Letter to readers, December 1991

Media spotlight

Dear Reader,

I am not certain that I understand the word media, nor that I know where it came from. I think it has replaced the word press, which used to mean anyone who wrote news items or reports of events, as distinct from people who wrote articles and serious papers, who were writers and those who wrote books, who were authors. When the photographer appeared, to take pictures to accompany articles or reports, these people were grouped under the word press. Then came the spread of television coverage replacing the written report, and the video-documentary replacing the written article so presumably they spawned the word media to encompass everything that provides news and reporting.

The change from the word press to the word media was one of those things that must have taken place at dead of night, while we were all asleep. Probably in the same way that the simple old fashioned word lavatory was changed to toilet, wireless to radio, men and women to ladies and gentlemen and queer to gay. You never really know who made the decision to change words in general use, and the change is done without any warning. Even the price of petrol changing gets a publicised warning, or the increase in the price of a stamp. But press became media and that was it.

I occasionally ask some of my colleagues if they can define media, and they say “Well, er . . . you know, it is someone who, er. . .” I then ask “Are we media?” and they reply, “Well, er, I suppose we are”. There used to be a demarcation between daily press, sporting press and technical press, but these groups were very difficult to define in any reasonable form. The growth of gifted people who can cope with any branch of the press world, or media as it now is, has meant that one man can write race reports, broadcast live on radio or television, take photographs and write anonymous public relations pamphlets, quite often in two or three languages, and this has made it very difficult to give their activities a collective name, other than media perhaps. What heading do you put a racing driver who does a radio or television commentary on a race? He might still be an active professional racing driver, earning an honest crust on the side, but he is still a racing driver by profession.

Of course, it is not important, but my inquisitive mind needs to know these things. If a new word appears on the scene, used in profusion by the media, I need to know what it means. Seldom can the people using a new word, spoken or written, give me a good answer! And then there are initials instead of words; in motor racing you could have a meaningful (!) conversation using only letters and gross abbreviations, instead of words, all of which would be totally unintelligible to anyone who is not one of the brotherhood, but that is a subject that’s too big to deal with here.

I used to put press people into two simple categories, those who were at the Grand Prix because of their love of racing, the written report being an afterthought to justify the fact that someone else had paid for them to be there. In other words they had discovered a good racket to pay for their enjoyment. The other category were serious writers or newshounds, professional union men, who were at the Grand Prix to do a job of work. The previous year they had been the parliamentary correspondent, or the fashion reporter, now they had been promoted to sports coverage and someone had told them that Formula One Grand Prix racing was a sport.

Some years ago when we were at Monza for the Italian Grand Prix it was Saturday afternoon and things were beginning to get exciting, when someone appeared with the news that there had been a bad air crash in a neighbouring country, or somewhere. There were two reactions; one group said “Oh really? Was that last lap a new fastest time?” and the other saw mild panic, with cries of “Where, exactly? Will it be quicker to get there by train than road; perhaps we could hire a helicopter; I must ‘phone my Editor; how many dead, did you say?” and so on. Next morning, those of us who were in Italy to watch the motor race and to write about it afterwards, had more than enough room.

We got to discussing the matter of priorities, appreciating that the press men (or media) who had disappeared to find the air disaster were professional reporters; what they reported on was of no great significance. Those of us who were left were motor racing enthusiasts. Someone asked what we would do if there was a nuclear explosion in the middle of a Grand Prix, and we knew we had four seconds to live, and the response was “watch the last four seconds of motor racing, of course. What else would you want to do?” We all agreed that rushing off to try and report the last four seconds of the world would be a pretty pointless exercise, but we felt sure some of the professionals would do that.

This past season of Formula One racing has been feeding the media with all manner of irrelevent matter, some of if very thinly connected with Grand Prix racing, or even with Formula One. A man goes to jail (or should it be gaol?) for doing something totally unconnected with motor racing, but because he had driven racing cars and was planning a future in Formula One it became a media matter that reached absurd proportions, detracting a lot of the interest (for some people) from the one of the best Grand Prix races of the season. Another driver speaks his mind loud and clear, in English, not in his own language, and the English media fell over each other to castigate him. They went on and on, being pious and holier-than-thou, some of them known for their own foul language in public. Had the driver’s outburst been in his native tongue few people would have understood and it would have all been glossed over and forgotten.

Then there are those media people who have never worn a crash-helmet in their life, let alone sat on a starting line with the adrenalin flowing and the pulse-rate quickening, who tell us what drivers should do and what they should not do. By all means comment on how well he drives, or how badly, providing you know something about motor racing and high-speed driving, but what he does is up to him. After all, he is driving the car and he is making the decisions. Not many of the “do-gooders” really know what they are talking about. 150mph is a speed bandied about by the media, many of whom have never driven at 100mph, let alone 150mph, or 170mph, or 200mph and have certainly never raced wheel-to-wheel with someone at those sort of speeds. I know I haven’t and the mere thought of it makes me go weak at the knees, which is why all top racing drivers, of whatever category, are still gods to me and an important part of my personal religion.

I think I am beginning to get an idea what “media” is all about. I have always fought shy of joining any sort of writers’ union and being branded a professional journalist, preferring to stay an incurable motor racing enthusiast, who enjoys writing about it. To be branded a “media person” — ugh!

This month’s Three Memorable Moments by Motor Sport readers have been picked out of a growing collection. They come from Herr G von Petersdorf in Germany, who has been able to get to European Grand Pnx events a lot more easily than a lot of us.

1. Nürburgring 1957: To have actually seen Fangio do that historic drive in the 250F Maserati when he beat Hawthorn and Collins in the Lancia-Ferraris.

2. Monza 1971: That flat-out race, without chicanes, when Peter Gethin driving a BRM won at over 150mph in a photo-finish, with Gethin, Peterson, Cevert and Hailwood covered by less than one-fifth of a second..

3. Monza 1975: A Ferrari 1-2 by Regazzonl and Lauda. Pure madness!

Yours, DSJ