This is my final post looking at some of the issues that’ll be covered by the media panel at this week’s Motor Sport Business Forum in Monaco, featuring James Allen, Jonathan Noble, Joe Saward and Ian Burrows.
Advocates of free market economics and devotees of Adam Smith (there’s a big overlap; maybe I should draw a Venn diagram) still believe that consumers act in a rational way. Unless you’ve spent the past couple of years living in a loft, catching up on the entire series of Heimat, you’ll know this is utter cobblers.
You don’t have to rub yourself down three times a day with a copy of Blog Your Way To A Six-Figure Income to know that if you don’t update your site regularly, your traffic will fall off more dramatically than Richard Chamberlain in The Towering Inferno. And that indicates there’s a big distortion in this ‘ere market; even in the niche that is Formula 1, people want to read news every day. And if the sites they visit first don’t have any news? Well, they’ll carry on looking until they find one that does.
Where there is demand a supply surely follows, with the result that an entire industry has grown up to provide these addicts with a daily fix of not-necessarily-news; usually some quote-based bilge usually bearing no relation to what was originally said or meant. The big fish among these bottom-feeders is the rightly derided GMM, a sloppy outfit which never lets the facts get in the way of a non-story, and which only began to acknowledge the sources it was plagiarising when those sources threatened to get legally medieval.
But he isn’t the only person out there pretending to be something he’s not
GMM’s main ‘journalist’ is Andrew Maitland, an individual who has never entered the F1 paddock and probably never will, owing to the queue of people waiting to give him a thorough kicking if he ever does. But he isn’t the only person out there pretending to be something he’s not. Anyone with a computer and the merest modicum of literary ability can now pass themselves off as an F1 journalist, and there’s a lot of them at it.
On the outer reaches of the spiral arm of the F1 news galaxy there lurks a particular brand of goon. Often they have day jobs, but by night they dress up and play at being journalists, merrily cutting and pasting information from elsewhere, usually adding next to knack-all to it. The mere fact that someone else has carried the story renders it fit to print without further interrogation.
A month or so ago m’learned colleague Joe Saward indulged in a little schadenfreude at the expense of a minor F1 news site, which was complaining that its contents had been pilfered. He called the piece Thieving from the thieves and had a good giggle at the irony because the site in question carried a GMM feed.
What he didn’t expect was the vehement response of some of the forum-dwellers there: the proprietor posted several rather miffed comments on Joe’s blog in which he made a series of bafflingly illogical claims, including that he knew GMM’s output was dirge but spared his readers the worst of it, and that while he would dearly love to be a full-time F1 journalist, he just couldn’t afford the ‘luxury’ of all that travel. His chums, meanwhile, accused Joe of being a meanie without ever actually getting to grips with the point, and then they all went back to their forum, where they could deconstruct Joe’s personality in more detail without fear of moderation.
It was like watching an old Norse raiding party trash a neighbouring village – set the livestock loose, burn down a couple of huts – before returning to camp and congratulating themselves on a pillage well done. The proprietor opined that there was no need to attend events anyway, since he had recently composed a perfectly adequate news story about the Brawn-Mercedes deal using just two press releases. Surely, I thought, he should be aspiring to do a better, more thorough job than this?
F1 fans find the ‘echo chamber’ effect just as vexing as the professionals do – because many of these fans blog about F1 and rely on an accurate information to make their efforts worthwhile
Elsewhere on the web, a site has recently come into being called Formula 1 Blogger. It is cleanly designed and optimised for smartphones, and its creator (full-time job: web developer at Sony Computer Entertainment) Twitters its every update and Diggs assiduously under the peculiar pseudonym of ‘Mootymoots’. The content, though, is the same old tosh, regurgitated without any analysis, insight or comment, and very briefly at that. Every post reads like it took half a minute to write. You kind of wonder what the point is.
Now, my great-great-grandfather was a blacksmith in a little village called Catford, now part of the suburban sprawl of south east London. History doesn’t record his response to the invention of the motor car, but he was probably rather miffed to watch his livelihood disappear down the swanee. In the same way, many old-school F1 journalists are having to cope with the inevitable disappearance of many of their revenue streams, particularly syndication deals. But they cannot stand in the way of progress.
Times change. We just need to make sure they change for the better. The comments in response to the earlier pieces in this series show that many F1 fans find the ‘echo chamber’ effect just as vexing as the professionals do – because many of these fans blog about F1 and rely on an accurate information to make their efforts worthwhile. There are plenty of blogs out there which have readable, well-crafted and compelling content, regardless of how many F1 races the authors (or their visitors) have attended. You don’t have to work in the F1 paddock to talk or blog about the news; but at the same time we need to be cautious about those who are pretending to be something they’re not, because ultimately they are doing their readers a disservice.
You can demand better…
To establish long-term credibility, new media has to adopt some of the better practices of the old (and before some of you start stamping your feet, yes, I know that old media doesn’t necessarily follow all of these rules all of the time). Transparency, accuracy, fairness, attribution, inquisitiveness – it may take a little more time and effort, but it will make the product better.
There is no way of enshrining this in law. Hard-working, hard-bitten journalists like Joe Saward can huff and puff all they like about having their work stolen, but ultimately change will only come through the demand side rather than the supply side. The cut-and-paste genie is out of the bottle. Servers the world over are groaning beneath the weight of all the jibber-jabber.
But you, the readers, have power. You can demand better. If a blog or news site is dealing in regurgitated slop, tell them. Leave a polite comment, pointing out that their stories have been rehashed from elsewhere without proper attribution, interrogation or verification. Let it go up there for other readers to see. And if the moderators remove it, or respond with a Pitpass-style “You’re not paying for any of this, so bog off elsewhere,” then reward their churlishness by doing just that. There are plenty of elsewheres to bog off to and nicer people to converse with.
Hurrah for the internet!