Posted By Pete Pistone
CONCORD, N.C. - The press members that have gathered in Charlotte this week are here to cover the news prior to the start of the 2011 NASCAR season. But a couple of stories that have broken out in the early going have made the media the news.
It started at the tail-end of Monday's Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing presentation when television analyst Larry McReynolds, who served as emcee for the affair, ended the gathering with a lecture to the media audience.
"You all know that no matter what role you play, we've got to roll our sleeves up and we've got a lot of work to do in 2011 to get this sport back where it was at one time," McReynolds told the crowd, an opening statement that was met with audible groans from several areas of the room. "I know it's easy to write about all the bad things and I know it can't all be about the good things, but the only thing I reach out to you:
"If it's television ratings, we know the ratings are down. How about also promoting that we're second only to the NFL? If there's 25,000 empty seats in Michigan, how about making sure you document there's still over 100,000 people in those grandstands.
Things like that will get our sport back to where we were, along with storylines like this (EGR) group right here with the type of racing that we had in 2010."
It's not the first time that McReynolds has chastised the media. However it is somewhat ironic since the former crew chief IS a member of the media as an analyst for FOX, TNT and SPEED.
It's also not the first time the "Be Positive" mantra has been tossed out to the assembled media masses during this annual trek to Charlotte. Last year's media tour was also peppered with several pep talks to encourage a more positive view of the sport by a number of drivers, team owners and NASCAR officials.
The bottom line however is pretty simple. It's not the media's job - in any sport - to only tell the positive side of the story. From what I remember in journalism and broadcasting school (first one who says how could I possibly remember anything from that long ago gets smacked), the media's first and foremost responsibility is to report the truth.
The truth is that NASCAR, while not close to dying or falling completely apart anytime soon, has hit upon troubled times. For a variety of reasons. I believe it's cyclical and NASCAR is in a downward trend not unlike what other big time sports go through. I remember when the NHL nearly became extinct, when the NBA was so far off the radar the championship finals were televised on tape delay and when Major League Baseball struggled to find an audience after one of several labor disputes and strikes.
Do I believe NASCAR will bounce back? My opinion is yes, perhaps not to the level it enjoyed during the boom period of about a decade ago but certainly with a bigger audience than its generating right now. The on-track product is the best it's ever been and the stories that keep unfolding on almost a daily basis still make NASCAR a pretty entertaining and engaging form of sport.
But as a reporter it's my duty to you the reader to give it to you straight. I believe sports fans are smart enough to be able to take information and facts and make their own decision. Sugar coating and propaganda are an insult to both the reporter and the fan.
Truth be told, today's NASCAR fan is much different than those of twenty or thirty years ago. Heck, it's probably safe to say today's NASCAR fan doesn't compare much to maybe only five years ago.
Attention spans, lifestyles and how people go about following sports have all added up to change the landscape dramatically.
Which brings us to media story number two of the week and FOX Sports president David Hill's comments.
The outspoken Hill held court with the media on Monday night and basically said things were going to have to change for his network to continue presenting NASCAR coverage.
In Hill's view, races are too long and holding the attention of anyone to sit in front of a television set for more than four hours has become nearly impossible. His answer is a compressed pre-race show, a tighter race distance and a quick recap of the event. Tax, tip out the door at no more than four hours.
FOX has seen ratings decline in recent years and with a new television contract only a handful of years away Hill said it would be a "business decision" when the time comes for possible renewal. Translated that means bigger audiences need to start watching or else Digger and his Friends may be absent from the NASCAR scene for a while.
I agree with Hill's assessment that a shorter event and quicker pace are needed. But there's also the problem of the longest season in professional sports that demand's a fan's attention for ten months, the longest of any pro sport on the planet. However there's way too much money at stake to cut races anytime soon so the grueling schedule won't be going away.
It's not always easy to cover a story in the job of being a media member. It's even harder and quite honestly a bit awkward to sometimes actually be the story.