Wednesday, August 5, 2009

ESPN Shoots Self In Foot, NASCAR Suffers

The news has probably been reported elsewhere, but I first read it on John Daly's excellent site this morning. ESPN has cracked down on the use of Twitter and other social networking sites by its employees.

That's nothing new, right? Many companies who have employees who use computers have done much the same thing, and for productivity's sake, it's probably not a bad decision.

But for ESPN to do so is not a good decision at all.

As you can probably tell, I am on Twitter. I'm a relative newbie on the site, but I've come to enjoy it and depend on it. Many who do not understand what Twitter is all about consider it to be a site from which rumors are spread by people posing to be people they are not.

Well, actually, there is a lot of that on Twitter. The site is not without its faults. For instance, there are several 'Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s on Twitter, but none of them are real. NONE of them. Dale Jr. has said he does NOT tweet, and doesn't have a presence on Facebook or Myspace. Anyone who claims to be Dale Jr. on these sites is a fake.

Twitter does, on the other hand, have real people. A lot of NASCAR journalists post there. Several drivers do as well. If you log on to Twitter and follow Kyle Petty, Michael Waltrip, Kenny Wallace, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, and Juan Pablo Montoya, you will be entertained. Believe me, it's well worth the price of admission, which of course, is free.

Watkinds Glen driver have a great presence there as well. I currently follow Max Papis and his wife Tati. Did you know Max partially fell through the ceiling in his house last week? I did, because he and his wife posted pictures of the event on Twitter. By the way, did you know that Tati Papis is the daughter of Emerson Fittipaldi? Well, now you do!

Delana Harvick, wife of driver Kevin Harvick is also a frequent tweeter on Twitter. That sounds funny, doesn't it, but it's true. Delana and Kevin often banter among themselves in a good natured way on Twitter.

ESPN, in its infinite wisdom, has decreed that no one in the organization, including on air talent, shall participate in this great experiment called social networking. Why is that bad? Let me 'splain.

Way back when Al Gore invented the Internet, he obviously had social networking in mind. OK, maybe I joke here, but the point I'm trying to make is that social networking was bound to happen. It probably all started with e-mail, then advanced to IM, or Instant Messaging. Message boards and then chat soon ensued. Now we've got sites like Facebook, Myspace, and a ton of others.

Twitter, on the other hand, came up with a concept. "What Are You Doing?" is the prompt, and you have 140 characters or less to say whatever it is you're doing. Or, you have 140 characters or less to say whatever you want to say. You may ask why 140 characters? I don't know, but that's the way Twitter is.

I do not have a degree in journalism, but I've taken a lot of writing classes. One of the things that was always drilled into me was don't be too 'wordy'. 'Wordy' means don't use more words than necessary to say what you want to say. That made sense to me, because I'm usually a quiet person, until you get to know me, at which point I tend to babble, because other than my cats, I don't have a lot of people to talk to. But that's another story for later. By the way, I know cats aren't people. They do listen well, however. Most of the time. OK, maybe they don't listen at all, but they look at me when I'm talking, which gives me the illusion that they're listening. Okay? Oops, I'm babbling again. Too wordy.

Anyway, Twitter makes every participant a chance to become a journalist to some degree. You have to condense your thoughts into a small space to put your ideas out there. Some people accomplish that by abbreviating words, which sometimes makes the tweets unreadable, or cryptic, to say the least.

In these days of bad economy, less money to spend, and all the other woes that face all of us each and every day, NASCAR has been hurting. Rarely are the stands full for even the biggest races of the year. People are having to cut back on their spending for items like race tickets, motel rooms, fuel to get to the races, fuel to get back home, tee shirts, hats, die casts, and all other things NASCAR related. Remember, fans are what support NASCAR, ultimately. Sponsors support the teams and the various series themselves because they believe the fans will buy their products. NASCAR has experienced a downturn in business this year because a lot of people are just like me. We just don't have much money to spend on anything but shelter, food, and clothing. Some of us are having a hard time just keeping a roof over our heads, food on the table, and decent clothes to wear. I know I am.

I wish I could go out and buy the latest die cast of the 14 Tony Stewart 'Swagger' paint scheme he ran at Pocono. I can't afford it. A lot of other people can't either. For those of you who can, I am glad that you have the ability to do so.

I'm simply going to quote a portion of John Daly's great article from this morning to show you all how I feel about ESPN silencing some of the greatest tweeters ever. It means a lot to a racing junkie like me to get the news from the tap, so to speak. John Daly can say it much more eloquently than I can.

ESPN has dropped the hammer on NASCAR reporters, anchors and production staff using Twitter. Unfortunately, they have done it during one of the most critical times of the NASCAR on ESPN season.

Throughout this year, ESPN's NASCAR efforts have been better off due in no small part to the contributions of many ESPN folks who use Twitter on a regular basis. Ryan McGee, Marty Smith, Mike Massaro, Shannon Spake and even Allen Bestwick all use this form of social media to present a mix of professional and personal messages.

This often drove Twitter users to the website to follow-up on a message or a link that had been posted. The entire idea of Twitter was to allow the closest thing to a short conversation to be sent anywhere to anyone who wanted to listen.

This hurts NASCAR, and its fans in an almost indescribable way. ESPN's ruling on the issue denies fans of up to the moment news, and will certainly drive NASCAR fans away from ESPN to get their racing news. This could be a sad, sad day for NASCAR. Just when they needed the boost they were getting from Twitter users, they lose it. So far, the only main affiliate of ESPN who has not been silenced on Twitter is Jay Adamczk, better known as Jayski. For many years, Jayski has run the best information site about NASCAR, and so far his news stories are picked up and posted on Twitter via RSS feed.

Long live NASCAR. Long live people like John Daly and Jayski.

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