The changing nature of F1 media

By on Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button both use Twitter

Formula One has gone through numerable changes since the first race took place in 1950. Cars have altered dramatically, rules have been tweaked on an annual basis while drivers and teams have come and gone. Over 850 races have taken place; as it stands, the 900th race will kick off the 2014 season. Yet there remains a constant throughout. People have always reported on a Formula One event. But like with any aspect of Formula One, reporting on the sport has changed and the invention of the Internet has radically altered the way the media operate.

I cannot profess to be an expert as I am still a teenager and most experience comes of being in Britain. My memories of the sport begin with the Mika Hakkinen era, but even in this short period, there has been a shift in the reportage of racing. Ten years ago, most news came from a weekly edition of Autosport. What there was to find on the Internet – and it was very little – had, for the most, to be achieved through the dulcet tones of a Dial-Up connection. More often than not, what you saw on TV was what you got. In 2012, the majority of people can connect to the Internet within minutes and be able to satisfy their quest for information.

There are an abundance of websites – including F1Zone.net, of course – that provide stories to racing fans, websites that simply didn’t exist ten years ago. They allow aspiring journalists, like myself, the platform to demonstrate their passion for the sport and post it for everyone in the world to view. Like any walk of life, there are good websites and there are bad websites. There are forums where fans can argue for hours and hours, connect virtually with others who share a passion and embark on a debate that ten years ago, would not be possible. Mere minutes after the race has ended, or even before the flag has fallen, people can discuss events and be able to justify their opinions courtesy of data available on Formula One websites, most usefully the official F1 website and the FIA’s.

Lewis Hamilton tweeted this picture before the German Grand Prix

This leads helpfully on to the more prominent forms of social media, including Facebook and Twitter. Facebook may have been founded first, but it isn’t a hugely popular tool compared to Twitter. The latter of the two is handily designed for the sport. 140 character bursts that are ideal to distribute information to the masses: updates from practice sessions, qualifying and the race. Quick snippets from drivers and teams or maybe just fun facts related to the sport. When there’s a lull in practice sessions or even in post-race coverage, TV and radio crews usually revert to Twitter to gather the opinion of fans, albeit sometimes livid and ill-informed. Not everything related to Twitter is positive. Fake accounts and invented stories can spread like a disease, poisoning the minds of trusting users who are duped by a source that turns out to be thinner than paper. Conversely, Twitter does allow fans to get closer to the action and closer to the drivers. Only three of the 2012 field – Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher – do not have an account. Several drivers update their accounts frequently, allowing everyone an insight into their life. Social media has also been pinpointed as key in the on-going Arab Spring and Twitter was used extensively regarding issues surrounding the Bahrain Grand Prix. Pieces of information regarding the controversial race in Manama spread around the Internet, usually with a predetermined bias over whether the race should or should not have taken place.

But is using Twitter as the basis for a main story poor journalism, or is it the way Formula One reporting is justifiably heading? In the midst of his erratic 2011 season, Lewis Hamilton told his haters, via Twitter, that ‘I don’t give a ****’. The Tweet was later deleted, but is this further ammunition to show a driver under pressure? Is it just a young man who wanted to express himself? Or is it such that even thinking about reporting such a Tweet as news demonstrates the current culture of something ever so slightly controversial – a driver actually speaking his mind – being blown horribly out of proportion? Ditto when Pastor Maldonado tweeted his frustration at the inconsistency of the stewards this season. Again, his comments were hastily removed. There’s no doubt Twitter is a hugely useful tool for this website and for Formula One in general. It’s an asset that can be exploited for the benefit of many, but it isn’t always positive.

Sometimes information can be taken from Twitter. But not always...

As already stated, the Internet has also created a culture where people must have information immediately and free of charge. It’s incredibly useful for this culture to exist, but it also makes people forget that you can’t get everything free of charge. The availability of alternative websites means that sites such as F1Zone.net have to rely on donations and the goodwill of readers. This creates a Catch-22 situation. You can’t send people to Formula One races without having money. You can’t get a greater insight unless you are at Formula One races. Therefore, the quality of articles drops unless you are at Formula One races. And so the cycle continues. This isn’t a desperate plea for cash, far from it! But it shows why certain websites, such as Autosport and The Times now largely operate behind a paywall. There was widespread dissatisfaction when both of these websites required payment to view articles. But you wouldn’t walk into a newsagent, pick up the print version and be so aghast when the cashier asked you to pay…

The ‘now’ culture has also dramatically altered coverage. I can only speak on behalf of the UK, but the increased airtime of BBC and Sky compared to previous seasons demonstrates the increased demand from fans. ‘Adverts in practice sessions? Sacrilege!’ Even if five years ago, you couldn’t even watch any practice sessions live.  Both the BBC and Sky are doing a fantastic job of covering the sport, but is there an argument that there can be too much of a good thing? Is it dedication to the sport, or is it saturation? Is F1 shooting itself in the foot by not exploiting video sharing sites such as Youtube, or is it better for videos to be removed in order to protect lucrative contracts with broadcasters, as is currently the case?

Can there be too much of a good thing?

Teams produce driver quotes following qualifying and the race quickly; so that quotes can be posted across the Internet as near after the session as possible. This is just one example of how reporting of the sport is changing. Newspapers would carry race reports on Monday; Autosport would follow with more in-depth news and analysis on Thursday. But with so much information available on the Internet, print media has had to change their formats. It’s still a high quality magazine. It can still do race reviews and excellent features. But aspects of the magazine are less relevant now than ten years ago. It’s an interesting balance to consider as detractors have been ringing the death bell of print media since the invention of the Internet. But the majority of people still want something in their hands to read…

The ‘now’ culture also means that there are less surprising news stories. Everything is reported, every rumour is suggested. Driver changes are rarely a shock. One fan summed it up fairly well when I asked what others thought about the changing nature of media: “There are whole websites out there which pretty much run on the barrel scrapings of everyone else. Print media wasn't perfect in this regard 'back in the day' but the stories and rumours that they got wrong were one-off pursuits of scoops rather than some sort of business model.” The ‘now’ culture is undoubtedly better than waiting for the Ceefax page to turn over or anticipating the arrival of a dedicated magazine, but the vast majority have noticed that increased quantity has resulted in decreased quality. So it’s clearly better in one aspect: we all know more about the sport we love. We no longer have to rely on Ceefax or delayed news. But has increased knowledge had an impact on content? If yes, is it entirely positive?


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