NASCAR

Daytona and the decline of journalism ethics

Tonight on “Race Central with Andy and Genna”, we will be discussing the Tom Bowles incident at Daytona International Speedway.  The incident raises several questions about the ethics of journalism and a clash between interactive media and traditional media.  Because of time constraints, we are going to jump right in to it on the program tonight leaving only a couple of seconds to summarize the events.

The incident surfaced first on Thursday, February 17, 2011 when an “established” member of the motorsports media was rumored to be cheering for underdog Regan Smith in the closing stages of the first Gatorade Duel (the qualifying races that set the field for the Daytona 500).  On Sunday, February 20, 2011, rookie Trevor Bayne won his first Daytona 500 in his first race at stock car racing’s most hallowed ground. Veteran reporters say there were several cheers in the press box and in the infield media center.  One of those cheers came from veteran reporter, freelance journalist Tom Bowles of Frontstretch.com (who also worked) for Sports Illustrated.After the race, Trevor Bayne was greeted in the media center with applause from many members of the media.  Over the course of the next week, veteran reporters took to Twitter to express their disappointment and outrage.  Tom Bowles was one of the reporters called out.  On Tuesday morning, his firing from SI woke the racing world with a stunning jolt.  The discussion went on for hours on Sirius NASCAR Radio, Twitter, Facebook and any other conceivable outlet.

The first informal attack was lodged against the “NASCAR Citizen Journalist Media Corp”, a program in which “citizen journalists” (bloggers) are granted media access to races in the top tiers of NASCAR.  The program demands participants adhere to the same strict ethical code members of the mainstream media would adhere to, such as not cheering in the press box, not getting driver autographs and keeping a neutral position.  (DISCLOSURE: My co-host Genna Short is a writer for Skirts and Scuffs, which is a participant in the CJMC program)

The issue many have with the CJMC is that there is no accountability for independent bloggers.  While a guy working for an organization like SI might be fired or reprimanded for cheering for a driver in the media center, an independent blogger would only answer to themselves.  Worst case scenario, they have the media privileges revoked by NASCAR after the damage has been done.  It becomes an issue when bloggers have never stepped foot inside a college classroom and simply don’t know the ethical code that is otherwise common sense to those who have covered races for a long time.

However, blogs and internet media is a sign that times are changing, as stated by NASCAR broadcaster Dave Moody:

Bowles’ termination marks the most notable clash yet between the “old guard” of traditional, print-media focused NASCAR journalists and a new wave of writers spawned by an explosion of internet racing websites. A decade ago, the number of NASCAR reporters writing for anything other than paper-and-ink publications could be counted easily on the fingers of both hands. Today, the internet set far outnumbers traditional print reporters, as both newspapers and magazines slash payrolls — or even close their doors altogether — in the face of difficult economic times.

Jeff Gluck, former NASCAR Scene writer who now writes for SBNation.com, is evidence of this.  However, Gluck is also evidence that new media such as blogs and social media can be approached with ethics.  Gluck is a veteran, and he knows the rules of the game.  He manages to stay neutral while providing news, commentary and even the occasional snark.

Editorial journalism in new media does work.  After all, editorials have been a part of journalism for a long time.  Broadcasting greats Edward Murrow and Walter Cronkite were known for providing commentary where they felt necessary.  Anderson Cooper (CNN), Brian Williams (NBC) and even Shepard Smith (FOX News Channel) are modern day examples of journalists who have their occasional on-air editorials.  This has not diminished anyone’s respect for their talent, discipline or knowledge.  They are probably the three most respected journalists in the modern era.  In the NASCAR world, David Poole was the same way.  He was straight up, he reported fact and gave occasional opinion.  Ask any of his peers, he was well respected.

The questions raised after this incident remain the same: Is it acceptable for bloggers to occupy space in the NASCAR media center?  Is it ever acceptable to cheer or applaud in the media center?  Is new media tearing apart the basic principles of journalism?

Tonight, on the program, we will be joined by David Shuster.  David is a well respected journalist inside the Washington DC beltway media.  He has worked for FOX, CNN and, most recently, msnbc.  His tenure at msnbc had him report from The White House for “Hardball with Chris Matthews” and Hurricane Katrina’s “ground zero” (Biloxi, MS) for MSNBC’s “Hurricane Katrina: Crisis and Recovery” coverage.  David previously anchored “Race for the White House” (after David Gregory was tapped to replace the late Tim Russert), “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” and “The Big Picture with David Shuster and Tamron Hall” as well as guest-hosting “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” on occasion.

Because of time constraints, we will not be accepting calls during the program — if you have any questions for David Shuster, send them to @amarquis32, @GennaGirl or @EmployedWinner on Twitter or ammarquis@live.com and we’ll try to get them answered, time permitting.  The show runs from 11pm-11:30pm Eastern Standard Time at BlogTalkRadio.

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