One of the thrills of being a motor racing fan back in the early 1980s was the anticipation of the arrival of Autosport on Thursday mornings. In fact, I was living as a student in London at the time and I discovered that one could get the magazine on a Wednesday afternoon at Baker Street Underground station and so I would scrape together the necessary money and I would get the magazine early every week and would then spend many happy hours poring over the latest news and race results from all over the world. I got my break in the sport by noticing that Autosport didn’t have a regular reporter in the European Formula 3 Championship and offered my services, even if the financial deal on offer was completely ridiculous.
Thirty-five years later I am celebrating the end of my 28th season as an F1 reporter and I still have the same kind of enthusiasm for the sport as I did on those Wednesday afternoons in Baker Street. I go to every race, excited by the prospects and keen to pass on my passion for the sport to fans around the world.
The world has changed, of course. Now there is endless coverage, a large percentage of it produced by people who have never been near an F1 paddock. Dozens of websites use an agency that has never yet had a reporter in the sport. They simply steal the stories and package them in such a way as it makes life easy for their customers. The clients get cheap content and don’t care about the quality. It’s just wallpaper to make it look like they are covering the sport properly. The quality of journalism has been in decline for decades. Even before I was involved Rupert Murdoch had begun turning newspapers into infotainment. The Sun and The News of the World had topless girls and salacious reports of twiddling vicars and dodgy politicians. When he bought The Times things began to change. This was a serious newspaper, which had been the most credible publication in the world for more than a century. Gradually, it began to change towards infotainment with political agendas. Murdoch moved on and started doing the same in TV. The world was becoming Murdochised, either by his media outlets, or by those seeking to compete by adopting similar tactics. One can argue that Murdoch gave the people what they wanted and profited from it, just as one can say that he destroyed the media as the Fourth Estate of government, the watchdog that kept an eye on whether democracy was functioning properly.
The respect for the press gradually sank as its standards fell. I left Autosport in the end because the then editor began pushing for sensational headlines and the attitude that if a story was appearing elsewhere, we had to have it, even if it was total rubbish. It is the readers who ultimately decide whether a publications lives or dies and by driving away the hard core fans of old, that was the start of the slippery slope, although the magazine was bolstered by the success of Nigel Mansell and then Damon Hill before the fall in readership really began to come to light, at the same time as the Internet also began to eat into readership numbers. I don’t know if it is possible for the press to win back the respect that once it had, but I doubt it.
I still find it troubling that today a lot of people are reporting that Lewis Hamilton has “finally” taken to social media to congratulate F1 rival and Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, as though Lewis was grudgingly acknowledging Nico’s achievement four days after the event.
This is dishonest reporting. After the race in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, Lewis Hamilton said the following, in his first public statement after the race. “A big congratulations to Nico, of course, his first world championship. Good job, man”.
Nico said: “I also want to say congrats to Lewis, you did a great season, great competitor, massively quick always. Congrats, always tough to beat you.”
A few moments later, Lewis added: “I did everything that I could, particularly towards the end and obviously Nico had a very, very clean year without any real issues to be honest and that’s why we sit in this position right now. But he did a fantastic job, so big congratulations to him, it’s a great feeling to win the world championship and I look forward to fighting with him next year.”
Sporting? Both men were. The stuff written since then is 24-carat crap.