In An Ever-Changing Media Climate, I Still Have A Lot To Learn

CONCORD NC - JANUARY 27: Carl Edwards (C) driver of the #99 AFLAC Ford speaks with the media during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway held at the Roush-Fenway hanger of Concord Regional Airport on January 27 2011 in Concord North Carolina. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

There are times when I long for the early days of Twitter.

When hardly anyone in the NASCAR world was paying attention, it was easy to say what I really thought about something. Honesty was no problem, because there was no one to get upset about it.

In short, no one cared what I had to say.

Three years later, people seem to care. Some of them seem to care a bit too much.

How did this happen? I'm the same guy with the same job, just with more people reading. That should be a great thing, but there are some downsides, too – mainly because I haven't figured it all out yet.

It's embarrassing how unpolished I can be at times. I see it when reading back through my own timeline. My tweets can come across as whiny, defensive, arrogant, dick-ish (new word) or even unprofessional in some instances.

It looks like I don't know what I'm doing at times, and that I'm learning on the fly. And that's true: In this constantly evolving media world, I'm not sure who I want to be.

Take last night, for example. On the day JR Motorsports announced it had essentially fired competition director Tony Eury Sr. in light of the team's struggles, Danica Patrick wrecked for like the millionth time this season.

While I understand Eury Sr. was an old-school guy in a new-school world and probably had to go for the good of the organization, I couldn't help but wonder if Patrick's lack of stock-car racing talent (so far) had made him look bad.

So I typed this snarky tweet after Patrick's crash:

It probably wasn't particularly funny to most people, but it was DEFINITELY not funny to one person.

Did I want to offend Kelley Earnhardt, who just had to fire her uncle from the family business? Of course not. Did I think she'd even see the tweet? No way (she doesn't follow me).

But she did see it, and she was offended, of course – along with Earnhardt Nation who viewed me as an asshole who was taking a personal shot.

When it comes to commentary about a person or situation, it's a lot harder when there's a chance that person is going to see it. I'm still getting used to it, as you probably have figured out. Unless you're willing to be a total jerk, you can't just shoot from the hip and fire off opinions about every situation – even if there's some truth in them.

That said, I'm at a crossroads: What kind of journalist do I want to be? There are two very different paths:

1. Play it straight and abandon all the smartass jokes and snark. An opinion is one thing, but it has to be expressed in a gentler manner. Take the high road, rise above the petty stuff and act like a professional.

2. Keep spouting all sorts of commentary and opinions, even if people get angry.

I'm positive most of you reading this would say, "Pick No. 2!" Over the years, you've told me you like an honest take. But it's not that easy now. With more people paying attention than before, nearly everything I tweet or write has consequences: Being honest can mean you lose access.

Drivers get mad and refuse to do interviews (like the 12 Questions). Public relations reps get mad and cut off access to their drivers (even for standard things). NASCAR gets mad and can make life difficult in various ways. And if you add in the tracks, TV networks, sponsors and media colleagues, there's a whole bunch of people who could potentially be pissed off by an opinion.

That stuff isn't hypothetical, either. It's all actually happened. Many people are far more sensitive than you can possibly imagine – even some of the big-name drivers you'd think would have thick skin.

In the end, they're all human. No one is completely immune to words and what other people think, except maybe for Kyle Petty. It's hard work to build relationships, and I need them for my job. Is it worth it to damage them in the name of commentary?

Plus, it's exhausting to fight the constant battles and be known as a shit-stirrer. Contrary to popular belief, I actually prefer to get along with people. I do not set out to get into public battles, because it's not fun at all.

On the other hand, I can't seem to keep my opinions to myself. If I feel strongly about something, it's like an itch I have to scratch. I have to tell someone about it, and the combination of SBNation.com and Twitter is my forum to do so.

But to what extent?

Someone told me once that if I'm going to be an ass, I need to "own it." Do not back down, do not apologize when someone gets mad.

Honestly, I'm not sure I have the stomach for that. Maybe that would earn respect from those who value the "tell it like it is" mentality and want no-bull opinions on everything, but isn't that the same thing we all hate about ESPN's Skip Bayless?

Sure, Skip Bayless might be making tons of money and be known nationally for his abrasive nature – but no one likes him! Everyone just tunes in to make themselves angry, like choosing to watch stupid reality TV shows for the ridiculous drama.

Do I really want to be that guy? Not really.

So who do I want to be? The reporter who came up through the newspaper ranks or the blogger who posts stuff for web hits? The guy who likes meeting readers at tweetups or the ass who rips people on Twitter?

I really don't know, but I'm hoping to figure it out sometime in the next 30 years.

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