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Dutton on "buzzards", use of sources, Dale Jr. rumor mill

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Speedway, Jun 10, 2007.

  1. Speedway

    Speedway Member


    Somehow, the truth became insignificant
    Column By Monte Dutton

    LONG POND, Pa. — Feeding frenzy. There’s always one nearby. It’s turned what passes for journalism these days into something barely distinguishable from what it was just a few years ago.

    Where is Dale Earnhardt Jr. going to be next year? Inquiring minds want to know. The story changes day to day, mainly because it’s become impossible to accept the notion that, at a given point, absolutely nothing is happening. When news is 24 hours a day, it can’t be allowed to stop.

    There’s apparently something called “the prevailing view.” That changes, too. One day Junior’s headed to Richard Childress Racing. The next day it’s Joe Gibbs Racing. Then another day passes and it’s Ginn Racing.

    Junior says he’s going to keep driving a Chevrolet. Then J.D. Gibbs passes up an opportunity to say the team he runs and his father owns is sticking with Chevrolet. That, of course, must mean they’re switching to Toyota. Another day — sometimes another hour — passes and he’s not going to Gibbs because Gibbs is switching to Toyota. The next leap of faith puts him back at Gibbs and in a Toyota.

    How do we know, by the way, that inquiring minds really want to know? What makes a mind inquiring? What makes a report credible? Or a rumor? What is the origin of the rumor? Did someone in the know suggest something was going to happen? Or was it someone not in the know? Did the guy have a name? Was it a guy?

    I believe very deeply in the use of anonymous sources, but I also believe in rather strict limits. In my opinion, there are three requirements: (1.) the source must be objective and must have nothing to gain; (2.) revealing the source must not be an option; it would cost him (or her) his (or her) job; and (3.) the information must be correct. The last requirement reflects directly on the writer, who should be answerable if the information is inaccurate.

    This business isn’t, strictly speaking, about telling the truth. It’s about getting as close to the truth as possible based on what people say the truth is. There’s a big difference.

    What has been lost in contemporary journalism is the notion that we’re supposed to seek the truth. Too many journalists now abandon that responsibility. They print whatever they are told, and forget about judgment, which is a crucial element in the process. “He said it. He told me. Is it true? Beats me.”

    Another problem is that too many alleged journalists aren’t answerable for what they write. People declare themselves journalists not because they have any training but because they managed to secure for themselves a Web site.

    A driver sits at the front of the room and rails against “what y’all are writing about me.” I look around and can’t find anyone who wrote any such thing. Somehow we find ourselves being lumped in with people we’ve never seen, someone the subjects of their articles haven’t ever seen either.

    The same driver who complains that we don’t watch him closely criticizes us without watching closely. Many times it’s not what we wrote. It’s what the rear tire changer’s girlfriend claims we wrote.

    The world’s gone crazy. NASCAR feeds the frenzy. Its officials cheerfully play the games. They leak, they plant and they intimate. They selectively provide information, and then they piously complain when — Surprise! Surprise! — it shows up in print or on the TV screen or over the airwaves.

    People who play the spider’s game get caught in its web. The knife cuts both ways, and all the while, the edge gets sharper and sharper.

    Meanwhile, high above, buzzards circle.
  2. SCEditor

    SCEditor Active Member

    A little too heavy on the cliches, but a very truthful column. As somebody who's covered some NASCAR in the past, Monte hit it on the head with how NASCAR handles the media. Monte, by the way, is an unbelievably nice guy every time I've dealt with him.
  3. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    Monte is indeed a very nice man. But to say that the NASCAR press corps has become more speculative or chowderheaded in only the last few years; or that somehow the politburo of Kremlin NASCAR is spinning stories faster than they used to, is sort of disingenuous. It was ever thus. The coverage hasn't changed much - there's just more of it now.
  4. SCEditor

    SCEditor Active Member

    I don't think he's taking the NASCAR beat writers to task. I think his beef is more with BLOGS!
  5. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    I understood that, but later in the piece he seems to say that what begins as rumor or gossip, perhaps on a blog, then feeds back in print or on TV. All I'm saying is that it's always been that way. It's just that the speculation circulates faster now than it did when you saw it once a week in Winston Cup Scene or the National SpeedSport News.
  6. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    Sorry, but while it might be heavy on the cliches, it wasn't like reading The Dwarf,,,
  7. SCEditor

    SCEditor Active Member

    I wasn't knocking him. I just think he got too heavy on the cliches, moreso at the end. Believe me, I'm certainly not saying I could have written it better.
  8. I think the man needs a metaphor-ectomy. Stat.
  9. A bit heavy on metaphors, but Monte's a metaphorical kind of guy.

    Plays a mean guitar, too.
  10. It's too bad we're getting off on a tangent on how Monte wrote this column, not what he is writing about. It's also too bad this is about NASCAR, which a lot of people don't like, because there are some aspects to the Dale Jr. coverage that could apply to how almost any developing sports story is covered.

    I've followed the Dale Jr. story from the outside, and there is a real pack-journalism mentality that has, as Monte wrote, made the story bigger than it really is. I've read that Dale Jr.'s decision will shake the business to its core -- does anyone really think that is true? I think he's going to drive for a good team and will make lots of money, but I don't think he'll be much more likely to win a championship than he has been.

    What Monte was getting at, and I thought he did a good job, is pointing out how much speculation is going on to report a story that's still developing. I know Dale Jr. said in the last week or two that he wished he had more to say about his job hunt, but he doesn't. What seems to have happened is that everybody is trying to work the story from the edges, but no one is getting anywhere, because the only person who knows what's going on is Dale Jr.
  11. chazp

    chazp Active Member

    Well played.
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