I used to be a real newspaper reporter, and I can tell you one of the best feelings in journalism is the “scoop,” which is defined loosely as having big news first and having it right. Even better, when you scoop the world and they can’t get the same information so they are forced to write stories based entirely on your story. THAT is the ultimate.
Having said that, Jim Utter of the Charlotte Observer has to be high as a kite right now.
Because yesterday in a relatively small blurb he put out via Twitter (@jim_utter) which led to this story on the Observer site, caused a FREAK OUT on the Twitter and spawned about 109 stories, including one in the mighty USA Today, all of which included some version of “the Charlotte Observer is reporting.” BOO-YEAH. Cue the celebratory scotch if I was in Mr. Utter’s place.
Lots of supporters and detractors to The Chase, but most NASCAR fans seemed fine with it 2014. It certainly generated publicity, both about who would qualify for the Chase and then who would win the championship after the Chase started. Said publicity was pretty much the whole motivation for the Chase, as far as I can tell. Well, NASCAR, as it wont to do, is set to change the Chase rather dramatically.
The new proposal, again via Mr. Utter, is a 16-team format that includes elimination races and a four-car race for the championship in the final race of the season every year. The 16 spots would be filled by race winners first, then points if there aren’t 16 different race winners in the year. If there are more or than 16 race winners (pretty unlikely), then points determine which16 get in. .
Here comes the crazy: Four drivers would be eliminated from title contention after the third, sixth and ninth races. The final four eligible drivers would have a winner-take-all final race for the championship. It’s Brian France’s long-lusted-after Game 7 of racing.
Get more info in Utter’s story here. There were nearly 1800 comments on it by the time I posted this, at 7:30 a.m. Central on Jan. 18, less than 24 hours after Utter posted his story.
OK, so, two things:
First, cue the outrage, because I kind of like the changes. YES, it’s very very very nontraditional and it doesn’t reward consistency as much as it encourages drivers to go for the win. I appreciate anything that makes drivers concentrate less on having “good points days” and more on winning races. After all, qualifying for other sports playoffs are based on wins. There are no points for second or 29th or whatever.
And don’t bullshit me that people won’t be tuning in on the elimination races to see WHO WILL BE ELIMINATED? Even 99% fans who are expressing outrage right now will be tuning in to see who gets tossed. It’s like NASCAR’s version of the Bachelor’s rose ceremony or Survivor’s tribal council’s meeting or The Biggest Loser’s weigh in. The NCAA basketball tournament n wheels. I guarantee there will be NASCAR tournament pools. Ratings are gonna be high for those races, and, ratings sound like: “ka-ching.”
Second, is Jim Utter’s scoop an “oh shit” moment for NASCAR or was he an instrument of NASCAR to launch a trial balloon?
This is kind an academic question since it really doesn’t matter either way to me if this was a rogue leak inside NASCAR or Brian France himself told Jim. I can tell you from first-hand experience, that since nobody can be forced in this country to talk to the media, nobody talks to the media without having some motive. The motive can be as simple as “it’ll be cool to be in the paper!” but it’s always there.
Often times the source/reporter relationship is quite symbiotic. The source wants the information out for his or her own purposes, which could range from having the thrill of being the secret source to killing said idea to creating public excitement and thereby assuring the idea lives. The reporter wants the information out because he or she believes the readers will want to know it. And, the reporter loves basking in the glow of the massive scoop.
When I was a newspaper reporter, I gleefully got used by The Man to float trial balloons sometimes, and gleefully talked to the Deep Throat who leaked stuff that pissed off the man.
These proposed changes aren’t set in stone and could be amended or even abandoned before they are officially announced on Jan. 30. So it’s possible that NASCAR is floating it out there now to see what kind of massive public reaction there is before making it official. Happens all the time.
From a reporter’s point of view, you’d like to know the motives of the source and there’s a lot of due diligence involved, but as long as the information is accurate and your readers will be interested in it, you’ll run with it no matter what the motivation is (in general). It would take a big set (of balls or ovaries) to get this out now if NASCAR didn’t want it out. Real journalism serves its readers first, not the Almighty League, whether it’s NASCAR, IndyCar, NBA, NHL, NFL whatever. Reporters who aren’t afraid to piss off league titans in order to bring their readers useful information have my HUGE respect.
A side benefit here: if Utter did get it from The Man, the other journalists are going to be pissy with the league for that, and I like reporters to be a little pissy with The Man. They tend to express said pissiness in writing stories that readers want to read but The Man doesn't necessarily want told, which the world of sports journalism could use more of, in my opinion.
Personally, I don’t see NASCAR as being angry at this leak. Not saying they’re using Mr. Utter (and, again, in his place I would be fine with being used in this fashion), but it does give them 12 days to listen to fan reaction while saying “nothing is official until Jan. 30!!”