Monday, July 17, 2017

Despite ever-changing journalism world, writers are valuable

I graduated with a journalism degree when the recession hit. It was also a time when the future of print journalism was in question (not that it's necessarily any more secure today). As I job searched, it was always interesting to discuss the field with others. Will newspapers go away? Will everything just be online? How will it change the job market? Discussion often circled to this point:

"There will always need to be writers."

No matter the medium, right? Well, for the first time, I'm questioning whether that sentiment will still ring true as much as it used to even a few years ago. Or maybe it's that the value will continue to decrease. Nothing can stop someone from putting a pen to paper, words on a word document, or maybe in the future, stories written out in some kind of microchip form sent directly to our brains. But will people read it?

There's a lot of thing at play here, but some recent events got me thinking about writing and where it ranks in today's instant-gratification, digital, visual world. Let's put the print journalism sector on hold for a minute for the purposes of this blog post - the changes and setbacks within that domain have been obvious in past years as things shifted online.

ESPN hits the industry hard 
In April, sports media giant ESPN laid off 100 employees, including a lot of writers for the company's website. Jayson Stark covered baseball for 17 years with ESPN and was let go. Columnist Johnette Howard and a bunch of NHL columnists - in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs - were also let go. SportsCenter anchor Sara Walsh was set to return from maternity leave when she found out she was laid off.

It even hit the motorsports world, which is obviously something close to my heart. Dr. Jerry Punch, a reporter for 30 years with the network who covered plenty of IndyCar races and Indianapolis 500s in his time, was let go. So was Allen Bestwick, the most recent guy who called IndyCar races for ESPN/ABC. Both Punch and Bestwick finished out their time with this year's Indy 500 and dual IndyCar races at Detroit.

I remember reading the reactions on Twitter the day of the ESPN layoffs, from those let go and from media consumers. It's a tough part of the business that so many journalists (raises my own hand) have experienced.

Last week, I caught something on Twitter that I had to read over again to make sure I understood. is a website filled with video clips now. It looked a little odd when I initially scrolled through the page. So, more writers with a platform taken away in favor of a stronger focus on visuals.

Now, I'm not going to preach against videos. Compelling stories can be told through video images just as well as writing. I also know the value of social media and how much better engagement is with a post or Tweet that contains a GIF, video or photo rather than just text. GIFs are one of my favorite additions to the Twittersphere, in fact.

I'm also not here to crunch numbers about these layoffs and website shifts I mentioned. I'm not a business owner or manager for those entities who's starting at a bottom line within an always-changing market.

But what's happened here is significant enough for me as a journalist to take notice and write about it to share my thoughts. I am a writer in the sports side of things, after all. So, how are sports writers valued these days? Before, it was the writing for free or very little pay that was a concern of mine. But taking away the writing platform altogether seems to be going another step down the path.

Videos may be engaging and quick to view, but they certainly can't take the place of a good, well-written story. It's not about a debate between video or writing being better than the other. I still think there's room for both, especially for writers like me who thrive on the written word much better than verbalization. And Ken Rosenthal writing his thoughts in the form of Facebook posts is not the same thing as a story for a media outlet.

This whole topic is worth a conversation in the evolution of the world of journalism. It's likely a blip on the radar as the industry keeps adjusting to provide content and still make money. I hope so. Because I'd hate to think of a time when we don't need writers anymore.

A couple things for the road...
Writers always appreciate readers. So if there's a story you like or a writer you enjoy reading, then subscribe, share, comment, retweet and like. Good stories deserve to be told and shared.

My colleague Brandon Warne came up with an idea for writers to share some work they're particularly proud of over the past year. It's called Read It All day on Aug. 1. Check out the details below. I'd encourage writers to share their work.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Dixon pushes past Penske for Road America victory

Scott Dixon coming out of turn five during Friday practice.
The term "upset" is used quite a bit in sports. Usually though, it's not used much in IndyCar racing. I think the Kohler Grand Prix on Sunday at Road America could qualify as an upset. Scott Dixon won the 55-lap race with a turn-one pass on a restart to take the lead for good and add another track to his winning career.

Dixon, the IndyCar Series points leader (now up 34 points) who walked away from a scary-looking crash in the Indy 500, came into the weekend having never led a lap at the sprawling four-mile road course in rural Elkhart Lake, Wis. Perhaps it's not too surprising when you consider that IndyCar stupidly left Road America off its schedule for a few years, returning just last season. I've never heard a race track praised more by drivers than Road America, except maybe the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Everybody loves it.

The victory was also Dixon's first this season and No. 41 in his career. He's now won an IndyCar race in each of the past 13th seasons, extending his series record.

So why was it an upset? Well, the weekend was dominated by the four Team Penske cars (a good showing for their boss, Roger, who was not at the track for the weekend). In qualifying, it was Team Penske in the Fast Six, along with Dixon and Detroit-doubleheader winner Graham Rahal. Penske had been quick all weekend in their Chevrolet engines, and it just seemed like they'd dominate. They started 1-2-3-4 with Helio Castroneves, 42, earning his 50th pole.

Penske with the strong start 
It was unseasonably chilly, cloudy and windy on race day. Castroneves led the field to the green flag, with everyone sailing through turn one in one piece. That's always a victory in itself, to get through the first corner and then first lap without a yellow flag flying.

Castroneves led 24 laps before Josef Newgarden took the lead from his teammate. Then there was the first caution of the day. As Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato spun on the back part of the course, the field bunched up with Newgarden leading Dixon. The difference here might have been the tire strategy. Newgarden was on the primary black Firestones, while Dixon with his Honda-powered car had the softer alternates/reds. Wasting no time, Dixon took the lead from Newgarden with a pass in turn one on lap 31 of 55.

From there, Dixon widened his gap considerably the next few laps. A longer caution came out near the end of the race, but Dixon held on using his push-to-pass seconds wisely to hold off Newgarden. Castroneves rounded out the podium, followed by the rest of Team Penske with Simon Pagenaud and last year's winner, Will Power. Dixon's teammate Charlie Kimball, Ed Jones (making a very strong case for Rookie of the Year), Rahal, Max Chilton and Mikhail Aleshin rounded out the top 10.

The race that almost wasn't
Dixon won a race that his team wasn't sure he'd be able to run after Sunday's morning warm-up. He only ran one lap and dealt with fuel pressure issues. Whatever was wrong with the car, his Chip Ganassi Racing Team obviously got it all fixed up by the start of the race.

Then he went out and dominated in the last 24 laps, leaving Penske behind. That's where the upset comes in.

Still, Dixon is no stranger to victory. He races with one of the elite teams in the series, is a 2008 Indy 500 champion, former series champion and has 40 other race victories. He's also the eighth driver to win in 10 races this season, showing what a competitive field IndyCar boasts.

It's pretty cool to think about the past month or so for Dixon. From winning the pole for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, to getting robbed later that same night in Indy, hitting the inside wall and destroying his car during the race, then winning everybody's favorite road course.

There's a reason he's nicknamed the Ice Man.

On race day, watching from inside turn 14.

Other Road America tidbits:
-Visa problems for Aleshin. Russian driver for Schmidt-Peterson, Aleshin, had visa problems trying to get back into the United States after his stint in France for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. So, teammate James Hinchcliffe's buddy Robert Wickens filled in on Friday, driving the No. 7 car in two practice sessions. Aleshin arrived in time for Saturday morning practice, qualifying and a top-10 finish Sunday.

-Driver sightings. It's always fun to roam the paddock and see drivers and team owners, plus take a look at crews working on the cars. Here's who we saw this year: Will Power, Jame Hinchcliffe boarding his scooter, Conor Daly sitting in the team hospitality area, Helio Castroneves probably right before or after he helped a couple with their marriage proposal, retired driver/broadcaster Paul Tracy driving a golf cart toward the paddock, team owner Dale Coyne (Dad wished him "good luck," which he needed after his team's expensive crashes lately), Ryan Hunter-Reay (twice), Charlie Kimball dining at the Paddock Club in Elkhart Lake Friday evening, Takuma Sato, retired driver/team owner Bryan Herta, former IndyCar driver Max Papis and Carlos Munoz.

Tony Kanaan's 1998 rookie card
-Tony Kanaan's weekend. It's the 20th IndyCar season for Tony Kanaan, one of the series veterans along with Castroneves. Saturday, we saw him in the paddock, and he came over to sign one of my dad's photogrpahs he took of Kanaan on track. I pulled out the 1998 racing card for Kanaan, since I save all that time-capsule stuff. He signed it as well saying, "That's an old one!" Kanaan didn't have a great weekend, failing to get into the second group of qualifying, then connecting with Alexander Rossi and hitting the wall around the Kink.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Photo blog: Road America 2017

It's funny how many photos you take in the digital age. It used to be so easy to cruise through a roll of film taking photos of IndyCars at Road America. Now, you just fill up memory cards and internal phone storage.

It was a great weekend at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. for the Kohler Grand Prix festivities. We spent three days at the track, watching practice and qualifying sessions from different vantage points. So, I compiled a few of the better photos below (no cropping or editing to these). 

Cars on the track facing/driving toward the right are coming out of turn 12/Canada Corner. Cars facing left are headed up the hill after coming out of turn five. There are a couple bonus photos of the paddock as well. Thanks for viewing some of my photos! 

Mikhail Aleshin

Josef Newgarden

James Hinchcliffe

Scott Dixon

Tony Kanaan

Graham Rahal

Carlos Munoz

Alexander Rossi

Max Chilton (No. 8 car) slows out of turn five and lets his teammate Scott Dixon pass.

Simon Pagenaud

Team Penske paddock

Will Power

James Hinchcliffe

Tony Kanaan

Selfie: Road America start/finish line and flagstand.