The other day someone wrote a comment asking if it was true that Brabham was making a comeback in Formula 1. It sounded decidedly unlikely, although just as Damon Hill is currently pushing to help his son Josh raise money for a serious racing career, there is always a young Brabham out there somewhere. I guessed (wrongly) that this was a story about Matthew Brabham making his way up the ladder in US racing.
In fact, when I went from a trawl to see from whence the idea had sprung. I found that someone had reloaded their website, and a three year old story about Brabham being revived had been printed as though it were new. The headline was enough to do the damage. An untrue old rumour was reborn.
It seems that there is one reborn every minute. One really has to watch out for misleading headlines in this day and age. I did a double take myself today when I saw the headline “Ecclestone set for Prisoner remake”, before I realised that there are more people in the world called Ecclestone than just those linked to Formula 1!
It is a sad fact that in this day and age that people can declare themselves to be experts, without any real qualifications, and if they continue to shout loud enough and long enough people will start to believe it – even if they have never set foot in a Formula 1 paddock, never spoken to a single person in the business, nor ever even attempted to get (let alone be granted) an F1 media credential.
You cannot stop those who are convinced they know better than the pros. I was lectured the other day by a real twerp who said that I did not behave like an F1 journalist should, because I had admonished someone for something they wrote in the comments. I asked him if he had ever actually met a real F1 journalist and he informed me, rather pompously, that he had in fact met the editor of Autosport. There was not much point in telling him that the last Autosport editor to be a Grand Prix reporter was in the early 1970s. He knew all the answers. Trolls are like that. They always think they know best. It is best to leave them to their delusion.
I was also asked by a student of media studies for some comments about journalism in the Internet age, and I thought it would be interesting for blog readers to read some of the responses I gave, if only as an illustration of why I feel it is more difficult than ever to get quality Formula 1 information. High quality global journalism does not come cheaply. I offer insight for free because I feel it is really important that those of us who can should at least try to maintain standards.
It is true that one can sit in the backwater suburbs of Nowhereville, Tasmania, and with the help of Goggle translator, you can spend your days lifting (some might say stealing) stories that appear elsewhere in the world about F1. You can rewrite them to avoid copyright questions and sell them to unsuspecting websites who think they are dealing with professional F1 journalists.
The problem with this is that if one does not understand the context in which stories are written, it is inevitable that the interpretation is going to be wrong, or worse still you will be led up the garden path by clever placing of stories by propagandists, who are out there trying to get their messages heard. This happens all the time at the moment, with stories being copied willy-nilly without the facts ever being questioned. Only those who know the way this system operates can hope to spot the manipulation that is going on.
“I believe that the arrival of online amateurs has confused the market considerably, to a point at which the average reader no longer knows who to trust and who not to trust,” I wrote. “The Internet is filled with clutter from wannabes and fraudsters and this is having an effect on the overall quality of F1 coverage, because people with no insights nor access are able to put their own spin on stories (wrong though it may be) and if people see it sufficiently around the Web, they assume that it must be from someone in the business.”
To illustrate the point, in recent days the US has voted through the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which lists tax breaks that are granted to certain organisations. This included a section relating to “motorsports entertainment complexes”. Out there on the Web this has been dubbed “the NASCAR tax break” by all and sundry. The splendidly-named Bob Lawless, a law professor at the University of Illinois, is an F1 fan and tipped me off that the sweet irony is that the only current facility that will gain significantly from “the NASCAR tax break” is the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, which is in reality a Formula 1 circuit and (as yet) nothing to do with NASCAR. The F1 world will benefit from the tax break because it will leave the circuit with more money to play with, either to give to the Formula One group, or to use to keep ticket prices down. It is worth noting that the New Jersey F1 organisation might also be able to argue its way to getting some tax breaks as well…
A very different story.
In the interim, the battle goes on to spread the word about sensible F1 news outlets so that these can be built up and will ultimately bulldoze the clutter out of the business. Hopefully that cause will be aided one day soon by software that will trawl the web and automatically identify and highlight plagiarism, and perhaps create the possibility for legal actions.
I am not really bothered by the numbers who read the blog, but I am aware that the more people who read it, the more that battle will be won. I received an email the other day from WordPress, which hosts this site, informing me that 55,000 tourists visit Liechtenstein every year and that if the blog were a country, it would take a century for Liechtenstein to get as many visits as I had last year!
Conquering Liechtenstein was never really an ambition, but onward and upward…