Yesterday the blog was running hot with people getting excited about my rant and rave about those who defraud F1 fans by making out that they have access and sources beyond the Internet. The most successful of these are selling their content to other websites, which think they are buying quality F1 news – or simply do not really care because it is good enough and fills a few pages each day.
It is not hard to produce an F1 news feed from the web. You just have to be a good trawler and be willing to introduce an element of “spin” that gets the stories noticed, even if they are complete rubbish. I would probably have started my own F1 news agency if I had not had a website (grandprix.com) that I was keen to grow.
All you need is a computer and endless patience to trawl the web, looking for mentions of F1 things and people. If you do it all day you can probably come up with 10-15 100 word stories a day (if you have an active imagination) and if you are good at conning people you can sell the resulting stories at say $200 a month to any number of websites that want F1 content – but don’t really know nor care if it is any good.
It is surprising how many well-established sites use this kind of feed because it is cheaper than doing it themselves or hiring professional F1 freelance reporters to do it for them.
If you have 20 feeds like that you can make $4000 a month, which means you can afford to pay a stringer in a different part of the world to keep an eye on things when you are sleeping. So you can be in Papua New Guinea or Patagonia and it does not really matter. And you really do not need to know a thing about F1, nor ever have met anyone in it, you do not really need to cite sources, you just need to be a good bullshitter when it comes to selling the feed… and, most important of all, you don’t need to care about the sport or the fans. It is not about quality. It is about making money.
It is the same kind of business model that worked in the gold rush. You sell shovels to people looking for gold. The shovels can be cheap and nasty because they need to last only a month or two, in which time either the diggers get fed up and go home, or they strike it rich and don’t care about the quality of the shovels any longer.
I guess it is a good business model. However it is destroying the news sources on which it is feeding – and this is where I have a problem with it.
Someone wrote in this morning and said that if I cannot tell you who I am talking about for legal reasons why not explain the websites that I recommend. That’s a good idea, although it is a bit like doing an F1 Good Food Guide. You will always be welcomed in the motorhomes you said nice things about, but will be hated everywhere else…
Which websites do I look at? And would it be a trade secret to tell you all that information? Well, no, not really, because I read very few motor racing sites. I tend to look at newspapers and news agencies from different parts of the world – and in different languages.
In terms of racing sites I look at Autosport from time to time, as you do. They have a big staff and the capability of picking up more stories than most others – and they get leaked a lot of stuff because of who they are. I know this because for many years I was the news editor there – so I know what an advantage that is! They are also fans and so they care about the output. There is a bit of a tendency to use “he said, she said” stories to fill the pages, but the pressure is on them and so it is understandable in many respects.
I am quite fortunate because people often tip me the wink as well when they want certain stories circulated. When that happens I look at what I am being told and try to work out why I am being told it… because there is always a reason. Sometimes I use it, sometimes I do not. It is really a question of trusting sources because most of these stories are uncheckable. You can ask the question and it will be denied – because that is what F1 is like. Someone yesterday said that I got it wrong about Honda and Michael Schumacher back in January. Sure, it did not work out, but they were talking… In the old days stories like that ended up being wrapped around fish and chips after 12 hours. In the modern age they are carved forever into the ether.
I also look at the BBC news, the Google news feeds, and some racing organisations. The most useful tool beyond these is a website which collects together stories from a wide variety of websites after you define what you want to see. Getting the search terms right is not easy, but it is pretty effective in filtering the stuff. This is delivered in chronological order so one can see who is copying who…
I did note yesterday that someone pointed out that I picked up the story about bwin from somewhere else. True, but he pointed to Google to see where it came from. I was curious about that so I did a Google search and my story came up top of the list, so I am not sure what all that was about… perhaps someone could explain.
I admit I picked up the story from elsewhere but that is perfectly acceptable. I am not pretending otherwise. I am a professional F1 reporter. What I do once I hear a story is to look at it and see what detail or insight can be added so that the significance is fully understood by the readers. I can do that quite easily because I have 25 years of racing history in my head or in my computer. Those who know me will tell you I have a ridiculous memory for such things. I just have one of those brains that soak up information and retain it.
My secret weapons are a team of reliable people around the world who tip me off to what is happening in their region. Much of the news I get comes to me rather than me going to look for it. It comes in by email, SMS, and even on Facebook.
Oh, and I use this thing called the telephone and talk to team bosses and engineers on their personal mobiles or direct lines. I have nothing against the PRs and they can be very helpful but often the stories I am looking for are not ones that they are allowed to talk about.
These are the things one gets when one has been around for a long time and has built up trusting relationships with key people. It is not rocket science but it is better to work with them than try to guess what they are doing…
You get a better hit rate that way.
That is how it is done… I have no difficulty with honest opposition. If a young guy turns up in F1 I will help him as people helped me when I was young and impressionable.
What I object to is fraudsters…