Motorsport Journalism Has a Serious Problem
From clickbait to copying, things need to change.
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After the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone had finished, I sat down at my desk with the intention of writing my usual driver ratings article. A few hours passed, and I hadn't even written the introduction. For the first few races of the season, I had worked through the night in order to publish the article as soon as possible with the hope of beating others to it. For the first few weeks, I had posted the article in the early hours of the morning, and this had been working to get a decent number of readers.
After coming to the realisation that I had been procrastinating for most of the afternoon, I started to wonder why I had no motivation whatsoever to write the article. I deliberated over whether push forward with it or sack it off and enjoy the rest of my evening. I opted for the latter, as this struggle to write a simple article had brought some feelings to the surface that had been hiding away over the last couple of years. I realised that I had only considered writing this article because I knew it would get a decent amount of attention, not because I actually wanted to write it. I started to think that the whole motorsport media industry has some fundamental flaws, with many articles driven by clicks over quality.
I have been in the process of writing this article for a while now, wondering whether it was the right thing to post or not. Given what has happened over on Twitter regarding a well-established journalist mocking a great article by fellow DriveTriber Ellie Fish, I felt this was the right time to speak my mind.
Now, if I was in your position reading this, I would probably be wondering what the hell I was on about too. I know this article will piss a lot of people off, but I feel like I have to write it. I hope that you'll stick with me to the end, and if you still disagree by then feel free to argue with me in the comments.
Let's start from the beginning.
It all started in 2017.
On the 24th of September 2017, I published my first ever article on DriveTribe. I was 16 at the time, and this was the first piece of motorsport 'journalism' that I had ever done. I didn't know what to expect from it, but I was excited by the DriveTribe platform as it allowed anyone to try their hand at writing. I was overwhelmed by the response to the article, as even though there were only a few comments, they were all supportive. I was also amazed that over eight thousand people decided they wanted to read my work, something that is still surprising to this day.
I continued to write about Formula 1 for the next year or so, somehow getting an interview with former McLaren mechanic and Youtuber Marc Priestley as well as hitting over twenty thousand readers on a few articles. By this point, my DriveTribe exploits had been more successful than I had ever imagined, and I still remember the first time one of my posts was shared to the official DriveTribe Facebook page - it was a feeling of joy, but at the same time, ‘oh, shit’. I was nervous at the fact that the article was just shared to a page with a few hundred thousand followers, with the Facebook comments section proving to be a much more divisive place than DriveTribe.
At the start of August in 2018, I was contacted by the editor of GPToday.net (F1Today.net at the time) about writing some articles for their website. This seemed like a great opportunity to get my name out there, and from the first message I received, it appeared to be a paid role. After a couple more messages, it was made clear that this was not the case and it was in fact a voluntary position. They wanted me to split my time across writing the longer, opinion pieces that I had been doing over the past year along with covering the latest news. I accepted it pretty quickly after receiving the offer due to the fact it seemed like a step in the right direction. I was wrong.
My time at GPToday.net.
I wrote my first news article for GPToday.net on 22/08/2018, and since that date, every couple of days I’d be asked to do another. On the face of it, this must seem like an alright deal. As a young, wannabe journalist, being able to get my name out there on a fairly popular site is exactly what I was looking for.
As a so-called ‘journalist’, you would think that I would have access to several sources from the paddock that normal people have not got access to. For example, many larger websites have access to recordings of all the interviews that have taken place over the race weekend. This was not the case for most of my time at GPToday (there were a few races in 2019 where we had access to audio from Dieter Rencken, but this did not last long).
So you might be wondering, what sources we did have access to if driver interviews were out of the question? This is where the problem begins. Our source for our news articles was other motorsport news sites. Instead of learning to become a 'proper' motorsport journalist, there I was copying other people’s content just so we could appear competitive in the saturated world of motorsport news.
This mass-plagiarism is not uncommon, with many small websites doing the exact same thing so they can get a bit of attention. None of the content is original, it’s just copied from site to site and the readers are treated to the exact same article no matter where they choose to get it from. We were never singled out for doing this as it is such commonplace, and as long as we changed the order in which the quotes were used it generally went unnoticed. This all kicked off on Twitter when Luke Smith (the editor of Crash.net at the time) rightfully tweeted that GPFans had plagiarised one of his recent articles.
This is the response that he received from GPFans: "It matters not if we were in the room or not. We have a right to report something said by someone in Formula 1."
This seems to be the common thought amongst the editors of these websites, but it should not be this way. I would try to explain why, but Luke does it better: “On that basis, any website could lift any quotes from anywhere. There would be zero point in Crash or any other website paying for travel costs if we could just nick quotes from another website. There would be zero point in me missing family events, birthdays, anniversaries to be at races and do my job. I could just sit in my bedroom and do the job.”
This will obviously sound a bit hypocritical given that I was copying from other sites too, but I really do feel for Luke and other journalists here. They are creating great content for their respective websites, travelling across the globe in order to do so. Then they are faced with blatant copying without getting any credit from someone who hasn't left the house. Yes, they are living the life that many of us dream of, but copying is not the way to go about getting yourself there. I now know that from experience.
Another danger of copying other sites is what happens if the person you copied from get's something wrong. Around this time last year, a story about some alleged claims by Alain Prost appeared across many Formula 1 news sites. The quotes had been incorrectly translated by an Italian news outlet and published, and then everyone else jumped on the bandwagon. The mistake was then realised when Alain Prost himself confirmed he had never said what had been shared. This harmed the credibility of a lot of sites and would have been avoided if any of them had bothered to fact check the article instead of just copying it straight away. This Reddit post explains what happened.
This begs the question; how do you start if your website cannot afford to send people to races? There are two solutions to this problem, and I am a much greater fan of the second option. The first choice is to get in touch with a freelance journalist that does attend the races and pay them to send you the audio recordings. This is the solution which GPToday took for a few months with the hiring of Dieter Rencken, but then they quickly resorted back to copying other people when they realised they were paying to publish pretty much the same articles as they were before. The second choice is the harder choice, and this is to create your own original content. We have seen this work so well for the likes of WTF1, but more on this topic later.
I continued to write articles for GPToday until the end of July this year, up until the point where the editor Fergal Walsh decided he wanted to move on. He is now a fully-fledged journalist for Motorsport Week, and he’s worth a follow if you don’t already (@fergalf1). He may have been just as complicit in the plagiarised articles as I was, but he was also just trying to get his name out there. He wrote countless session reports, covering most motorsport series whilst he was a still university student. He managed the site for around three years without being paid a penny, consistently trying to make the site better and better.
I thought that this was the ideal opportunity to leave the site too, as he was the only member of the team that I ever had any contact with. I only ever spoke to the owner of the site once or twice, and I have not been contacted by them since I suddenly stopped writing articles. I think he would only notice there was something wrong if the ad-revenue stopped coming in, if and when Coilin Higgins (another great writer, check out his DriveTribe here) decides to leave.
Clickbait is not a good look.
I don't think it is possible these days to go onto the internet today without encountering clickbait of some kind or another, but I've started to notice it happening a lot more in the motorsport community. You probably know what I'm on about already, but imagine you're scrolling through your timeline and you see an article with an interesting headline. You're most likely going to click on it and visit whichever website it's been posted on. When you arrive at the website, you get to read the headline again and then have to scroll down through a couple of adverts before you get to the actual article. When you start reading the article, you then realise that it is the same article you read a few hours ago just with a different headline.
What the publisher has usually done in this situation is focus on a small quote that out of context seems like big news, but put into context it doesn't really mean too much. I understand that you need a catchy headline to lure viewers into whatever you've written, but there is no need to trick people onto the site just so you can serve them with a load of adverts.
From my experience in this area, this mainly happened when it came to sharing the story on social media. We would only ever give the reader a rough idea of what the article was about, whether that was a short quote or a snippet from the piece. I don't have a huge problem with this as at the end of the day it was all about reaching more people online and growing the site's audience, but it still felt a little bit dishonest.
Original content is the way forward.
After a few weeks of just copying news articles, I really started to hate writing about Formula 1. It suddenly went from something I was so passionate about to a chore that I tried to avoid. I stopped posting anything on this tribe for around a year, but since the season started, I’ve begun to love it again. Gone are the days of copy and paste, and I have been writing without any restrictions. Since deciding not to write that article after the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix I have told myself from now on I will only write something when I want to, and not because I feel I should do for the views. I'm now fully committed to DriveTribe and I am much happier for it (having said that, this is my first article for around a month due to breaking my collarbone. I found out the hard way that I am no Lewis Hamilton when it comes to quadbike driving).
Now, this is no advertisement for DriveTribe as it is far from perfect, but along with YouTube I truly believe it is the best place for young journalists to find their feet. Both sites offer creators a chance to earn money, whether that be through the Creators Program or ad-revenue. I think the route which I went down with GPToday is far from the best way to do it, and in my case, it clearly didn’t work. In a world where every site has the same article being released at the same time, original content is your only way to stand out from the crowd. Whether it’s an opinion piece on DriveTribe or a YouTube video, they obviously both take a lot of time and effort. However, my argument is that if you love doing it, then it’s not a problem.
The industry needs to move on from lots of little news articles, as most people will have probably read the same thing on another site before they reach yours. As I mentioned earlier, look at what WTF1 have achieved. They have gone from a tiny YouTube channel and website to one of the most popular media outlets there is. They haven’t done this by copy and pasting articles, they have done this by leveraging the power of social media to promote their great content.
I love that there seems to be a shift towards this type of content, with the F1 Twitter and Reddit community being a driving force for this. We now live in an age where if you want to be a journalist, all you have to do is write an article and find somewhere to post it. The engagement you can get from posting an article on social media is incredible, with the vast majority of people being supportive. There is a tiny margin of people who will give you hate for it, but as with everything you need to accept it and move past it. I’ve found that people will find petty reasons to say why the article is rubbish, for example, if you make a typo they are guaranteed to be the ones who’ll find it. There are then the people who will take the piss out of me because I’m only 19, with this somehow meaning I am not allowed to have an opinion on the sport I’ve been obsessed with for the past ten years.
If you’re in a similar position to me, I hope you’ll keep doing what you’re doing. If what you are doing is good, you’ll be in with a great shot of taking what’s currently a hobby to a full-time job. Don’t fear those shitty comments before you post an article, at the end of the day I don’t think the people who say it cannot be done should discourage the ones who are doing it.
I don’t want to end this article here on a low note, as there is a bunch of very talented people in the motorsport community that deserve all of the praise that comes their way. They are the people that are creating their own content in their spare time, with some of them managing to turn their hobby into a career. I want to use the small audience I’ve got here on DriveTribe to promote them as they are driving the community in the right direction. I obviously couldn't tag everybody below, so I've only highlighted a few. If anyone that I haven't mentioned springs to mind, please use the comments section to let me know and I'll add them to the list.
Some great journalists:
F1 Feeder Series: https://f1feederseries.com/
Coilin Higgins: https://drivetribe.com/u/Kf8Vsc84hxv4mTiWBEYhbO
Joe McCormick: https://drivetribe.com/u/r5_swclTy-pFjvVV5Yoyyd
Ellie Fish: https://drivetribe.com/u/8QMZz8-o9wlvznAeNvyDap
Ellie May-Taylor: https://drivetribe.com/u/tx45BFFsQ_XAWzz-Czct1i
Talking Formula: https://talkingformula.blogspot.com/
Some great YouTubers:
Josh Revell: https://www.youtube.com/user/NZ77NZ
The F1 Debate Show: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5A9WZVOiNCr1HZ2QF9BXeA
The F1 Word: https://www.youtube.com/c/thef1word
What is next for this tribe?
I hope to post a little more on this tribe in the future, but I can't guarantee they'll be any sort of schedule to it. I think one article a week is a good place to start, and I'll work my way up from there. If everything goes to plan this weekend, there will likely be a new article up here on Monday.
What do you think I should do? If you have any suggestions about the type of content you'd like to see, feel free to leave a comment or send me a message. I'm also open to adding contributors to this tribe so that you can post your work here too, but I'm not sure how many of you would be interested in that.
(p.s. whilst you're here, it would mean a lot if you could join the tribe and support my work)