Have you ever wondered why there are so many conflicting rumours kicking around in F1 circles? Every day there is something new, some new twist of a story that was perhaps never a story in the first place… and so on.
In part this is due to people called news aggregators. These are the bottom feeders of F1 who pick up stories wherever they can, in whatever language. They have no means of checking the information they gather and so they package up the stories in bite-sized chunks and pump them out to dozens of lazy websites that run the same stuff. This has two effects: the first is that they have deals for x number of news items a day and so if they cannot find enough stuff, they stretch the facts, or run non-stop “he said-she said” stories, with nothing but claims and denials; the second is that an awful lot of websites have exactly the same stories and all of it is pretty lightweight because no one writing it is actually involved in the sport and thus they have no idea about their subject matter – and no contacts to even ask. This is the downside of so-called citizen journalism.
Weirdly, the primary F1 news aggregator in recent years is now owned by one of its customer websites and so not only does everyone get the same lightweight stuff, but the customers are paying their rival, which strengthens the one and weakens the other. In the end perhaps these bottom feeders will earn enough to start sending people to races, but these practices have been going on for nearly 10 years and little progress has been made in terms of quality. All that has happened is that as the sensible sources are forced out by all the free (but poor) information, the bottom feeders have become less well-informed.
But what about closer into the business? How do the original stories that get copied actually get written? The answer has two different elements to it: the first is that very few drivers have any close relationships with the media in the modern day and age. There is no longer the time to sit around and chat as once there was and so drivers tend not to trust the media – and vice versa. Most of the quotes come from media huddles that teams host and because these feature a dozen or so journalists, no secrets are told.
The second problem is that it is impossible to trust a lot of people in the sport because they have lied before and will lie again. This means that after a while there really is no point in asking a question, because you know that you won’t get a proper answer.
The only way to improve the quality of the media is to return to the days when there were trusting relationships and both sides knew where they stood. Honesty, so they say, is always the best policy.
Some people will never change because they are incapable of trusting anyone. One leading figure in F1 has lied to me so much over the years that I barely bother with him these days and when I do chat to him I have found that if I report the exact opposite to what he tells me, I generally get better results than I would if I was printing what he actually says.
Fortunately, some others in the sport have begun to understand that F1 needs a better way to engage with its audience and telling the truth is a good way to do that.