IndyCar Journalism Takes A Hit

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Without trying to stir up a political discussion here, there has been a lot of noise lately about fake news. One of the many things I enjoy about sports in general and IndyCar in particular, is the escape that they provide from the continuous drone of politics, work, paying bills and our everyday lives. While many claim that today’s news outlets are fake and agenda-driven; you’ll rarely, if ever, hear that claim in sports or racing journalism.

The most common complaint regarding the national media among sports fans or IndyCar fans is that they feel their sport or team was snubbed. Tennessee Titans fans are used to that. Not only do the Nashville-based Titans play in one of the smallest NFL markets, they were among the worst teams in the NFL in 2014-15. Bad teams in small markets don’t get much ink.

The networks will pay closer attention to a bad Jets or Giants team in New York, or a horrific Chicago Bears team than they will a decent Cincinnati Bengals or Tennessee Titans team. So we are always left complaining about lack of coverage – but I don’t think anyone here feels that there is any real agenda or conspiracy against the Titans. The national sports media just caters to the huge markets. It’s a fact of life.

Other than that, I feel there is no hidden agenda among sports writers and reporters. I think that is even more the case when you are talking about motorsports journalists that cover the Verizon IndyCar Series on a full-time basis.

We are lucky that we follow a sport that has their media so entrenched into the sport that there is no doubting their credibility. Can anyone under the age of seventy remember a time when Robin Miller was not part of the coverage for open-wheel racing? Curt Cavin covered this sport as a reporter for roughly three decades before moving over to the IndyCar corporate offices this past offseason. Although Marshall Pruett started covering IndyCar as a writer and photographer in 2006, he served in various capacities at the team level for twenty years before that. Brant James has been with USA Today since 2015, but was also at ESPN.com, Autoweek and Sports Illustrated for a few years before that.

That’s not counting the Gordon Kirby’s and David Malsher’s of the world, who tend to focus more of their enormous talents on writing books, but they still can pound out an article as good as anyone. To say that the pool of IndyCar journalists is filled with veterans is a major understatement.

We found out this past weekend that one of the very best veterans in the business has become a victim of the bottom-line at ESPN.com. John Oreovicz has been covering the Verizon IndyCar Series for ESPN.com for the past thirteen years. If you’ve ever read his articles – and you probably have, even if you didn’t realize it – you know what a good job he did. He is well-connected in the IndyCar community. Not only was he able to obtain information through his network of sources, he had the unique ability to convey it in writing so that ESPN readers could understand it.

Oreovicz was not let go due to poor performance or cheating on an expense report. That we could understand. Instead, the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports” is eliminating his position altogether and not replacing him. I’m not sure what kind of message that sends, but it doesn’t sound like the Worldwide Leader is very committed to even recognizing auto-racing as a sport – this, after inventing a non-sport such as the X-Games.

I’ve seen where some have speculated and suggested that Oreovicz could replace Curt Cavin at The Indianapolis Star. Well, it’s about two weeks too late for that. The Star has named Jim Ayello, a young and inexperienced writer who was once a proof-reader for Cavin, as their new Motorsports Insider. He seems like a nice guy, but very green – both in age (best guess is around twenty-seven) and in motorsports knowledge. I follow him on Twitter and have read a couple of his articles. He seems OK and I’m more than willing to give the guy a chance, but it will take him a while to build up the readership and the credibility that a John Oreovicz carries.

But I’m not sure The Star is where Oreovicz needs to be. Newspapers are going the way of the powdered-wig. When you are out of work, you need to be really sure that your next employer is going to be around a while. I don’t think anyone can say that about newspapers in general or a Gannett paper in particular. I can say that because Gannett owns The Tennessean here in Nashville, and it is about as sorry a publication as I can think of. If The Star bears any resemblance to it, then their days are probably numbered.

It seems almost tasteless to speculate about a person’s livelihood – especially when they are unemployed. It’s almost like taking bets for when someone might die. But I feel like John Oreovicz will land back on his feet and will be back in the IndyCar pits soon. Will it be before the season kicks off in a week and a half in St. Petersburg? I don’t know. He is too good a reporter and writer and had far too much experience to be on the sidelines very long. Where that might be, who knows?

Personally, I’d like to see him go to NBCSports.com. They are the ones that are coming on strong with their support of motorsports. It makes sense. They are covering the bulk of the IndyCar schedule. ESPN covers the season-opener at St. Petersburg; then the two races at IMS and the double-header at Belle Isle. That’s it. Word has it that they still want the Indianapolis 500, so they take the other four races just to stay in the game.

The TV contract is coming up for bid in the next couple of years. It will be interesting to see how hard ABC/ESPN fights for the Indianapolis 500. They have been carrying it for over fifty years. That’s a long time, but IMS/IndyCar officials shouldn’t be swayed by the emotions of staying with the network that has been with them since the Tony Hulman era. They need to look at what ESPN has done for them and all of motorsports lately. If they are honest with themselves, they’ll realize it isn’t much.

In the nineties, ESPN/ABC had all of the IndyCar races, all of Formula One and many NASCAR races. They carried USAC Thursday Night Thunder as well as NHRA. They seemed fully committed to motorsports and they seemed to be the destination channel that racing wanted to be on.

It’s a different world today. Today, the Worldwide Leader carries five IndyCar races. That’s it. That is their entire motorsports portfolio. Eliminating motorsports coverage on their website is probably not a huge surprise, but don’t tell that to John Oreovicz. He had been operating on a digital island for years and did a very good job of it. He probably doesn’t see it right now, but they probably did him a favor.

NBC has most of the IndyCar season, half of NASCAR and all of Formula One. It is the go-to source for motorsports coverage. Their Motors page is one of the top sites to surf. Tony DiZinno does a great job there, but I just don’t know if there is enough IndyCar demand to justify another writer.

I don’t know if there is any room at Racer.com either. Robin Miller and Marshall Pruett aren’t going anywhere. Until IndyCar builds a much bigger following, those two will likely be all that’s needed. David Malsher fills the need at Motorsport.com, but two full-time IndyCar writers on staff is probably more than they need.

I’ve been unemployed before, and it’s no fun. When you are immersed in the situation, it’s hard to see what good can come of it. All you know is that you’ve been told you are no longer needed or wanted and that your income has come to a sudden halt. You find that your decision-making process is primarily focused on very short term choices. You start worrying about how your bills will be paid rather than what’s best for your long-term career.

It’s tough to carve out a living these days as a motorsports journalist. Most do it out of a love for the sport, more so than the money it brings. I’ve known a couple of IndyCar bloggers much more talented than I am that have tried to parlay their hobby into a career. I’ve never seen it end well. That’s why I’m content to do what I do and the way I do it. It works for me. I have no false aspirations of this site becoming any more than it already is.

Most know that I’ve never considered myself to be a journalist, by any stretch of the imagination. I’m strictly a blogger and nothing more. This is my hobby, not my profession. In some circles, a blogger is just a notch lower than a snake-oil salesman or a bounty hunter. All of the journalists I’ve mentioned above have studied and perfected their craft for years. They have paid their dues by tracking down leads and building sources through relationships. It takes years and sometimes decades for a motorsports journalist to build enough credibility to be accepted within the IndyCar community. I have the highest respect for them.

Most true journalists have treated me very well at races, and welcomed me into their world – even if only temporarily. It’s probably because they can tell that I don’t consider myself to be one of them. Only a select few have made me feel like the lowly blogger that I am, and that I’m intruding on sacred ground. Oreovicz is one of those that has always been square with me. I don’t always agree with what he writes, but he has always impressed me as one of the good guys.

I don’t claim to know John Oreovicz personally. We’ve met a few times and shared a couple of lunches together at a few race tracks over the years. We talk mostly about racing and we’ve swapped a couple of parenting stories. But to say I know him closely would be a lie. But what I do know is that the man is talented, experienced and is very well-respected among most of his peers. I also know that the IndyCar community is very small and know each other very well. That’s why I am confident that Oreovicz will land somewhere eventually.

My main hope is that wherever John Oreovicz lands, he’ll be in a situation that is committed to him and his craft. He’s earned that right.

George Phillips

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15 Responses to “IndyCar Journalism Takes A Hit”

  1. Brian McKay in Florida Says:

    Sad, sad, sad… ESPN/ABC/Capital Cities or whatever is a lame, pathetic “partner” of INDYCAR, doing the bare minimum of advertising its five broadcasts … and now no journalism.
    I’m confident that Oreo will land on his feet and write for INDYCAR, a racetrack, a race team, a race series, or something that I can’t foresee at 5:54 a.m.

  2. Ron Ford Says:

    I will root for anyone whose name begins with Oreo. This morning I would like to put in a plug for what I consider to be along with the Indy500, a great spectacle of racing. That folks would be the iconic Iditarod Race in Alaska that begins Saturday. The race can be followed easily online. 1000 really tough miles that test the men, women, and sled dogs. I am happy to report, thrilled really, that the race begins each year boogity free. No aero kits on those sleds either.

    Here in Wisconsin, the newspapers in all the cities and towns have been taken over by those damn Gannett folks.

  3. madtad1 Says:

    I’ve said since the get-go that the best thing IndyCar could do is lose AlwaysBadCoverage and go all NBC? This goes back to the era of the Danica500 years, the lack of promotion of any other race they carry, and, who can forget how they missed the start of one race.

    Dump ’em.

  4. ESPN has invested more money into broadcast rights for the NBA, NFL and MLB than the GDP of some countries only to find that they are losing viewers, posting lower ratings and subsequently losing money…the reasons vary but the outcome and results are clear…

    Just because they are part of Disney does not mean that they will get a free pass financially…Disney is awash in cash from the successes with the Marvel and Star Wars films and merchandising but that won’t be used to rescue ESPN.

    NBC has made it clear that they care about motorsports and hopefully will make a run at the entire TV package (that hopefully doesn’t require moving the 500 from it’s traditional scheduling – something I think they proposed in past negotiations)…ABC Sports will not do the series justice…their broadcast team isn’t engaged with the sport and their lack of enthusiasm is palpable…

  5. I have to admit I’m one of those readers who will read the article while paying little or no attention to the byline.

    ESPN has become very political over the last number of years. Whether that is the reason they are showing a disinterest in motor sports, I can’t say. But it would not surprise me.

    That last thing we need is a dose of politics with our daily sports. Unfortunately the world has changed, and politics is everywhere. I guess we are not going to be allowed to rest…..

    Has Bob Costas gone to ESPN yet?

  6. billytheskink Says:

    First they changed up Jayski.com for the worse and now this. A very rough couple of weeks for motorsports at ESPN. They are, I’m sure, looking to cut costs in a variety of ways as they face the challenges of rising costs, media fragmentation, and a stagnating or shrinking subscriber base. Still, these are very disappointing moves and it may well be fair to speculate on how interested ESPN is in renewing their television contract with Indycar based on the decision to let Oreo go.

    Oreo is indeed a good writer and I hope to see him covering Indycar on another site very soon.

  7. Thanks, George. It means a lot that you put the time and effort into expressing these kind words of encouragement. I have some freelance work and a book project to keep me going in the short-term, and I plan to be at St. Pete and Long Beach to explore what the future may hold. I’m also greatly appreciative of all the supportive messages I have received from readers via social media. Keep up the good work with Oilpressure, which may be a blog, but far from lowly.

  8. Oreo is one of the best. Someone has the opportunity to make a home run hire. I’m confident he’ll find an even better employer soon.

  9. on trackside last night they did say that Miles made a statement on the TV contracts this week. Miles said they are leaning toward having only one broadcast partner, under the condition that they have more races on network TV than what they currently have

  10. Time for the Star to find Jim Ayello another (comparable) beat. Yes, they owe him loyalty but they also owe their readers and Jim just started after all.

  11. I want to mention that the ESPN Latin America duo of Andrés Agulla and Alex Pombo is the best in the world.

    Sadly, the motorsport section of the ESPN Deportes website is filled with AP stories of F1 and MotoGP.

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