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Jeff Olson: Us vs. Them

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by derwood, Apr 11, 2008.

  1. derwood

    derwood Active Member


    Tony Kanaan had an interesting perspective last weekend about the prevailing Us vs. Them dynamic surrounding unification. “In my opinion, we should stop it now,” he said, addressing reporters at the post-race press conference. “Now it’s up to you guys to stop saying, ‘The guy that came over from Champ Car’ and everything else. Then we’ll stop talking about it.”

    He had no way of knowing, but minutes before he made those comments, the cardinal sin of sports journalism had been committed. A good portion of the working press in the media center applauded as Graham Rahal crossed the finish line. Applauded. Yep, cheering in the press box at open-wheel races has officially become an art form.

    Kanaan also had no way of knowing that the other side in the media split would pose some breathtakingly stupid questions—borderline insulting—at this week’s Indy 500 media tour in Indianapolis. Had Franck Perera stayed on stage one more minute Wednesday, someone surely would have asked him if he knew the cars went in a counter-clockwise direction around Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

    Yeah, TK, you nailed it. This Us vs. Them crap needs to stop, and it first needs to stop with those of us who write and talk about racing. We’re the ones fanning this fire, not the fans, not the owners, not the league officials and certainly not the drivers. It’s time to send our hot air somewhere else.

    Want the newsworthiness of the story lines surrounding Graham Rahal’s win Sunday at St. Pete, in order of significance? Here you go:

    1) A magnificent run by a young, gifted American racer with a recognized name, enormous skill and an unlimited future.

    2) His very first race in a new series, in an unfamiliar car against unfamiliar yet top-rate competition, results in his first major race win.

    3) He’s now the youngest driver to win a major open-wheel race, breaking the standard set by Marco Andretti in 2006. (And aren’t we blessed to be able to witness these two racing wheel-to-wheel for the next couple of decades?)

    4) His team worked around-the-clock to turn his only Dallara tub into a winning street-course machine after a crash in testing at Homestead the week before. It was a tireless, impressive team effort by one of the best outfits in the game.

    5) And finally, for those who preferred to be cheerleaders, it was Champ Car beating the IRL in just its second race. Rah-rah! Somehow this became the lead on far too many of the reports coming out of St. Pete.

    Forgive me if I seem to have little regard for my profession, but I’ve seen it all now. Cheering in a press box. Not just the usual gasp and murmur after a great finish or the smattering of applause from a few PR flacks that quickly dies of embarrassment, but full-on, big-time, shameless cheering. An ovation. Loud applause. A few hoots and hollers.

    Let’s get right to the point. Sportswriters suck. I don’t mean suck as in they have no talent, but suck as in they have no talent and are utter bores. Hell certainly must be a roomful of sportswriters after the free buffet runs dry. They know it all, of course; just ask them. They’ll be happy to tell you, often with the breath of a yak.

    Sportswriters are people who couldn’t play sports but want to write about it, yet they aren’t worth a damm at that, either. Ask anyone who’s ever been in the newsroom of a daily newspaper: Sports is the Toy Department. It’s where the worst of the talentless hacks in the newsroom are sent to live out their careers. It’s where bad journalists go to die. And, yes, “bad journalists” is redundant.

    Add the growing number of untrained and unprofessional word butchers to the clutter, and objectivity goes the way of the front-engine roadster. Apparently this occupation is now open to anyone who can type with his or her knuckles, no education or experience required. No need for a degree or employment, just crown yourself a bloggist, start typing and apply for that credential.

    Amazing how that works. If I tried to be a plumber with no experience or training, I’d get stomped by guys with pipe wrenches and exposed butt cracks. But any fool with a computer and a MySpace page can play journalist, and the rules of the business are no longer acknowledged (or even known). So much for those endless semesters of libel law. Anybody can do this, and anybody does. No training or aptitude required.

    The cheering at St. Pete wasn’t unexpected from this group, mostly because it wasn’t the first time. The same nonsense went on when Juan Montoya won the Indy 500 in 2000. It happened again when Helio Castroneves won Indy in 2001. (Of course, now they despise him and Team Penske as traitors to the cause because they switched sides in 2002.) It happened again when Bruno Junqueira led and Sebastien Bourdais moved into contention at Indy in 2005. It’s happened too often. Once would have been too often.

    Don’t assume it only goes one way. The other side is just as dim and biased and prone to blatant boosterism. Observers at Wednesday’s Indy 500 media tour half expected Will Power to be asked if he might be scared to go as fast as he’ll go at Indy. The questions were that shallow. As if he and Rahal and Oriol Servia and Justin Wilson just came off the racing farm. As if nobody ever heard of these guys. As if they might need help putting on their helmets.

    Truth is, dear reader—and I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know—a good portion of professional journalists covering American open-wheel racing are neither professional nor journalists. They’re partisan smoke-blowers. They’ve managed to put their cheering interests into even the most benign of copy, setting fire to objectivity and torching credibility. They’ve made it what they want it to be, and what they want it to be is a cause, one way or the other.

    You were right, TK. It’s about us. Only we can stop this. Only we can come to terms with the fact that it’s over. There is no cause anymore. There’s nothing that should make anyone stand up in a press room and cheer. It is one series, with some fantastic stories, one of which happens to be a spitfire of a racer named Graham Rahal. We should embrace that, not what’s left of our opinions about what happened the past 12 years. It’s over. Let it go.

    If you can’t do that, then comment on it, write about it and analyze it in the proper forum. But if you ever want to cheer about it, there’s a seat for you in the grandstands. Find it, sit in it, and scream your heads off.

  2. Wow, those are some really original insights by him.

    I think I'm going to write a column about how all Mexicans are lazy and all black people are stupid.

    Has anyone ever floated those thoughts before?
  3. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    I couldn't get through it. I thought the guy was a knuckle-typing boring blogster.
  4. derwood

    derwood Active Member

    FYI - Olson is a senior writer for Racer.
  5. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    It wasn't worth my time, but I wrote the guy an e-mail. Couldn't help myself.
  6. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    He could have had a good column about idiot reporters cheering the winner of some race while a news conference is going on, though.

    I'd like the think the reporters aren't homers. Maybe they had money on the winner.
  7. He ruined it with the bizarre diatribe about hack toy department sports writers with bad breath who couldn't play sports so instead they write about them (Again - never heard that one before).
  8. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Yeah. Most can at least drive cars, in my experience.
  9. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    In my e-mail, I told him exactly that. That he made a lot of good points -- and wrote two paragraphs that were the standard for the bad writing he was talking about in them.
  10. PCLoadLetter

    PCLoadLetter Well-Known Member

    You know what kills me about this, on top of his utterly stupid insults aimed at sportswriters? His points about how this should be covered are stupid. It's like he's so wrapped up in the notion of a rivalry that he can't even comprehend the story here.

    People who are extremely knowledgeable about open wheel racing thought it would be a pretty monumental feat for any former Champ Car team to even get a top 3 finish at any point this season. They have a few weeks of experience with the car, and the IRL teams had years.

    A Champ Car guy won race two, and the Champ Car guys dominated the race. It was an enormous and surprising achievement. If he thinks Graham's age is a bigger story than that he's an imbecile.

    And for what it's worth, Racer needs to find a better approach if it wants to stay afloat. If you're a racing fan - and anyone who buys it is - the magazine seems to focus on shit you knew a month ago. The editors should study F1 Racing magazine to see how to put together a monthly racing mag that is compelling reading for fans. (Short answer - compelling features and intelligent analysis, both of which are in short supply in Racer.)
  11. Tom Petty

    Tom Petty Guest

    after all, we're only ordinary men.
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