(This is cross-posted from my NASCAR blog.)
Part of my main goal for 2011, a/k/a Operation Getting My Life Back, is to some degree getting back into the Diecast Dude state of mind. While I haven’t the taste for resurrecting the pitched battles with others that marked my halcyon days, I also have no desire to turn this space into Mr. Rogers Goes To NASCAR Land. Or teenage wasteland (cue the Who). Thus, I am working toward finding the balance between pastoral and pugnacious. Along with time to write and such. Getting well would be nice, too.
Anyway, I’ve been observing from afar the brouhaha over what took place in Daytona. Not on the track, mind you. In the media center, where at the race’s conclusion the sacred seal of silence was broken by the apocalyptic acidity of applause. By some, anyway.
Ever since the sordid, or so it is said by several, incident more gallons of electronic ink have been spilled on the matter than on Trevor Bayne. Speaking of the Knoxville lad, if the hype is beginning to turn you off, don’t let it. The kid is genuinely nice, sincere, and a talented young driver with a tremendous upside. But enough racing talk; back to what really matters — pontificating pundits. (Yes, I am being sarcastic.)
There are two schools of thought as to what happened, reminding one of the old joke about there being two theories on how to argue with women, neither of which work. One side says it was a one-time, spontaneous response to a magic sports moment and therefore no big deal. The other side says, and says and says and says, that it violated the holy oath of impartiality, unacceptably debased the sports journalism brand and highlighted the scurrilous nature of those irresponsible, unprofessional, unethical, uneducated and most likely unwashed cretins from the crass lagoon that is the (ugh!) blogosphere. Oh, and get off my lawn, you meddlesome kids.
Were this a simple case of differing opinions, all would be fine, well and good. Both sides’ argument have merit. Personal example, if I may: last year at Auto Club, during the October Nationwide race I said more than a few words out loud that would have made Richard Pryor blush when James Bueschler took out Danica Patrick. Was I rooting for her? Certainly and unashamedly. Then again, I was also the only reporter in the skybox press center at the time, yet even with that I kept all other comments strictly on the audible only to self volume level. Had I had company, as was the case during the Sprint Cup race the following day, I wouldn’t have said anything. Out loud, anyway. I’m not going to stop being a fan, but subjecting journalists to distractions such as cheering and the like is unprofessional. Besides, I was there to report, not root. Not that it stopped me from rooting; rather, I rooted just as hard as ever on that weekend. Just silently.
Indulge me expanding on this.
To this not-so humble scribe, on those unfortunately rare occasions when I’ve entered the press box and/or media center I have viewed them as a workplace. I’m there to do a job, namely write accurately and fairly about the people, place and event that together make a weekend of racing. I also feel an obligation to be something of a fan advocate, a representative of and for the people who passionately love racing. They will most likely never have the opportunity to work a race as a media member. I have been given that opportunity, and I take seriously the belief that I should use the opportunity to provide insight and put a human face on the faces known to most solely through a television set. I’m not going to stop being a fan because I’m wearing press credentials that weekend.
That all said, when I am attending a race as media I’m working, and the areas set aside for the press are my office. In that weird and occasionally wonderful world known as the day job, I work in an office. Work is what I’m here to do, and while I do take breaks, when I’m working I hate being interrupted by the behavior, or more accurately the lack thereof, of others. This makes for many interesting moments each day, for around my office silence is golden only in that it’s as scarce as gold, or if you prefer a NASCAR illustration scarcer than Kyle Busch t-shirts at a Junior Nation rally. One swiftly learns to ignore that which distracts, or else the prospect of responding in a fashion resulting in you being the lead story on all major network news programs plus CNN doing a live feed looms large. That, to put it mildly, would be overreacting on your part regardless of how justified it may feel. Keep that “overreacting” word in mind; it’ll come into play later.
When I’m at work, no matter how much in vain it may be, my hope is there will be a professional environment. That said, far too often the definition of what is professional is far too limited. (Rather like how for many of us, our definition of God is too small.) Professionalism isn’t strictly a matter of how we conduct ourselves. It’s our interaction with others at the workplace. It’s how management treats employees both publicly and privately. And it’s how we interact with our customers and/or clients. An illustration of these points is how some feel closing the office door is full license for any subsequent behavior, including ranting and yelling. No, all it means is you’ve made it slightly more difficult for everyone else to overhear you being a clueless, classless jerk by ranting and yelling.
Traditional and new media (i.e. bloggers) have had a relationship over the past years veering from open hostility to uneasy acceptance. Generally speaking, bloggers think of themselves as peers to traditional media, with occasional forays into dismissing it as a refuge for bloviating dinosaurs. Meanwhile, traditional media thinks of bloggers as at best enthusiastic amateurs and at worst over-caffeinated self-inflated punks ignorant of proper journalistic practices, such as fairness, neutrality and decorum.
Clichés aside, there are clear differences between the two. A blogger has far more range within which to approach a given subject. They have no prohibition against weaving opinion throughout any discussion of facts. They can say what they like when they like however they like, involving themselves in the story whenever and however they like. It’s gonzo journalism without apology. The trade-off is how for the most part, blogging is limited to drawing on traditional media for source material rather than having direct access to news sources themselves. At least this has been the case.
Today, with growing acceptance by news sources of blogging and bloggers as legitimate conduits of information, we’re seeing direct invitations to bloggers to sit in the same seats as traditional media, covering events directly as they transpire. Taking this into the realm of NASCAR, bloggers — not all, but some — are being granted permission to participate in press conferences and access to areas that were previously strictly traditional media’s realm. With privilege comes responsibility; when so invited, bloggers are expected to conduct themselves professionally. No asking for autographs; no cheering; be polite and respectful to both the people being interviewed and those doing the interviewing. You’re there to write about the people and the competition, not say “look at MEEEEE!”
Fair enough. But playing the Queen of Hearts yelling “off with their heads” about members of new media when there is the slightest misstep on their part is ridiculous. The hysteria and histrionics with which what happened in Daytona has been written about is pathetic; a very poorly disguised unleashing of the fear-fueled contempt with which members of traditional media, simultaneously resentful of perceived amateurs being allowed among their ranks and terrified of how the ever-shrinking traditional media realm could well make them next in the unemployment line, see their world.
Was Tom Bowles wrong to cheer in the Daytona press box? Yes, and his hot mess of a post at Frontstretch defending his actions is thin gruel. But did his actions warrant losing his gig at Sports Illustrated, or even the volume of written tirades about how he committed what to some is the ultimate unforgivable sin? No. A simple, directly delivered “don’t do that” would have sufficed.
Finally, a quote from an earlier post:
While threats against a reporter, or anyone for that matter, over such a trivial matter as perceived bias against a favorite athlete are without excuse, the incident points out the danger all media members face when engaging with their audience via social media. A reporter’s obligation is to be neutral in the face of any story regardless of their beliefs or persuasion. It can be safely argued that regardless of actual intent, anything a reporter says or does publicly factors into the perception of that reporter’s fairness. They do not have the luxury of saying whatever they want whenever they want without it being used against them. In an era of ever-increasing open communication, comments made in jest are ofttimes best not made at all. It’s not fair, but it is reality.
In short, while it is appropriate for journalists to remind bloggers that when they are in the journalistic environment they should conduct themselves as journalists, it is equally appropriate for bloggers to remind journalists that there is no parallel for when journalists go a-bloggin’. So chill out.