There are many things the internet can do. It provides, for example, an unprecedented array of specialised, up-to-the-minute information and opinion for the curious mind. In terms of immediate access to timely information, the motorsport enthusiast has never been better served.
There are, however, things which the internet has yet to do. It rarely, for example, provides a coherent explanation and interpretation of events stretching over a period of time; it rarely tells a good story, or puts events into context. In contrast, all these things have traditionally been done by printed periodicals. So, motorsport magazines should have nothing to fear from the internet, right? As long as such magazines concentrate on the things they do best, there shouldn't be a problem.
And yet, over the past decade, many motorsport periodicals seem to have done the very opposite, and wilfully made themselves look more like the internet. Word counts have plummeted, and news stories have descended into fragments, snippets, and sidebars. There is now no magazine which provides the motorsport enthusiast with the quality of information provided by Motoring News in the 1980s and early 1990s, and F1 Racing Magazine, in particular, appears to be targeted at those with a single-digit mental age.
This seems almost like a form of business suicide, for why would anyone pay for a magazine which simply provides a less up-to-date, and sometimes inferior version of the information one can get for free on the internet?
One also gets the feeling that many modern journalists consider it unnecessary to describe, in words, events which the reader will already have seen replayed, ad nauseam, on television. This is an enormous mistake, for part of the art and craft of a great writer or journalist is to re-cast known events in an original light, evoking humour or poignancy, drawing attention to subtle details and hidden patterns.
There are, however, some surviving outposts of quality: Autosport's Mark Hughes continues to be beacon from the world of Motoring News journalistic values, and the monthly publication Motorsport Magazine, provides the type of story-telling capability which has evaporated from other periodicals. Thus it was that I recently took out a subscription to Motorsport Magazine.
Indycar designer Ben Bowlby comments that the February issue of the magazine was "stunning. There was so much good content I read it for about seven hours straight." In fact, I almost had the same experience when I received the April issue last weekend.
I am, of course, desperately simplifying the issues here, for ultimately even magazines will have to seek an electronic means of distribution, and this will not be without difficulty, given the expectation that information content on the internet should be free of charge. Nevertheless, there remains some hope that a business model based upon quality of information, story-telling capability, explanation, interpretation, and the ability to paint a picture in words, will survive the transformation.