The groans began almost immediately.
Speed NASCAR analyst Larry McReynolds, working as the M.C. for the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing media tour stop, was wrapping up the program when he decided to offer some "off-script" remarks to the 200-plus journalists in attendance.
He then proceeded to remind the media that we all make our living in the sport and asked for us to be more positive in 2011.
"You all know that no matter what role you play, we've got to roll our sleeves up and we've got a lot of work to do in 2011 to get this sport back where it was at one time," McReynolds said. "I know it's easy to write about all the bad things and I know it can't all be about the good things, but (here's) the only thing I reach out to you:
"If it's television ratings (you're writing about), we know the ratings are down. How about also promoting that we're second only to the NFL? If there's 25,000 empty seats at Michigan, how about making sure you document there's still over 100,000 people in those grandstands?
"Things like that will get our sport back to where we were, along with storylines like this (Ganassi) group right here and with the type of racing that we had in 2010."
While McReynolds was speaking, there were reporters literally groaning and cursing under their breath. I have it on tape (probably because I was among them).
Afterward, media members mockingly told each other, "C'mon, be more positive!" or "Hey, stop being so negative!" This was often followed by an eye roll or a head shake.
Some background for you: On last year's media tour, lecturing the media was a common theme. And throughout the season, the NASCAR media corps was a common target for those looking to blame the sport's troubles on someone.
Time and again, reporters were told (both in private conversations and press conferences) that they deserved some of the blame for NASCAR's decline.
The reasoning? Because if the media wrote that the sport was struggling and fewer people were coming to the races or watching them on TV, fans reading the stories would be less likely to attend or tune in themselves.
I've always rejected that theory – strongly. I firmly believe NASCAR fans can make up their own minds and aren't a bunch of lemmings who will just go along with whatever the media says.
Trust me, it'd be nice if I had magical powers to convince everyone that my opinions were the right opinions. But given the amount of debate and pushback I get from fans every day, I'm pretty sure that's not true.
Fans can think for themselves and make up their own minds – about everything. I can't convince someone to like Jimmie Johnson because he's a good guy, and I can't convince someone that the racing is somehow bad if it's actually good.
So if you want me to believe tweeting about declining TV ratings or blogging about an attendance issue is somehow contributing to that problem, that's a tough sell.
I truly doubt being "more positive" about ratings and attendance and the sport in general is going to bring fans back. And, by the way, that's not my job anyway.
The media is supposed to report on what's happening, not sweeping something under the rug or glossing over an issue to make it look better than it is.
Yeah, I make my living in NASCAR – but it's up to NASCAR to fix its problems, not me. I do like the sport and I want it to succeed – not only because of my career, but because I enjoy watching it as a fan. But I don't think I'd be doing my job very well if I didn't report the truth.
It's not all sunshine and flowers. Far from it. People deserve to know what's going on and use the information to make up their own minds.
Declining ratings and attendance, for example, is a very real issue that could impact the sport's future and have tremendous financial consequences.
But McReynolds – and many, many others in the industry who share his thinking – believe the media should take the positive approach: Sure, we might have lost a quarter of our audience – but we still have a lot of people watching!
It's all just spin. As one reporter griped, "That's like saying Kevin Conway isn't slow; he's still going 190 mph!"
At the very least, offering a large group of people suggestions on how to do their jobs makes everyone defensive, and it's certainly not going to make anyone change how they do their jobs.
If anything, it only increases the growing divide between those who attempt to be objective about the sport's issues and those inside the garage who believe "If you're not being positive, you're against us."