Monday, March 01, 2010

Motorsport on the web

Just over three years ago, I wrote a quite long piece here on the subject of motorsports journalism. I bemoaned at some length the seemingly inexorable trend towards shrinking word-counts, needlessly sensationalist news reporting seemingly borrowed from the red-tops and, my pet bug-bear, the obsession with breaking up coherent narrative into irritating 'fact-boxes' that get in the way of reading an article. At the end, I added that, if you looked hard enough, there was some surprisingly good writing to be found on the internet.

Things have changed considerably in the intervening years. Last week, I found myself following F1 testing more or less live and as it happened, thanks to Twitter. For a long time I was something of a sceptic about Twitter, doubting that a medium that limits users to 144 characters could possibly communicate anything of real worth. In recent weeks, though, and especially when I've been wanting to find out who was doing what at Jerez and Barcelona, whether through journalists who were there, such as Mark Glendenning, Edd Straw and Jonathan Noble, F1 personnel, including the very prolific Claire Williams (Williams' PR woman) or Lotus designer Mike Gascoygne. Then there's the official team accounts, with everyone from Ferrari and Red Bull to Virgin and USF1 getting in on the act. These may be essentially corporate PR channels, but the very instant, informal nature of twitter is such that they can sometimes be a bit more revealing than might be expected.

Twitter, though, is not the only new development in the world of internet motorsport reporting. The last few years has also seen the arrival of the motorsports podcast. Leading the way with this has been the appropriately named Sidepodcast. There aren't the hours in the day for me to listen to everything they put out (at least not when I'm subscribed to quite so many Radio 4 podcasts, anyway) but I do always make a point of catching their informative and entertaining chats with F1 journalist Joe Saward, in their 'An aside with Joe' feature. Last year, during or after most of the season's Grands Prix, Saward gave an interesting 'behind the scenes' insight into what was going on in the paddock and what F1 insiders were thinking.

My favourite regular motorsport podcast, though, has been the Motorsport Magazine podcast, which first broadcast in the summer of last year. A gathering of four or five middle-aged men, none of whom are any longer active as day-to-day race journalists as far as I know, might not sound like the most enthralling prospect, but I could happily listen all day to Rob Widdows, Ed Foster and Nigel Roebuck chatting through the issues of the day. If nothing else, you should seek out Roebuck's uncanny impersonations of Niki Lauda and Jackie Stewart. They've had a number of high-profile ex-racing drivers join them over the months since they began the podcast. John Watson was trenchant on the subject of Kimi Raikkonen back in Autumn of last year, but for me the real highlight was 72 year old former sportscar ace Brian Redman's appearance on the show this month. I particularly liked his blackly humorous response to the question of why he carried on after so many horrendous accidents "Having been through these three accidents, two of which I was completely conscious through, I know now that if something like that happens, you don't feel anything at the time. So why not, if anything happens, you don't feel anything."

Neither Twitter nor audio-podcasts has been the most fundamental change over the last four years though. My inspiration for starting this blog, at the beginning of 2006, came not from reading online blogs but from reading Tim Parks excellent A Season with Verona, a fan's eye account of following the struggling Italian football squad across a season which left me wondering if I couldn't do something similar with Formula 1. Weblogs existed, of course, but they were relatively new, and still largely associated in my own mind with histrionic teenagers complaining about how nobody understood them on Livejournal.

Four years on, and there are an awful lot of professional motorsport writers keeping their own blogs. Amongst the ones I read regularly are those run by Joe Saward, Adam Cooper and James Allen. The writing is often as good as, if not better than, anything which can be found in the specialist print press. And it's not only blogs. From running basic news websites, professional motorsports journalists have increased considerably their web presence. There's the GP+ magazine (I'm a subscriber, and I recommend it highly) and Autosport's online subscription service has often produced a better quality of writing than can be found in the magazine (not least, I suspect, because writers don't seem constrained to write to such limited wordcounts as they do on the print edition). Tony Dodgins' piece, this week, on what is driving Michael Schumacher to return to the cockpit in his forties is as fine a piece of writing about sport as I have seen in a long time (and an illustration of why he's a professional writer and I'm not - I made similar observations much less well back in December). The news that the print version of Autosport will itself be available in a digital edition perhaps marks a watershed moment in the way that the specialist motorsport press will be going in the years ahead.

All of which begs the question, is there any longer a place for Motorsports Ramblings? Certainly, reader numbers are not what they were in the days before the professional writers began blogging in significant numbers. And certainly the internet is not exactly short of commentary on motorsports. What I have always intended to offer is a fan's perspective, as opposed to that of a journalist or an insider, a sort of Fifth Column or MPH from the sidelines. Of course, anyone could do this, but still not all that many people are doing. This isn't intended as the site's obituary, and I plan to blog at least one more season of racing before I pack it in... I hope it's a good one and I have something worthwhile to say about it.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Blogger Steven said...

I too have noticed that web journalism has improved tremendously over the last year or so. I really enjoy Joe Saward's new blog----it's great to see him expressing his opinions on F1. His passion and insight really come across in this setting, as opposed to which could be a little too sensible at times. Same with the other "insiders" who have become bloggers. I'm also very happy for Keith at F1 Fanatic who turned into a professional largely because of the quality of his work.

In this environment I can understand why it's hard for the amateur blogger to find a place. I stopped blogging when I found myself agreeing with a lot of the better, popular writers out there. Why add to the noise then?

I do think your writing is of the highest quality----you clearly put a lot of work into your posts! What you're doing is a little closer to magazine-quality articles than the daily blog post... maybe you should be a columnist somewhere and get the audience you deserve.

11:47 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home