Pensive Rea White, on a NASCAR deadline (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
We on the NASCAR train see it all vividly, painfully, every week, in every town this sport plays.
There is so much useless fluff in most newspapers these days that they ought to be tied around a rock to keep from floating away.
And that, it appears, has been having a dour effect on the sport of NASCAR racing, as well as of course so many other aspects of American life too.
It is sad and disturbing to watch, and the effects are clearly visible in every race track media center:
This slow suicide-by-strangulation of the once Great American Newspaper.
It's affecting every part of society, of course, and maybe it's just natural evolution at work, poor business practices coming home to roost, in city after city, like a great plague.
But one question here to raise is how is it affecting the sport of NASCAR racing…and how can this sport deal with it?
Every week, it seems, at every stop on the NASCAR circus train, there's yet another sad media story to relate.
The four-year-long purge of veteran NASCAR journalists from the media landscape has been brutal and ugly.
And it looks like it's getting worse.
Jeff Gordon, meets the press in downtown Los Angeles. NASCAR has never been easier for journalists to cover, drivers have never been more accessible. However American newspapers have become increasingly missing in action (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Brian France once made an impassioned plea to the nation's sports editors to keep alive the NASCAR beat, the hometown-personal touch, to no avail.
Here at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, NASCAR's own PR corps, which has been strengthened dramatically over the past year or so, is out in force, maybe a dozen strong….almost outnumbering the 'legitimate' media covering the sport. Throw in the 45 or more team PR reps, and the media troops seem all but overwhelmed.
The latest media victims on the stock car tour: those few remaining soldiers at this sport's venerable SceneDaily. That publication was created back in the 1980s as Grand National Scene as a thick weekly compendium of stories by a huge staff, flamboyant, wide-open NASCAR news operation. The chopping began two years ago, and in the past few days it has been completed. Gone.
More veteran NASCAR journalists heading out to mow grass.
The next victims?
Well, that pending shakeup at USAToday has everyone on pins and needles. If form follows, veterans will be iced….
Jimmie Johnson in New York City. Maybe it's just all about television these days (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Monte Dutton hangs in tough at the Gaston Gazette, and Jim Utter at the Charlotte Observer. Aside from those two, however, the media scene is bleak.
Of course the sport of NASCAR isn't the only part of American culture being hit by this epidemic. But for us down here in the stock car trenches it has become quite personal. And listening weekly to so many inane questions to drivers, by well-meaning but sometimes simply clueless reporters, the depth of the issue is all too clear.
The hallowed pursuit of truth, always an adventure and challenge in this sport, is tougher than ever, because there are so few veteran troops in these trenches anymore.
Is all this just business, or rather 'bad' business? Or a national disgrace, on a vast scale?
Or maybe it's just quaintly old-fashioned to even be concerned any more, as quickly as Apple and Samsung and Google and all those techs are moving us on a tidal wave of change. And with the Millennial Generation more concerned about internet bandwidth than a loud and fast new Mustang, Camaro or Charger….
Does anyone even worry anymore that the daily newspaper, in virtually every city in the U.S., has become superfluous to our daily lives?
Maybe 'mainstream' newspapers are just reaping what they corporately deserve, after too many years of arrogant, monopolistic business practices.
Do any of the people running these daily newspapers even care about what's going on, or are they simply looking for the next person to fire, the next news beat to kill?
The efficacy of cutting jobs and critically diminishing the quality of the product doesn't quite seem logical.
After all, if you're selling hamburgers, you can't expect to keep customers if you tell them 'Gee, we just can't afford the beef anymore,' and simply try to sell them empty buns.
Now nothing new here, really, in this long-running story. Nothing you haven't already noticed.
But that's only part of the issue here in NASCAR-Country.
The other half of the equation is how to solve the problem.
The sport's fans deserve good product, solid independent journalism, hard-hitting questions, and good debate about the hot issues. And the sport itself certainly needs an informed, energized fan-base.
A race weekend walk through the NASCAR-Twitter-verse and Facebook-world, any given NASCAR weekend, shows a hotbed of interest in this sport.
But how best to tap into it, how better to serve it?
The world of news has migrated to the web, and there are dozens of NASCAR-oriented websites, a jungle really.
The TV-sponsored web packages are glitzy, and extremely well-financed, but sometimes it seems with agendas – sometimes agendas of topics to avoid or gloss over.
However the many independent NASCAR websites are grossly underfinanced, most principally staffed by writers forced to cover from in front of the TV, rather than pit road or the garage.
All that hurts the sport.
It is really quite ironic – perplexing and baffling even -- that just as this entire news world has become so energized and personalized and highly interactive (with Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and what-all), that the classic newspaper business world, particularly as far as the sport of NASCAR is concerned, has virtually collapsed.
The next step in all this, for NASCAR?
And who will take it?
On the NASCAR print beat: Kenny Bruce (L) and Bob Pockrass (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)