January 25, 2010

SPEED's New Challenge: NASCAR News

Monday, we start the NASCAR TV news season for real. SPEED has one week of Race Hub before ESPN's NASCAR Now joins the mix on Monday, February 1st. This year, fans will have the choice of two TV news programs every Monday through Thursday.

ESPN has a three year jump on NASCAR news. SPEED steadfastly refused to offer any TV news during the week, opting instead to focus on the weekend activity at the tracks. Adding Race Hub late last year on the fly showed both the best and worst results of jumping into the deep end of the NASCAR TV news pool.

So far this season, everything on Race Hub has been polite, scripted and planned. In other words, the actual racing has not yet started. The PR releases have been orderly, the smiles have been easy and Mike Helton was the featured guest on the show last week.

As with any professional sport, there are a myriad of issues and stories that the Race Hub producers can choose to feature or discard. Over the past three seasons, NASCAR Now has taken topics like Jeremy Mayfield's drug suspension, Goodyear's tire failures and the COT woes head-on without blinking.

Click here for an article discussing the subject some in the media are concerned about. Despite the claims of letting the drivers police themselves this season and that rubbing is just racing, NASCAR has stepped-up efforts to blame the media for problems within the sport.

They told drivers in closed meetings that expressions of emotion and frustration on NASCAR topics were bad for the sport. Specifically pointed out that the drivers and their public statements reported by the media were directly affecting the TV ratings. In other words, despite the social media outreach and the Fan Council mentions, NASCAR is putting the clamps on free speech.

Click here for the TDP column on Jack Roush and his recent rant against the NASCAR TV partners. He pointed directly to Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace as each having a personal ax to grind on the air.

Into this delightful atmosphere walks SPEED with a brand new TV series featuring NASCAR news directly from the personalities who make it. That was a key reason the network rolled out Race Hub from the North Charlotte, NC studios. Suddenly, anyone and everyone who was in the news could take a short drive and be on national TV in the evening hours speaking to NASCAR fans directly.

SPEED's on-air track record in dealing with hard news stories is anything but stellar. Monday night's TWIN purposefully focused on highlights and refrained from reporting news. The network offered no other weekday NASCAR shows until the practice and qualifying coverage started from the tracks on Fridays.

In 2009, it was sometimes ironic that the best NASCAR news coverage was offered by The SPEED Report, a show intended to cover all forms of motorsports on Sunday nights. Meanwhile, programs from NASCAR Live to RaceDay routinely avoided hard news in favor of race preview information.

One factor in whether or not Race Hub gets credible is the host. SPEED has decided to rotate its current crop of on-air talent through this assignment rather than designate a fulltime person for the position. While names like Krista Voda and Randy Pemberton are used to dealing with news, announcers like Rick Allen and John Roberts are more in tune to directing on-air traffic.

This is a big shift of gears for SPEED. The network has not done a daily NASCAR news program in a very long time. The challenge is to see past the NASCAR edict and dive into the reality of the sport regardless of whether it might be viewed as positive or negative. Studio guests should face real questions and offer more than the PR spin on an issue.

So, after a short trial run last season and some polite conversation this year, Race Hub faces the challenge of establishing itself as a credible source of NASCAR news for the fans. Rick Allen and Randy Pemberton co-host on Monday and we'll be watching.

TDP wants your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.


RvNGrammy said...

I'm still pouting about TWIN. I like the announcers who are going to be on Race Hub, but also wonder about their ability to report news. We shall see.

Anonymous said...

They should take the lead from NFL and NFL Network

Their show, "Total Access" doesn't paint over their issues. they face them head-on, warts ( drugs, arrests, steroids) and all.

GinaV24 said...

I'm very disappointed that NASCAR after all their big talk of "letting the drivers be themselves" instead is opting for muzzling the drivers instead. IMO, the fans are looking for real emotion and real racing. Unfortunately, NASCAR still wants everyone to follow the script that only talks about positive things. Unless the news shows and the drivers, owners and yes, even NASCAR speak honestly about topics, no amount of cosmetic fixes to the car and rule changes on the track will matter. It will continue to be the IROC series which was pretty boring and never attracted a large audience and the fans will continue to tune out.

NASCAR, get a clue.

Ritchie said...

The real problem with SPEED is their lack of journalists. SPEED decided long ago that they were going to be on-air personalities which is fine, except for when major issues happen that require someone who knows how to deal with those types of situations.ESPN is designed to do this and does it well with NASCAR Now.

Just as having the Race Hub located in Charlotte allows them to have access to the drivers and teams, being in Charlotte allows them to have access to some of the finest racing related sports journalists in the America. Now would be a great time for SPEED to take advantage of this geographic advantage.

JohnP said...

As a new viewer to Race Hub, saw the entire first week of 2010 and the one monday night show last week, I have to say I'm looking forward to it tonight. I do have a few concerns about the show, might be to scripted. (Will really miss TWIN here). But, TWIN is gone. After ESPN botched the Chase AGAIN in 2009 there is no way I'll ever ever watch Nascar Now. I'm totally open minded toward RH. I liked what I've seen so far. Hopefully the drivers will feel free to actually say something meaningfull. If not, the fans will see right through it.

Being located in Charlotte, Speed and RH do have the ability to do very well. We shall see.....

Richard in N.C. said...

It seems to me that the media has an obligation to be honest and either unbiased or to disclose its bias - and few in the media can measure up anymore.

In my view SPEED will have a credibility problem as long as it has Nationwide start-and-parker extraordinaire Phil Parsons in the booth calling truck races.

As long as EESPN has Skip Bayless, Call-in Cowherd, Rick Reilly, and Ed Hinton on staff it cannot be said that it has any institutional credibility.

It appears to me that there is a sizeable part of the so-called NASCAR press corps that either has a bias against NASCAR or puts its own financial interest (hooking readers) above honest, unbiased reporting. I can always count on a sizeable number of writers bashing NASCAR no matter what it does - and often with sloppy background work.

In this context I see nothing wrong with NASCAR pointing out to the drivers how their comments can be used by those in the media whose objective is to bash NASCAR. Telling them they cannot talk about something is one thing, telling the drivers how their comments can harm the sport, and to think first, is something else. Constructive criticism is one thing, but many in the media prefer destructive criticism.

A prime example is the recent articles about the reduction in seating at many NASCAR tracks. The articles I have seen all used the reduction in seating as further evidence of the decline of NASCAR - except for a recent article by David Newton that put the subject in context and pointed out that most pro sports, such as baseball, having been going to smaller, more intimate facilities over the past decade. One very curious example that David Newton gave was the reduction in seating capacity of the new basketball arena in Charlotte by about 20%, which one would think media members living in the Charlotte area would be aware of.

If I'm not mistaken, no public criticism at all is allowed in the NCAA by coaches and in the NFL and NBA by coaches or players of officials or their calls - and fines are levied on those who do publicly criticize officiating.

There are more than enough habitual critics of NASCAR in the media without drivers and crew chiefs shooting from the lip before thinking about what they're saying. One thing I found last season that set DW apart from many commentators was that he offered constructive criticism of the sport on several occasions without being meanspirited.

Credibility is a challenge for more of the media than just SPEED.

Sparks said...

Richard in NC,
I agree with you about how frustrating the media can be when they purposely paint a skewed picture of a topic. All news organizations do this. However I would note that although ESPN has integrity issues with some of its talent, you did reference David Newton of ESPN in your post of an accurate and enlightening article. My point is that when comparing ESPN to SPEED in terms of racing news, ESPN has the journalist that we need to cover the sport better. I would take Marty Smith, Ryan McGee, David Newton, Angelique Chengelis, and Terry Blount against the SPEED crew any day.

I can think of only one truly honest voice at SPEED and that would be Dave Despain. Everyone else gives me the feeling that they are NASCAR salespeople.

Look at how quickly Larry McReynolds changed his tone after the Dustin Long (?) article. I don't believe that Marty Smith would have backed down from his remarks that quickly.

Now is an opportunity to change that disparity. With the problems at Scene Daily, there is an opportunity for SPEED to make some good personnel upgrades and change the integrity problem that they currently have.

That is the only way they can truly compete with ESPN.

Richard in N.C. said...

I believe EESPN should be held to a higher standard since they hold themselves out as THE authority on sports and sports news - but tolerate bias and meanspiritedness if it appears to sell. I think Marty, David Newton, Angelique, and some NFL and other comentators are credible, but there is no institutional credibility. Ryan McGee, on the other hand, is only the best NASCAR writer/reporter not named Tom Higgins.

From what I read Larry Mc. never disavowed what he was quoted as saying - but said that only his criticism was reported.

Except for Robin Miller and Wendy V., I am not really sure who at SPEED really works as a reporter, at least as a reporter other than at the track. It appears to me that Steve B., John Roberts, and others might just work at the tracks and getting ready for being at the tracks for races.

Anonymous said...

I do think it's a bit difficult to find people knowledgeable about a sport that have no involvement with it. Some have former teams they still do work for, some have a lot of friends that are coaches, managers, etc. I think the ones who try to be the most objective become obvious before too long. But it's always going to be in people's minds, cheerleader or reporter...even figure skating...Scott Hamilton has been accused of 'talking up' skaters who will end up on his Stars on Ice tour. BTW, saw JD's Twitter on Sasha...if NBC really thought she was going to be there, they were pretty delusional, though I agree they'd have loved it. There were few insiders who thought she had a chance. I'm sure they're hoping for one of the competitors to attack the other....

Matt TSB said...

"The challenge is to see past the NASCAR edict and dive into the reality of the sport regardless of whether it might be viewed as positive or negative."

Why should that be a challenge? Nascar doesn't tell Speed what to do...Um, right?

Anonymous said...

We enjoy Race Hub and any other shows on the subject of racing and particularly Nascar.Would also like to see Wind Tunnel on all year round,there is lots going on for a one hour a week show. Race Hub really needs to be a one hour show and should have the ladies on more often; they are very knowlegable.

Anonymous said...

I am extremely disappointed in NASCAR's attitude, but I'm not surprised. They can always be counted on to take the heavy-handed approach to squash any criticism. The long term problem is that this causes loss of credibility as surely as phantom debris cautions. NASCAR needs to be rebuilding credibility, not further squandering it.

I have little hope for SPEED when it comes to reporting news. Their NASCAR shows have long had a remarkable ability to ignore the elephant in the room. I see no reason why they would change now.

I wish I could depend on ESPN, but they seem to have a split personality. The Monday panel discussion on NN seems to feature open and honest discussions for the most part, but that is often offset by sensationalized stories that have little relation to truth.

I am not interested in media members who constantly criticize NASCAR as a matter of policy, and I have no interest in cheerleaders who only blow smoke at me. I see good and bad in the sport, and I expect news reporters to do the same and call them as they see them.

I hope that someone will give Jeff Burton a shot as a commentator when his driving days are over. Few drivers are more respected, and he seems to be able to express driver concerns fairly, honestly, and diplomatically without incurring the wrath of NASCAR. The present crop of reporters and commentators could take a lesson from Burton to see how it is done.

NASCAR's current effort to control the sport's participants and media indicates a real lack of respect for the fans. They apparently believe we don't know anything unless somebody connected with the sport tells us what to think. NASCAR is on dangerous ground with me in this area. I have already stopped watching anything with Kenny Wallace because of his insistence that everything is great and his habit of speaking down to the audience. If NASCAR succeeds in turning the sport's participants and media into Kenny Wallace clones, I won't be around for long.

I am not a fool, and I will not tolerate someone urinating on my leg while they tell me it's raining.

GinaV24 said...

Anon 2:58 - excellent post! Your closing line cracked me up, too.