Let me start this off by saying I have the utmost respect for Joe Saward. I have been following him for ever, and I find his blog thoroughly authoritative, informative and well thought out. It’s one of the few places I go to, when I want to get good inside information and sober analysis. He’s been one of an elite group of F1 journalists who have been attending races, talking to the big players and being an integral part of what we like to call F1 circus. And he’s been doing that for decades.
I may disagree, from time to time, with some of his opinions, especially with regards to Michael Schumacher; however, disagreement is an integral part of democracy and this doesn’t take away from my appreciation of the man and the quality of his work.
Having said the above, I was annoyed by his recent snipe against other bloggers, who may have less experience and limited or no access at all to the inside world of F1. He goes on and on about how wonderful it is to mingle with the F1 crowd and build personal relationships and trust (which I am sure it is), and goes on to warn his public that the self-proclaimed “experts” which can be found on the internet are driving away the real experts and insiders. He refers to bloggers as “bashing away at computers in Nerdland” and issues a word of warning to readers, that there are only few journalists who go from race to race, socialize with the powers that be and, hence, know what they’re talking about.
Well, it’s a competitive world out there, and internet has, arguably, been the most democratic way of communication that humans have ever created (apart from smoke signals and shouting really, really loud). Anyone with a computer and a keyboard can create a website and express himself (if you’re reading this blog, you’re reading one). You don’t have to be hired by a newspaper or a TV network to be able to publicize your opinions or knowledge. It’s a spectacular revolution, whose importance, power and potential has not been yet fully appreciated by the masses. This brings under the spotlight the work of the various journalists (not just in F1), i.e. people who have been working for journals, magazines, TV networks, etc.
There are many great things about these people: they can move behind the scenes, talk to the people that we, common folks, can’t reach and get information that we wouldn’t have access to in any other way. It it weren’t for them, we would be unable to get a lot of information, since we’d all be reading only what makes it past the filters of the teams’ PR machines. Occasionally we also get good analyses based on facts and stories that we are simply not aware of. More importantly we get continuity and relevance. Most of these journalists have been doing this for many years, they are therefore a valuable source of historic knowledge, being able to link the present to the past and, therefore, make it more relevant. In general, they help us appreciate the sport more.
This is why I keep visiting Joe’s blog, as well as the work of others.
It’s not all rosy though. People with access also have obligations to the people who provide the information. Disclaimer: I am definitely NOT suggesting that Mr. Saward is doing that (on the contrary, I find his blogs to be sincere, forthcoming, informative and revealing), but some journalists are prone to twist the facts or distribute false rumours and news, just to be on the good side of the big players. I have learnt, over the years, to take everything with a pinch of salt. Journalists can act in both ways: they can reveal information or they can withhold or even twist information.
I think nobody in his own mind could claim that we should accept everything we read by “respected” F1 journalists on face value. I have found over the years that we have been told little lies, we have been misled or we have been kept in the dark. That’s normal up to a point. When you work in F1, I presume you get to hear stories that your ethos and journalistic integrity wouldn’t allow you to reproduce, and that’s acceptable (if not commendable). However, this leaves a scope for bloggers, i.e. people like you and me.
The point of F1 fans blogging is not, I put to you, to distribute news and share information, but it’s more about discussing, arguing and exploring. I usually spend a lot of time visiting F1 news pages and journalists blogs before forming an opinion. I then want to share this opinion with other people. Sometimes forums is not the ideal place to do that, because there are restrictions and, oftentimes, you don’t have the time to sit down and express yourself properly. This is the freedom that the blog gives you. You can write about anything you want, whenever you want it, and be open to criticism and discussion.
I have not seen many F1 fans blogs out there, and the ones I’ve seen don’t claim to have exclusive inside information or access to hidden knowledge. More to the point, F1 fans are generally knowledgeable chaps who tend to sniff out blogs that claim such things; it doesn’t take long to be exposed. All the F1 fans’ blogs therefore are a nuisance to journalists because they reproduce news already published elsewhere but are usually accompanied by the blogger’s opinion and/or analysis. If you, therefore, disagree with Joe’s analysis (in general) you may find a blogger’s page more attractive, because he may be closer to your way of thinking.
I like to think of blogs as a means of transferring the opinion of the fans, as opposed to “serious” journalism which is a means of transferring the facts and analysis by expert professionals. I am pretty positive that both can co-exist, and they both have place in internet’s democracy. These blogs may or may not threaten the livelihood of some of the “serious” F1 journalists, but in the end it’s up to them to increase the quality of their job to retain or increase the number of readers. And, personally, I know many F1 fans who have a deeper understanding of F1 than many of the so-called expert F1 journalists.
I am an engineer, and I was once a witness at a trial, at a time when I was still very young and inexperienced. The opposing attorney started attacking my statements, on the basis of that inexperience. I simply asked him “are you going to disregard everything I stated simply on the basis of my inexperience, or are you going to provide some proof against it?”. It turned out he couldn’t. This applies here too: You shouldn’t disregard someone’s opinion or story simply on the basis that they don’t get to sit with Montizemelo for dinner, but you should explore, question and try to get as much information from as many sources as possible.
In the end, one tends to tell apart the good from the bad, the trustworthy from the untrustworthy, the opinions from the facts. And on that basis, Joe has nothing to fear.
For he’s an excellent journalist.
And that’s my opinion.