Will Buxton on Journalism and the State of Formula One

It has been an extremely busy week for this blog, and I want to take some time right now to thank all those who read my last article with Peter Windsor. It was a joy to get to talk with him and I hope to do the same in the future.

I say that it was a busy week because just days after finishing my interview with Peter Windsor, I woke up one morning to an email from Will Buxton. It was just a day after I made a comment on his own blog, and I didn’t expect him to respond so quickly to my request for an interview, so that was a very nice surprise.

I must confess, though, that in my excitement at the prospect of interviewing Will, I realized that I hadn’t thought of a concrete subject to base the conversation on. Then I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to get a different perspective on the topics in my interview with Peter. I was positively itching with excitement in the hour leading up to the interview.

To keep up the trend, I began the conversation by asking Will, “What is your take on the state of Journalism?”. I didn’t know exactly what to expect in terms of an answer. Without being rude, there is an obvious age gap between Will and Peter, thus opening up the doors for varied perspectives. Nevertheless, I found myself immediately engaged in what Will had to say.

“It’s a double-edged sword, really. The advent of the internet age and the advent of social media like Twitter has made it quite amazing. The immediacy of news is truly astounding. It is something I never could have foreseen when I first started out as a journalist. And that has its benefits; it means you can get the news out much faster, but there is so much scope for inaccuracy.” In this day and age, we live under the constant threat of believing completely false information. Retweeting has become so prolific that, as Will describes, there is a sort of snowball effect taking effect on the internet, where one piece of false information can be taken as true, retweeted, and then believed by thousands and potentially millions of more people. “It is [Twitter] very very useful. it is a tool that all journalists use these days to not only sort information but to their views across and highlight pieces that they’ve written. It’s positive.”

The world, it seems, is very divided on the issue of Twitter and other social media which, regardless of how much we may not like it, are becoming increasingly important to our daily lives. Both Will and Peter have similarly optimistic outlooks on social media and the role it plays in journalism today, though Will is more positive on the subject. They both have their concerns, as well, and quite rightly recognize the power that social media wields on the public conscience.

Blogs then came up in the conversation. We both agree that they are a fantastic and convenient way of “getting your voice out there”, but know that with convenience, comes laziness. This goes back to the copying and pasting that Peter mentioned in our interview. Just because someone has a blog, does not necessarily mean that it is their own voice they are putting out. “This means anybody, anywhere can write a blog and can write with an assumed, for the reader anyways, amount of knowledge on the subject, when they might not actually have it.” This leads to a slightly “diminished” level of journalism, as Will describes. Certainly journalism’s reputation takes a hit when a lot of its aspiring prospects don’t actually write.

Blogs can, however, open up many doors of opportunity. “If you are a serious aspiring journalist, it is possible to get your voice out there, get your name out there, and gain the experience that you need as a journalist that would otherwise have remained unavailable.” This very fact is what inspired me to start my own blog last December, and is what keeps me going every day.

I mentioned the quality of journalism in my interview with Peter, as well as earlier in this article. This is, obviously what gives journalism its reputation, either good or bad. But quality journalism, in my opinion, comes from the fact that what the journalist writes about is something that they feel passionately for. Will describes this very sentiment when he mentions his own blog. Whereas a feature in a magazine would be anywhere between 1500-1700 words, a blog allows anyone to go much more in depth about a subject they are interested in. From this interest comes the quality of writing that gives journalism its good name. You aren’t going to plow off a blog post about something you enjoy. No. You’re going to put the time and effort into the blog post because you know that because you’re interested in the subject, you can write with the enthusiasm and vigor that makes others interested in the subject.

I know, though, that not all journalism these days is about 3000 word features on the subjects the journalist is interested in. But it is a major part of the industry, and all of the best journalists out there will most likely tell you that their interest in a certain subject or event is what drives them to write to the best of their ability. I said it at the very end of my last post; it isn’t the money or the recognition that makes me or anyone else really want to be a journalist. It is our shared love of writing that makes journalism great.

Where does journalism go from here, though? Will the internet take over the world of print-based publication? Probably not completely, but there is no denying the increasing velocity with which the digital age is developing. Very soon, digital journalism will be the the field’s most prominent form, if it already isn’t. That isn’t the end of the world, though. I firmly believe that just because you are writing digitally, does not mean that the quality of the written word is any less superior. Might I remind you that I am writing this on a laptop? The transition from a piece of paper to a computer screen does not limit the scope of one’s imagination.

“There’s just something about it”, says Will of the feeling of having a book in your hands. It’s hard to deny the intimate relationship people of a certain generation (no offense, Will and Peter) have with their books and magazines. I personally don’t mind the delivery method, if you will, of the things I read. I can appreciate the feeling of having a book or magazine, but it is not a longing desire I possess, and I don’t ache at the diminishing number of books and magazines. But this is the very thing that separates ‘classic’ journalism from ‘modern’ journalism: the people. When I’m 50, I will probably detest the newest form of information distribution. Something involving telepathy, I’m sure. this is just one of the facts of living in an ever-changing world. Change happens, and there is nothing we can do about it. When the field of journalism, and some of the people in it, accepts that, then quality journalism will come back.

But that’s enough about journalism. It was with Will Buxton that I really wanted to sink my teeth into the subject of Formula One. I will gush again here, but Will Buxton brings NBC’s Formula One coverage to life. Funny, considering that in his earliest days in television he was, jokingly, informed TV was where journalism came to die. The differences between broadcast and print journalism are fairly obvious, the biggest one being the live factor. The content that you see on TV during a Formula One race comes out live to the viewers. This means there is no time to edit said content with the “fine comb” one would use when working on an article for a magazine or newspaper. The differences are night and day, especially considering the audience to which NBC must cater.

American Formula One fans are interesting creatures. I didn’t get the time to, or maybe just failed to completely, explain to Will how difficult I feel NBC’s job is. They may have different views on the matter, but here is what I think.

American F1 fans, like the country we inhabit, are a melting pot of all different levels of fans. There are diehard ones like me who, without compromise, want in depth analysis of every single second of every single session over a race weekend, with hours of pre- and post-race coverage to whet our insatiable appetites for the sport. On the other end of the spectrum are the causal fans. These are the most vital sector of the sport’s fan base because of their potential. Even more important than the causal F1 fans in Europe, casual American F1 fans promise an almost endless amount of viewership, just waiting to get hooked. To hook said potential amount of endless viewers, you have to take them in gradually. You cannot, under any circumstance, bombard them with the sort of coverage the diehard fans like me, want. They will turn the TV off in a heartbeat. I don’t want to criticize my fellow Americans, but we seem to, in my eyes, have a slightly lower tolerance for things we don’t understand. Our culture is based on being the best, and knowing what is going on in the world. If you start talking to them endlessly in what can only be describes as a foreign language to most of them, you will only make them feel not only confused, but potentially upset, thus turning off their desire to learn about the sport.

In no way do I intend to over-simplify the minds of my fellow countrymen and women. That is not my intention. But based on where I live and the culture that surrounds me, this is my most educated analysis of the average causal F1 fan.

If this makes the job of NBC sound mind-bogglingly important, then great. Their job is vital. Like I said, the amount of casual F1 fans in the states is vast, and their minds vacuous. This is not an insult at all. What I am saying is that Americans are ready to embrace the sport with open arms. But on their terms. It is always on our terms, it seems NBC, like I said before, has to cater to these night and day-different fan bases. It has to please the diehards, while not overwhelming, but gradually enticing, the causals. A tough job, indeed, and Will Buxton is leading the way on that front. His coverage during Formula One races is simple, yet interesting and engaging. For both types of Formula One fans, the experience during a race is enhanced exponentially by the way Will breaks down the intricacies of a Formula One race. Add to that an unmatched level of enthusiasm for both his job and the sport, and you have a very enjoyable experience.

“Formula One wants to be exclusive”, says Will of the sport’s effort to connect with fans. “It wants to be just that one step out of reach. That’s what it tells itself it wants”. This creates a problem for NBC, though. Does the network risk playing down the exclusivity of the sport in order to reel in more fans, or does it play up the “dream factor” of the sport, as Will calls it, to accomplish the same task? It puts the entire sport in an odd position. The sport needs money, and with more fans comes money. But, fans need something to want. If they get too much of the sport, they could become sick of it, thus losing money for the sport.

Take a look at SKY. Their near-monopoly on the television market in the UK is such that they have an entire channel devoted to Formula One. This is a dream come true for any hardcore fan of the sport, like me. They spend 24 hours of everyday showing programs that cover the history of the sport, its drivers, technology, as well as live coverage of every practice session with pre-and post-session analysis. Heaven for any F1 fan.

This is the path the UK has taken in terms of how accessible it makes the sport to its fans. The exclusivity is not there, and anybody can get wonderful insight into the inner workings of the sport with expert analysis. This goes against the origins of the sport, where only the rich and famous got real access.

The same trend appears in social media. Formula One’s official twitter account follows no one, and its tweets consist solely of links to articles on its official website. Hardly pushing the boundaries of what is capable with social media. This means that the individual teams, along with many dedicated, and connected, individuals to provide the sport’s fans with the kind of access the yearn for. With varying degrees of success, all of the Formula One teams on the grid accomplish this, and the fans’ appreciation is abundant. Formula One teams are providing the inclusion that the sport seems intent on preventing. Exclusivity is everything.

“NBC showed from very early on that they were serious about Formula One”, says Will. Investments have been made to ensure that the network’s streaming capabilities are up to par, so the commitment is all there. The fans are here, the commitment is here. The future is bright for F1 in the states.

Now, for some real F1 stuff. This is what I was truly looking forward to. There are so many things I want to have explained to me, starting with the road to F1. Will Buxton is arguably the best person to ask when it comes to the racing ladder, because his commentary on GP2 and GP3 gives him access to all the young drivers that are trying to make their way into the pinnacle of motorsport.

“No. Absolutely not.” This is Will’s answer to the question of if Formula One is doing enough to ensure that its young drivers have the tools to succeed. “This shift away from European races is hurting Formula One hugely”. With budgets for a season of GP2 more than double what they were at the series’ conception, drivers who are more than deserving of an F1 drive based on merit are left in the dust, while other drivers who have all the money they could ever want to go racing, and who may not deserve the drive on talent alone, get all the chances. This is old news to anyone who follows Formula One and its feeder series. But it does bring back the exclusivity factor I explained before.

I’m not saying that Formula One is intentionally making the sport more and more expensive in order to bring in a certain type of driver. That would be preposterous. What I am saying, though, is that the sport could, and should, be doing a lot better.

There are a lot of things conspiring against those who work in the sport, and those who aim to work in the sport in the future. A lot of the conspiring is down to the sport itself which, for unsubstantiated reasons, feels the need to uphold old traditions at the expense of vital members of its community.

This isn’t a call to action, really, but a hopeful rising of awareness to some of the issues that undermine all the good that is going on behind the scenes. Will will be the first to attest to this. He, in some regards, is leading the way with his work for NBC. Their commitment to Formula One is a refreshing breath of fresh air in a very polluted sport.

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5 thoughts on “Will Buxton on Journalism and the State of Formula One

  1. The casual fan is not necessarily causal to the way in which NBC crafts it’s Formula 1 coverage.

  2. “NBC showed from very early on that they were serious about Formula One”

    Other than the couple of races (Monaco, Canada) NBC Sports Channel put on it’s main OTA network, the ratings have be abysmal. F1 is merely content for the start-up NBC Sports Channel. Their commitment to it will last as long as the ratings are there.

    • Isn’t that the point? Aren’t all tv stations still/not broadcasting because their ratings are either satisfactory or not?

      • NBC Sports Channel is a start-up and needed content, any content, and are willing to lose money as as it fills a time slot Their average rating for F1 is around 500,000 – 600,000. Unless those numbers rise dramatically NBC won’t hang on to F1 for long.

  3. Will, it took some time to win me over, but you’ve succeeded. You were a bit awkward when you first showed up at SpeedTV, whereas Peter Windsor was smooth as a gravy sandwich. But you have proved yourself the better journo, so I count us both lucky that the whole USF1 debacle brought you to my telly. Cheers, mate!

    NBC’s F1 coverage has been horrific.

    Silverstone and Nurburgring were the worst. They aired live Tour de France coverage while the F1 race was in progress. Then they aired the F1 races on time delay.

    Fine. I understand they were making adjustment for the time zone differences and airing the race when there would be more impact in the USA. The problem was, both times they went to news break during the TdF and gave detailed results of the Formula One race! And without any warning of a potential “spoiler.”

    What idiots. I have other material gripes, too, but the crocodiles in my moat are due a feeding, and they can’t be kept waiting.

    One thing SpeedTV did that I thought was absolutely brill was they aired free practices with no commentary. The only sounds were those made by the cars. I suspect they didn’t do it for effect — probably to save money — but I felt almost like I was watching in person. It was ace!

    Now NBC have Hobbs and Matchett commentating practices as well. I understand the need for all the exposition they do during the race — especially Steve — but I hardly think it necessary during a free practice. The uninitiated aren’t likely to have much interest in a practice session, and the F1 devotees don’t much need it. And so much of it will be repeated during the race itself, it tempts me to ditch NBC and watch Sky’s coverage instead through one of the surreptitious streaming online video sources (which, after all, is how I’m already watching FP1 & FP3 anyway). If NBC continues the practice, Steve needs to turn it up to 11 during free practices and speak as if he were talking to a fellow racing engineer.

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