Monday, November 2, 2009

The importance of attending an event when covering it

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix went off yesterday. No one was hurt, a German guy won the race, it was great weather and Aerosmith played their first Abu Dhabi show. All the local media, including my employer, covered it--the F-1 was perhaps the biggest event, and certainly the biggest sporting event, in the country's short history.

This is the Khaleej Times' version. See if you can spot a couple of obvious problems here.

DUBAI — At 5pm on Sunday as the sun began to sink shyly behind the mountains, the top stars of the world’s Formula One Race Circuit were ready for ignition, so they could set the pace at Abu Dhabi’s impressive Yas Marina Circuit. Spot on, as thousands watched, the F1 first ever day-night race was flagged off.

It is a magnificent obsession. It isn’t just the groupies and the fans and smell of gasoline and exhaust spiralling into the air, the brilliance of the pit teams as they pamper these metal monsters and the mighty roar of all that rampant horsepower that creates the ambience. It is the speed and the thrill, the sense of ‘being there’ at what is truly an international event that generates the pulsating excitement.

Note the dateline: Dubai. The race was in Abu Dhabi. Note the mention of mountains. There are mountains in the UAE, but they are several hundred miles away from the race (and Dubai, for that matter). I also suspect that gasoline fumes didn't waft all the way into the next emirate. Solid work.

Equally funny, at least to me, is that the Gulf News devoted a blog post to complaining that the media had to pay for their food, beverages and Internet connections.

There was a time when visiting sports journalists had described the facilities and hospitality in the UAE while covering international events as ‘Mother of all freebies’.

But things have changed over the years and the Media Centre at the Yas Marina Circuit did catch many by surprise.

Internet connections were charged at Dh275 for the weekends while phone connections are charged. Local scribes were not spared either and the larger chunk of scribes from the region will be in for the minor shock when they come in this morning. And for the first time in my 18 years in the UAE, media persons will also have to pay for their snacks and food!

A visiting motorsport-specialised reporter remarked, ‘Maybe they should have made it free for this inaugural edition.”

However an Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management official, in private said, “Well these charges are nothing compared to what journalists have to pay at media centres in other Formula One venues around the world!’

And when Bernie Ecclestone is involved, nothing comes for free!

Yes, not even two "light-hearted" exclamation points can conceal the irritation. But at least the reporter was actually at the track.

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