MICHAEL KNIGHT: WILL SOME EVERY TRULY UNDERSTAND JOURNALISTIC FREEDOM?
I gave a Big Time NHRA team owner a home-made chocolate chip cookie a few years ago.
He was up in the media room watching final eliminations. It had been a bad day. “You look like you could use this,” I said, politely, extending my cookie tin toward him.
I hope he remembers. Because, now, I’m going to give him -- and a lot of others in the drag racing industry -- something else: Strong, blunt and very sincere advice.
It’s time people in the NHRA pit area man-up and accept legitimate criticism as not an evil, but something that can be appropriate, valid and, yes, necessary.
Also: The right thing to do.
What too many in the straight-line community don’t get is that informed criticism/commentary can be a positive, not a negative. (You can substitute the word “educated” for “informed.”) But only if you are open-minded enough to accept a new idea, a different perspective, a thought you hadn’t thought of.
In some territories of the sports world, that’s otherwise known as LEARNING.
Wow! What a concept!
To be clear: I’m not talking about those who like to stir-the-pot for no reason other than entertainment or to generate website hits. I am specifically referring to the concerns that are penned by professional journalists fitting the true and historically-correct definition of that occupation.
The rather thin corps of journos who actually give a damn enough to regularly cover NHRA have plenty to tell of complaints from pit and control tower occupants about so-called “negative” stories. It’s a sad sign of the times the percentage of such comments typically exceeds the simple courtesy of a “thank you” for “positive” coverage.
Earlier this season, a team owner actually had his PR person inform two well-known reporters they wouldn’t be permitted in his pits if a story wasn’t retracted. No evidence was offered that the story was in any way inaccurate. Thankfully, cooler heads eventually prevailed.
It was a shameful episode that, among other things, demonstrated a certain indifference of the freedom of the press which is a founding Constitutional right and has served this nation well for more than 200 years. It also was something of a distasteful bullying tactic and sooner-or-later that sort of thing, in my experience, always backfires.
As someone who started his J career at the Philadelphia Daily News, was a member of the Baseball and Hockey Writers Associations, and wrote about executives, officials, managers, coaches and players on several teams in various leagues, let me say I hope said owner never aspires to invest in a stick-and-ball team. With skin this thin, he wouldn’t last a half-hour in tough media towns like Philly, New York, Boston, Chicago or Los Angeles.
This mentality follows a way of thinking in this sport that has been bothering me for several years. For while it’s correct that drag racers are among the most interesting and cooperative athletes any media credential wearer could ever hope to deal with, too many of them aren’t accepting that honest reporting by its very nature isn’t always going to be as sweet as one of my chocolate chip cookies. And, when it isn’t, they tend to get sour.
For example: One might logically think that given the independent, extensive and informed coverage provided by CompetitionPlus.com, under the respected direction of publisher/editor Bobby Bennett, NHRA series sponsor Mello Yello might reasonably be expected to advertise here. It would seem to be especially good business -- to raise awareness and generate goodwill among the core fan base -- since this is the third title name change in six years among Coca-Cola brands. But that hasn’t happened. In my Constitutionally-protected opinion, one reason is certain decision-makers situated in Glendora, Calif., would be happier if your drag racing news choice was confined to the ha-ha cotton candy on the sanction’s own site.
Sorry guys. That’s not The American Way. Here the people have choices. And competition should make all news organizations and outlets better. That’s good business for everyone.
Will it never dawn on these folks that critical columns might be written by some who actually CARE about drag racing? Who want it to grow and prosper and be the best it can be? Who might rightly be frustrated by what they see? Who might have some useful ideas?
Learning to accept -- even appreciate -- thoughtful, legitimate criticism would be a sign that NHRA really is a big-league sport.
It’s something for them to chew on.
Follow Michael Knight on Twitter: @SpinDoctor500