There's an age-old debate that crosses over in some degree to journalism, PR, entertainment and show business: Do you tell the story you want to tell, or tell the story that needs to be told?
It's not just semantics, but philosophy. As a former real, paper-and-ink newspaper journalist of some success, the answer really all depends on your approach and mindset. You can go into a situation with a preconception of what "the story" is, or you can go into a situation wondering "what is the story?"and follow it wherever it takes you, no matter who bitches about it.
BUT, what if you get there and people maybe grouse a bit about the fee but also five men and women parade into the meeting naked to protest hunting and trapping? Do A) you ignore the naked people so as to not "legitimize their actions" and go with the fee story or B) do a story on five naked people in the council chamber AND a story on fee debate?
I say B. Screw worries of "legitimizing their actions" or "encouraging others to do the same." My job was to report the news, not make a bunch of values judements, and naked people at council meetings is news that readers (customers) want to know about.
All this is a long, convoluted way of saying tell the story that's there, not what you THINK will there or EXPECT will be there or even WANT to be there.
IndyCar is best served if The Media tell the stories that readers/viewers want to hear, regardless of what anyone else (including sponsors, teams, league officials) thinks.
This is where I differ greatly with the idea that ABC or Versus or ESPN has to somehow "promote" drivers or "build up" drivers or somehow manufacture interest in this driver or that driver. It's like saying if Versus et al only try hard enough, their viewers will love the annointed drivers and IndyCar will rocket to super success.
Rot. Rubbish. The best sports coverage is reader/viewer driven. It's more an act of discovery than synthesis. You go, you find out what's there, you use your knowledge of your audience to determine what THEY want to learn about (which is often at odds with what the sports league itself or the movers and shakers therein think is important) and use your talent and technology present that story.
Supply and demand. Free enterprise. Give your customers what they want. Sounds very easy, but is ooooh so challenging to do in real life. The Media may say "we're already doing that, blogger boy." And they are, to some degree. Take this as plea to do the hard work of doing more of it.
Now I love and respect everyone I have ever met connected to ABC or Versus coverage, but their IndyCar coverage often SEEMS to me to be too name focused. To checklisty. Too Big Teams focused. Too based on the points standings. Honestly, I just got a "usual suspects" vibe off pre-race quite often in 2011, to the point where I kind of stopped paying attention to it. Did I mention I love the people involved in ABC and Versus coverage? But my reaction is my reaction. And, to their credit, Versus tried some new stuff, like Robin's Grid Run. Much credit for trying new things. Keep doing that. And don't get the idea that I think their pre-race show SUCKS. Not at all.
But, while we're covering Chip and Roger in extensive detail and the other "name" drivers, meanwhile, down the grid, people are doing interesting things that remain NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. I think fans want to see beyond the usual PR-fueled driver speak and maybe get a glimpse of emotion. Joy, rage, frustration, silliness -- wherever it comes from. Don't over think "how it looks" and just how it. That's my suggestion.
Talking to Will and Dario about the points battle. Again. Yawn. I don't believe the vast majority of viewers much care about the points battle,especially when the interview answers are roughly the same in each of eight weeks straight. They'd rather see stuff like we got when James Hinchcliffe and Josef Newgarden kicked it around Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, just being silly. Hillarious video here.
So my encouragement is for everyone to work down the grid, so to speak. Stay open to stories no matter where they come from. And let drivers get a little more real. We need more video of tears of joy and flying laptops of rage. We need more stuf like Doug Boles yelling "WE GOT SCREWED!" and Robbie Buhl's Festival of Angst after his Infiniti-fragged back in the day. More Danica-like stomping. More Sarah Fisher weeping in the winner's circle. More Ed Carpenter desert-dry sarcastic humor. More Katherine Legge all Euroed up or getting her DTM schwerve on and Pippa Mann bench pressing a horse at Pit Fit. Who really cares where these people are in the points battle? Not me. I want stories.
Please BLOW UP any sense of on-track merit-based coverage. I differ greatly with many on this point, but I say shred and burn that. There is no "deserve" in racing. There never has been. The idea of giving the most coverage to the drivers with the most wins and top 5s even though they put crank addicts to sleep is total RUBBISH. Yeah, you cover the winners. Yeah, you do stories on the points race. Yeah you interview drivers who are on winning streaks. This is not an either-or decision. Let's ramp up the mix of stories on the struggling rookie and 0-for-50 drivers who are interesting nonetheless. Read this from my buddy Tony Johns. It's on the right track.
I guess this is my big, quickly written rambling plea for encouraging more effort to find what is interesting to viewers and delivering it, regardless of how the driver does on the track or how Chip and Roger and Randy might react to it.
Show us the humanity. Show us the interesting bits. Entertain us. Please.