The Condition Of NASCAR Media: Healthy Or On Life Support?

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer IJanuary 9, 2010

This week, the "Bible of Nascar" NASCAR Scene ceased to exist as a weekly publication after more than 25 years of covering the sport. 

Some of the sport's most well-known and well-respected reporters and writers, from Jeff Gluck and Steve Waid to Rea White and Mike Hembree, tweeted about their newly unemployed status.

Street & Smith's Sports Group, owners of NASCAR Scene, announced that the publication would morph into the monthly publication NASCAR Illustrated.  The website, scenedaily.com, will be preserved in order to cover breaking news in the sport.

NASCAR Scene publisher Michael J. Fresina attempted to put the most positive spin on the devastating news.  "We're excited about the opportunity to offer our expanded subscriber base NASCAR Illustrated's special look at the fun and excitement that the sport offers," Fresina said.  "2010 promises to be a special year for the sport's fans and our readers, and we're looking forward to it."

Others in the industry were less optimistic.  In his column entitled RIP, NASCAR Scene, Tom Jensen wrote that the demise of the publication "was a sucker punch to the gut, a terrible blow to the fine and dedicated men and women who worked there, as well as to readers."

Ramsey Poston, Managing Director, Corporate Communications for NASCAR, acknowledged that turmoil was indeed currently taking place in the NASCAR media.   "I personally keep a very close eye on the news industry," said Poston.  "It's in crisis mode and unfortunately did not adjust to the realities of new media."

The new realities include the social media, from Facebook to Twitter, to all of the blogs and new NASCAR websites in between.  Even though some of the mainstream media, like NASCAR Scene, have not adjusted and have paid the price, NASCAR has been paying attention, forming the the NASCAR Citizen Journalist Corp.

Citizen Journalists, approved by NASCAR, can cover the sport through blogs and websites galore.  Many of the Citizen Journalists have been credentialed to attend NASCAR races at tracks throughout the country, sitting in the media center right next to the mainstream media.

In Poston's opinion, the Citizen Journalists have added "some very reliable and solid opinion" to the coverage of the sport.  In fact, according to Poston, the Citizen Journalist Corps have accounted for about 10% of the sport's coverage.

The only difference between the mainstream media and the Citizen Journalist Corps according to Poston is that "CJs have yet to break news."   "But that's a matter of relationship building and spending more time at the track," Poston said.

In spite of the demise of NASCAR Scene, Poston feels that media coverage of the sport remains healthy, steadily increasing every year for the past six years since the sanctioning body has been tracking it. 

"The fact that Jimmie Johnson was voted the AP Male Athlete of the Year is significant because it means that the sports editors around the country understand and appreciate NASCAR as a sport," Poston said.

The other major variable playing into the health of the NASCAR media is the advent of drivers and teams utilizing social media such as Facebook and Twitter, allowing them to communicate directly with fans in a way that is not filtered by the media.

Yet, according to Poston, the social media is not the end of the need for reporters.  "Readers will still need to know the 'rest of the story' and will want more than just a one sided view of the situation," Poston said.  "In some ways the social media will be a benefit to reporters who now have access to athletes that they didn't previously and the ability to see a different and more personable side."

In spite of the pronouncements of NASCAR that the media coverage is indeed healthy, there is still great sadness around the NASCAR media world and in the fan base about the demise of NASCAR Scene. 

"Absolutely no one at Scene worked there to collect a paycheck," Jensen, a former executive editor, said.  "They were there because they were passionate about racing and loved being around NASCAR and they treated their bond of trust with readers with the respect and honor it demanded."


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